1 jun. 2011

Other Fields?

I welcome suggestions of other bullshit fields that I should address here. Of course, I have to agree that the field is mostly bullshit. I also have to have the competence to say something about the field (or at least think I do.) After all, it is my blog. I will also be doing a separate series on academic fields for which I have a huge amount of respect, if any are left standing after my rampage.

The main criteria for bullshit are the lack of protection against confirmation bias, volatility, and the influence of fashion or sociological contingency. We've seen that theology and evolutionary psychology are highly open to charges of confirmation bias, with theology being a field consisting of nothing but such bias. We've seen that literary criticism is also very closed in on itself.

Any field that splits into many separate and opposing sects or factions is likely to be bullshit. If there are 100 schools of thought in theology, literary criticism, or psychoanalysis, then the differences among them are likely due to the lack of any validating principle. Also, if a field changes rapidly, but without really building on past insights, and then reverts back to earlier models for no particularly good reason.

9 comentarios:

Gabriel dijo...

There's a reason why Bourdieu drew so heavily from the sociology of religion, particularly Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, when he critiqued the field of cultural production. I think he was right to try to show how literary production functions like a religion. Literary production functions in great part as a system of domination, and it relies on the production and policing of belief.

And Bourdieu makes a point to show that the bullshit smells just as piquantly in those modes of production that seek autonomy from economic reward (the avant-garde eg), and which *pretend* to seek autonomy from modes of power, thru what B called displays of "performative indifference" toward symbolic or cultural capital. The field is filled with pretense. From mainstream to whatever its opposite is currently labeling itself.

Jonathan dijo...

Good point, Gabe. I've been very influenced by Bourdieu in my thinking through of theses issues.

Andrew Shields dijo...

Another important moment in my intellectual development was when someone (I don't remember who) pointed out that psychoanalysts and communists all go back to their founders (Siggy Joy and Charlie Mahks) when they are not sure what to do, while biologists and physicists never say, "We're not sure how to understand this, so let's go read Darwin/Newton again." The latter fields develop the theories of their founders in unpredictable ways that may even contradict parts of the original theories, while the former elaborate on the texts of the founders without developing an independent methodology for examining new data.

I'm still very interested in the bullshit that is literary criticism, but only when its main focus is the reading and interpretation of primary texts.

Jordan dijo...

Yes! Debunk pretending!

Shedding Khawatir dijo...

I don't know about other fields but I'd like a how to on taking the bullshit out of bullshit fields.

Gabriel dijo...

As for a how-to. I think a good starting place (and not a bad ending place either) is a careful reading of Bourdieu's _The Field of Cultural Production_.

It does a number of things really well. One of them is that it, in a way, almost exhaustively enumerates the (per Jordan's post) varieties of pretense intrinsic to what B calls "the charismatic ideology of creativity." He does this for both mainstream/bourgeois work and for avant-garde/whatever-latest-label-is.

It's a book that seems particularly scathing about those fields that gain a certain autonomy of power: think of most any A-G or mainstream group with power. He indicts both. Bourdieu suggests that within those autonomous groups there is such a struggle for social distinction (in which participants can garner the various kinds of symbolic and cultural capital that accrue to that distinction) that they gradually wind up removing socially relevant content from their work.

So, one thing I think a reading of Bourdieu might lead one to do as part of how-to manual for avoiding pretense: look for (and avoid) those groups who focus heavily on and possibly fetishize technique or who police their own borders tightly. Some of these might be, in poetry, neoformalism, oulipo, noulipo, fluh, etc.

Why? B suggests that in the internal struggles to socially distinguish themselves from others, artists and groups eventually remove ethically and politically and socially important content from their work.

Retallack's interview in _The Poethical Wager_ kind of hints at a way forward. And that roundtable between Clover, Nealon, and Spahr that just showed up at eveningwillcome.com also kind of articulates an anxiety about all this.

Poetry's really bad with this stuff. It's a stylized genre, one which loves technical for the sake of technical. And there's a very real way where that a-g technique-for-technique's-sake blends imperceptibly with the quietism of the mainstream charles simic nostalgia poem. So, poetry is a pretty bullshit field. It needs to avoid itself in a big way.

Vance Maverick dijo...

Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.

Clarissa dijo...

Chicano Studies.

Barry dijo...

Economics? As we've seen, the prestigious faction (Chicago) was basically denying bubbles, and blithely continue on denying.