Saturday, May 23, 2009

"What Kind of Philosopher Are You?" (& other Facebook quizzes)

"You are incredulous to metanarratives. Truth is relative to all the elements of history and social location. You seek diversity and fragmentation as well as the dissolution of power structures that oppress people. You are probably a feminist and you probably critique social mores through the use of deconstruction. Unfortunately many don't consider you a philosopher: logical self-contradictions abound in postmodern theory, but you certainly have a lot to offer in the way of social critique. You are a postmodern."

So went the results of the first smart quiz I've come across on Facebook, and after only five questions! Few consider me a philosopher, that's true; true too my predilection for social (and literary and musical) critique!

It's accompanied by a snapshot of brooding baldy Foucault. When I started grad school, I bought an introduction to him, "The Will to Truth," that's served me well. I've always liked the witty picture on its cover; rare to have a title from Routledge let slip a modicum of levity! Alan Sheridan's lucid overview, dating myself, was the first in English! When I did my dissertation, it being on arcane (of course) medieval religious literary culture, I was told by my advisors I had to drag "THEORY" into the congregation, not only Thomistic disputation or Augustinian exordium. Well, the quiz informs me I'm "Postmodern."

So, I sprinkled a bit of "Discipline and Punish; The Birth of the Prison," being disappointed by Foucault's abandoned "History of Sexuality" since it couldn't get it up enough to last until even the Middle Ages. I went back to that carceral study, seeing my recent sentence to the pedagogical wing of the electronic delivery apparatus of the Panopticon along the expanded (thanks to the Web that Foucault never saw unfurled), "carceral continuum." As he warned us: "Visibility is a trap."

Still, back in somewhat freer days among the Academy, I threw the tenured mandarins all for a loop when I started my opusculum by evoking Mircea Eliade's Altaic shamans and Robert Thurman's Tibetan "psychonauts." If they wanted to integrate multicultural, non-phallocentric all-inclusive po-mo into my muted parade of lugubrious dirges and choral trentals, they collided with my innately eclectic, post-punk psyched SoCal syncretism. I reordered my own post-structural bricolage, my own set of "ex votos" and reredos.

I tire of theory as such easily; yet, I know following Foucault that my phenomenological, nominalist, and skeptical bent twists me away from any allegiance to any power stucture, any easy explanation of it all. I also admit that my own professed distrust of meta-narrative itself represents its own endlessly generated narrative. This labyrinth, as Foucault and Derrida acknowledged, made its own trap that none of us, given our human predicament, could escape power from by any Word On High. The patterns of "discursive formation" engender their own destruction and reconstitution, and so our inability to ever pin the tail on truth's donkey's ass.

I guess, unlike Deasy to Stephen in "Ulysses," not history but "theory's to blame." The mode when I was in grad school was away from textual explication or psychoanalytical reduction towards deconstructive and transformative leftist critiques. They have tenure now. The generation since-- and perhaps those of us apart from those who've safely secured faculty posts by fidelity to denial of all standards as fixed, apart from their own tenured hurdles to leap-- has turned more suspicious that all can be levelled to "socially constructed" models of discourse.

I'm not sure what's replaced it, other what I've inherited: a millennial exhaustion with impenetrable prose that mocks academic obfuscation by imitating it in such a mortifying depiction of rigor mortis. Such "interrogation" reminds me of the Ramists, late on, who kept pressing Scholasticism forward in the face of dulled students tempted past hedging Erasmus by the shouts of a bolder Reformation. Not that those rebels made much headway initially with textual liberation, but even amid political suppression and religious totalitarianism, it was a start. But, I digress.

Every generation gets subjected to the syllabus of its teachers, the predilections in which their professoriate had been inculcated. Radicals get tenure; true radicals and freethinking outliers stay shut out. Luckily, head advisor like me favored restless Jung over routine Freud, so at least he spared me tiresome sidesteps towards taking seriously that Viennese prattler. It's also fun to know that my wife has to acknowledge my accreditation now as not the usual "fascist" she labels me as, but as a credible "feminist" any UC Santa Cruz History of Consciousness major will doubtless recognize as an "incredulous" and suitably theory-addled peer!

P.S. Apropos, making up for lost time after a busy week working for The Man, I took also a "Which 60s Subculture Are You?" I'm with the, gulp, "caravans of clowns" and "Yippies" alongside Kesey and Abbie. I wonder if Foucault caught AIDS when he hung out at Berkeley in the Harvey Milk era? I guess I have a sense of humor after all. I'd prefer San Francisco's more philosophical jesters The Diggers, alongside that Hiberno-New Yawker talltale teller (read "Ringolevio"-- I have two copies!) Emmett Grogan. Apparently the Diggers got shunted over to the other side of the bus with the more earnest quiz kid boomer contingent, "Hippies."

P.P.S. As for "What Kind of Reader Are You?": "Snooty Loner." Icon of Eustace Tilley, New Yorker mascot, if that's the word for such a gentleman, inserted. "It's not necessarily a bad thing. You read what you want, and what you want is the best. You don't ask for recommendations on what to read. You don't want to discuss how you feel about books. You don't read anything Oprah reads. You do sneer at anyone reading Danielle Steele on the bus." I posted that I do post "how I feel about books," not in some bluestocking's circle, but on this very blog, and on Amazon, amidst the Top 500.

P.P.P.S. I was also for "What Los Angeles neighborhood are you from?": "Born in East L.A.," as the Cheech song goes, and I was, at County General which I can see from my upstairs window. "South of the 10" Freeway is part of the definition, and that's not correct, but I am definitely if unpredictably given my ethnicity and complexion a true Eastsider, living the other side of the true border, the L.A. River. Not La Brea or whatever the Westsiders, Hollywooders want it to be as "urban pioneers" not to mention those damned hipsters overrunning Los Feliz (which was a quiz question regarding local pronunciation along with "Cahuenga"), Silverlake and Echo Park!

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