On Literary Critical Method

Just a very short note, while digging through some strange litcrit on James Merrill. One particularly annoying writer’s Richard Sáez, who digs deep into the psychoanalytic garbage pail in his analysis. I am ignoring these parts, but with Merrill this shit keeps coming up. I’ll keep it out of my thesis, if I can avoid it. But how to justify it? Of course, there’s the scientificity of Literary Criticism, which is never far from my mind while thinking about methods. Yet Sáez is remarkably precise, remarkably on point.

The things he writes for instance in his essay “JM’s Oedipal Fire”, written before the magisterial Sandover was published “gets” it unlike so many critics which have read it. He’s very, very effective. His methods, however, are bad. Text, writer, symbols, biography, it’s all jumbled up. Bad, bad writing. But it works. So why not use it? I tend to liken my resistance to the resistance that sane people should develop to “effective” but racist police profiling. Which does indeed work in many cases.

It’s about the cases where it doesn’t work, but is still applied. So much of psychological method is based on banal truisms of how ‘people’ work. It’s bound to work sometimes. Plus, I think that Sáez has a knack for his line of work. His instincts work, that’s why the method works in his case. That does not redeem the ugly method.

I know you don’t care. I just needed to explain to myself why I am not using something that provided Sáez with such prodigious results. This is what I came up with.

Warning! Drinking may cause absurd theories!

Well, well. Susan Jacoby, who wrote a book on the pride many Americans (let me assure you, many Germans do so, too. I can provide several really hilarious links if you’d like some) take in being and staying ignorant (although she kinda does not listen to her own advice). Interestingly, some posts lately on the Log talked about an amazingly brazen book on linguistics. The book’s called The Secret History of the English Language and its claims are preposterous, no, beyond preposterous, and they seem to be based on that little helper of American (hell, german, too) ignorance: so-called common sense. Sketching briefly (anything in a 199 page language HISTORY will, of necessity, be brief) the accepted history of the English language, apparently he then dismisses it as implausible and proceeds to claim that in fact, English developed into French, which developed into Provençal, which developed into Italian. And then the log quoted a bit of the most outrageous claim of them all: that Italian merchants then invented Latin.

Fortunately, there’s a much more reasonable explanation that meets all the facts: Latin is not a natural language. When written, Latin takes up approximately half the space of written Italian or written French (or written English, German, or any natural European language). Since Latin appears to have come into existence in the first half of the first millennium BC, which was the time when alphabets were first spreading through the Mediterranean basin, it seems a reasonable working hypothesis to assume that Latin was originally a shorthand compiled by Italian speakers for the purposes of written (confidential? commercial?) communication.

That’s very funny, but the book and its predecessor have been praised (see the first of the two log links above). Apparently making a bold claim in an “age of unreason”, based on so-called common sense, is enough to sway a significant portion of the public. If you are now sulky, here’s something funny to lighten your mood: Marc Liberman at the Log had this hypothesis to share:

My own hypothesis is that the whole thing was written over a drunken weekend, to win a bar bet:

Harper: It’s unbelievable, my friend. No one knows anything anymore. Not anything worth knowing.
Drinking buddy: Oh come now. The general level of education has never been higher.
Harper: Not among the so-called intellectual classes, the idiots that publish and
review and buy books. Why, I bet I could write a little tract arguing that French is historically derived from English, and not only get it published, but sell ten times more copies than your last laboriously-researched academic tome.
DB: French derived from English? You’re not serious. You might as well argue that Latin was derived from Italian. Everyone knows that’s impossible.
Harper: You don’t understand — no one knows anything, not anything that’ll stand up to an authoritative poke in an anti-authoritarian voice. Hell, give me a typical modern humanist, and I can make her believe that Latin was invented by Italian speakers as a form of commercial shorthand. Or at least make her accept the idea as an interesting hypothesis.
DB: Latin a shorthand form of Italian? A hundred pounds says no reputable publisher will put it out, unless you frame it as a burlesque.
Harper: Oh, it’ll be serious, believe me. You’re on for that hundred quid. And how about a side bet on how many copies I sell?

Denmark, again. Cartoons, again. Racism, again. The old drill, eh?

This is noteworthy and also parts of it resound with basic ideas of the archbishop’s lecture (see here):

Republication of the cartoon has reignited anger
[…]

At Friday prayers this mistrust of the media is bubbling close to the surface. One furious man comes and tells the people I am interviewing not to trust journalists. This was after Danish intelligence said they had uncovered a plot by three Muslims in Denmark to kill one of the cartoonists. “We were all punished by the printing of those pictures,” says the imam in his sermon.
He is angry that none of the men accused of masterminding the plot are being put on trial – the Danish intelligence services say revealing their evidence would compromise their intelligence network. Instead, they are expelling two of the suspects who do not have Danish citizenship and freeing the third who does. “How does it make sense that a person who is trying to kill somebody is being arrested, charged, interrogated and then released and yet still we should feel that he’s a terrorist?” asks Imran Hussein, who runs Network an advisory body for Muslim organisations in Denmark. Like many Muslims here he was appalled by the discovery of the plot to kill the cartoonist but now he is more sceptical.
[…]
“A lot of people are afraid of Islam today in Denmark and when they are afraid of Islam it means they are afraid of me too,” says Sofian, who was born in Denmark but feels he no longer has a future there.
[…]
“I am hurt, as I was the first time,” says Feisal, who works in marketing and was also born in Denmark. He believes the problem is not Danish society but the media.
[…]
Feisal says he cannot understand why the media keeps focusing on the idea that Muslims are trying to take their freedom of speech away from them.
[…]
“I will never feel one hundred percent accepted here in Danish society,” says Imran Hussein, who has tried hard at integration, getting involved in local politics. He says the cartoons were just part of a bigger picture. “It’s just getting worse and worse because the daily spoken language about immigrants and the portrayals of Muslims specifically are getting worse worldwide, so of course that’s had an effect in Denmark as well,” explains Imran.
[…]
Radical Islamist parties have been quick to channel this sense of alienation. Hizb ut Tahrir in Denmark organised a protest against the reprinting of the cartoons. Hundreds of demonstrators marched through the streets of Copenhagen shouting “God is Great!” and “Freedom of Speech is a plague!” Some Danes looked rather surprised.
[…]
Outside the cafe, under the guidance of Hizb ut Tahrir, Danish Muslims were chanting “Khilafat” – supporting the party’s demand for the creation of a caliphate to unite Muslims worldwide.

So far Muslims in Denmark have been talking about discrimination and the need for more respect. But the more they feel nobody is listening to their anger the more susceptible they will be to the message of radical political Islam.

(via)

Intellektuelle Bankrotterklärung: Broder, die Zeit und andere

Ich schreibe gerade einen englischen post über den Archbishop von Canterbury und seinen Vortrag über die Sharia. Aber eine deutschssprachige Anmerkung habe ich zuerst: mal abgesehen davon, daß die SPON-Berichterstattung gewohnt tendenziös und halbgar ist, toppt Broder das alles natürlich wieder einmal, indem er nicht nur nichts verstanden hat, sondern sich auch nicht die Mühe gegeben hat, sich zu informieren. Ein Beispiel:

Nur irrt sich der Bischof, wenn er glaubt, man könne eine Gesellschaft wie eine Betriebskantine organisieren, deren Benutzer die Wahl zwischen einem Fleischgericht und einen vegetarischen Menü haben. Ein wenig Scharia kann es genauso wenig geben wie ein wenig Schwangerschaft. Die Scharia regelt das ganze Leben, wer sie nur in Teilen übernehmen will, hat von der Zwangsläufigkeit, die ihr innewohnt, keine Ahnung. Es ist, als würde man in einem Freibad das Nacktbaden unter der Bedingung erlauben, dass jeder Besucher darüber entscheiden darf, welches Kleidungsstück er ablegen mag. […]

Da ein Teil der Migranten nicht willens oder nicht in der Lage ist, die Regeln der Gesellschaft anzunehmen, soll die Gesellschaft die Regeln der Migranten übernehmen. So kann “Integration” auch definiert werden – als ein Auftrag an die Mehrheit, sich der Minderheit anzupassen.

Wie hier nachzulesen ist, liegt Broder in so ziemlich jedem Detail daneben. Weder hat der verstanden, was Dr. Williams mit der Scharia meint, noch was für eine Art rechtliches Modell (das in britischer Jurisdiktion übrigens längst möglich ist und auch durchgeführt wird) sich der Erzbischof vorgestellt hat, und vor allem nicht, daß Dr. Williams die Einwände kennt und sie sorgfältig und nachdenklich bespricht. Er nennt Bedingungen, die einzuhalten die einzige Möglichkeit sind, solch eine Änderungen in der britischen Jurisprudenz einzuführen. Entsprechend wäre nach des Bischofs Plan keine einzige der von Broder aufgeführten “Schreckensszenarien” nach des Bischofs Plänen überhaupt möglich.

Wogegen argumentiert Broder also? Der Schlüssel liegt in seinem Bestehen auf dem Ausdruck “Migrant”. Dr. Williams, der durchaus problematische Meinungen vertritt, seit er Erzbischof ist, sieht, daß es hier darum geht, daß man ganze Gemeinden von Staatsbürgern hat, die nicht vom System erfaßt werden. Der Grund dafür ist unerheblich. Denn mit diesem Problem gilt es umzugehen. Herr Broder jedoch, der den gemeinen Moslem offensichtlich nach wie vor als Fremdkörper im Land begreift, kann das nicht verstehen, oder er will es nicht. Drum bläst er ins selbe Horn wie der rechte Flügel der CDU/CSU, die NPD und andere nette Parteien. Man möchte Broder immer wieder schütteln, bis er versteht, was er sagt, wenn er das Wort “Aufklärung” in den Mund nimmt, aber da ist wohl sowohl Hopfen als auch Malz verloren. Söder bringe ich Vernunft auch nicht mehr bei.

Und das Traurigste ist, daß bei dieser, na, man möchte fast: Kampagne sagen, auch die Presse hübsch mitmischt. So wie die Zeit, deren Titelbild unlängst übrigens wieder sehr *hust* hübsch war. In einem Kommentar war sie, im Gegensatz zu Broder, aber wenigstens ehrlich und gab zu, die Rede nicht verstanden zu haben (wobei ich bezweifle, daß sie sie gelesen hat):

Der Sinn des Vortrags, den er vergangene Woche vor 1000 Juristen hielt, erschließt sich selbst nach sorgfältiger Lektüre nur schwer.

Das hielt sie aber nicht davon ab, die Rede aufgrund zweier Sätze zu kritisieren, die “an Klarheit nchts übrig ließen”, die sie aber offensichtlich schlicht und ergreifend nicht verstanden hat:

Die Übernahme von Elementen der Scharia in britisches Recht bezeichnete Williams als “unvermeidlich”. Auch nannte er die Position, ein Rechtssystem für alle verbindlich zu erklären, “ein bisschen gefährlich”.

Peinlich, da die ZEIT sich auf den Vortrag bezieht. In einem am selben Tag gegebenen Interview drückte Dr. Williams sich weniger sorgfältig aus, aber das ist hier ja unerheblich. Im Vortrag sagte er erstens nicht, es IST unvermeidlich, sondern es SCHEINT unvermeidlich. Und zweitens sagte er das nicht absolut, sondern er formulierte es als teil einer wenn…dann Konstruktion. ‘Wenn wir sozialen Frieden wollen, dann scheint es unvermeidbar,…’

Das Verhalten der ZEIT und Broders in diesem Disput ist nichts weiter als eine weitere intellektuelle Bankrotterklärung. Hurra wir kapitulieren? Sicher. Vor der Vernunft, soweit es die Zeit und Broder betrifft. Für eine offene Gesellschaft ist dieser dem Bürgertum ins Ohr geträufelte Hass reines Gift.