07/20/16

The Vienna Circle’s Tangent

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On the main marble staircase of the University of Vienna, brass letters set into the floor mark the event. “On 22 June 1936 Moritz Schlick, a leading member of the Vienna Circle, was murdered on this spot. An intellectual climate poisoned by racism and intolerance contributed to the act.”

I had always assumed that Schlick’s assassin was inspired by race hatred. It turns out, though, that the only Jewish thing about Schlick was the philosophical case he made for Einstein’s relativity theory (a piece of “non-Aryan science” according to the Nazi thought leaders). His murderer, a former grad student with a grudge who blamed Schlick for his own failures in love and career, had been stalking him for years. Stalkers will stalk, malingerers will malinger. But it was 1936 in Vienna. The murderer made no attempt to run away. Once arrested, he had his fan club. He claimed to have done the deed to purify the nation of a quasi-Judaic philosophical “decadent.” And with the benefit of a pliant jury and a bit of an insanity defense, he was out of jail within two years.

Schlick’s murder set other members of the Vienna Circle on their path out of Austria. Carnap came to Chicago, and another story began.

A climate of hatred and violence: it not only precipitates murder, but retrospectively justifies it. The university is right to call this to the attention of everyone going up and down the stair.

01/1/15

An Unlikely Solution for an Impossible Problem

Over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of rape accusations on college campuses, and some significant muddying of the waters by the colleges themselves, by journalists, and by people passionately taking one side or the other; and also a lack of will on the part of law students and faculty to spend much time considering the judicial treatment of such egregious offenses as rape. I’m fortunate not to be in an administrative role that requires me to be making decisions about such matters, but I can’t help feeling that the present means for dealing with sexual offenses on campuses aren’t working.

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12/2/14

The King of Copycats

This article by Michel Charles tells of his pursuit, with wide eye and raised brow, of Professor R.-L. Etienne Barnett, a shadowy individual most of whose contributions to major humanities journals turn out to be lightly rewritten reprintings of articles by other scholars, or sometimes re-reprintings of articles he’d already appropriated from others. (English summary here.) I read manuscripts for several editorial boards, and while I can pick out a bad argument or a sloppy paragraph, I’m not always alert to the possibility of plagiarism; for that, I would have had to read and remember a monstrous amount of writing in an ever-expanding world of publications. Will editors start google-checking every manuscript, or feeding them through Turnitin as if authors were undergraduates? Michel Charles fingers the ultimate culprit: the pursuit, by individuals and institutions, of the highest possible “impact factor,” calculated automatically.

And speaking of impact factors, I wonder if you will get negative points by contributing to the following:

 

Call for Papers for a Special Issue of Neohelicon: Discourse of Madness
(Special volume of Neohelicon [43, 2016]. Guest-Editor: R.-L. Etienne Barnett)

PROSPECTUS

Contributions on any aspect of madness in (of, and) textuality are welcome for consideration. Possible areas of focus, among a plethora of other options: literary representations of the alienated mind; mad protagonists or mad writers; madness as a vehicle of exile, as a form of marginalization, of dissipation, of disintegration, of revelation or self-revelation; interpretations of madness as a manifestation of structure, style, rhetoric, narrative; madness as a reflection of cultural assumptions, values, prohibitions; madness, as prophetic or dionysiac, poetic, or other; the esthetics of madness; philosophical, ethical, ontological, epistemological, hermeneutic and esthetic implications of the discourse/narrative of madness..

From an alternative vantage point, one might question: how does the deviant mind-set of authorial figures and/or fictional characters determine the organization of time, space and plot in the narrative? How does the representation of delusional worlds differ from the representation of other “non-mad” mental acts (dreams, fantasies, aspirations) and from other fictional worlds (magic, imaginings, phantoms) — if it does? Contributors are welcome to address these and other questions in a specific work, in a group of works, or in a more general/theoretical reflection, in and across any national tradition(s), literary movement(s) or œuvre(s).

SUBMISSIONS

Theoretical or applied contributions focused upon “discourses of madness” in the literary “arena” are invited and will be accorded full and serious consideration.

Manuscripts in English, French German or Italian — not to exceed twenty (25) double-spaced pages, including notes, bibliography and appendices, where applicable — are welcome. Contributions written in any but one’s first (or native) language must be scrupulously reviewed, edited and proofed by a “native” specialist prior to submission.

Format and submission requirements: Papers must prepared in strict accordance with APA (not MLA) guidelines and are to be accompanied by an abstract and 6-8 key words or expressions in English. (A second abstract and set of key words in the language of the article, if not in English, is strongly recommended.)

Submit via email in the form of a WORD document (attachment) to: R.-L. Etienne Barnett (Guest-Editor) at: RL_Barnett@msn.com (primary submission address) with a second copy to RLEBarnett@editionsdegresecond.be (secondary submission address).

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: OCTOBER 1, 2015

Prof. R.-L. Etienne Barnett
RL_Barnett@msn.com (Primary Email)
RLEBarnett@editionsdegresecond.be (Secondary Email)
Email: rl_barnett@msn.com (primary email)
Visit the website at http://www.springer.com/education+%26+language/linguistics/journal/11059

 

Then again, if you like windy administrative nonsense, this one is pretty good too.

11/8/14

Disincentives for Disincentivizing

Larry Lessig’s organization MAYDAY PAC attempted to support candidates who would push for comprehensive campaign reform and an end to the systemic corruption described in Lessig’s recent books Republic Lost, One Way Forward, and Lesterland. I was one of the many people who sent money to this effort. Sadly, not much came of it. In an email sent yesterday to supporters, Lessig drew a few lessons, among them:

A significant chunk of actual voters rank our issue as the most important. These voters are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And in the right context, we believe the data show that they can be rallied to the cause.

The important qualification in that sentence, however, is also the most important lesson that this cycle taught me: “in the right context.” What 2014 shows most clearly is the power of partisanship in our elections. Whatever else voters wanted, they wanted first their team to win.

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06/6/14

Do Feed the Public Intellectual

(Introducing Paul Farmer, Human Rights Program Kirschner Memorial Lecture, June 5, 2014)

Good evening and welcome to tonight’s Kirschner Memorial Lecture. I’m delighted to see so many of you here tonight, a direct acknowledgment of the significance of our Human Rights Program and a hint that our benefactors’ generosity has not been totally misplaced. The questions examined in the Human Rights Program are among the most serious questions raised in a university, and I would say that for us, specifically, in this country, with our history and assumptions, the area of health and human rights has the greatest power to change the way we see ourselves and others.

For many of us in Paul’s and my generation in the United States, the first time we heard about human rights as a field of activism, it was in connection with the denial of people’s rights to free speech and assembly, their right to emigrate, their right to seek redress, their implicit right to representative government. And we learned about this in the context of the Cold War, when it seemed self-evident that people in some part of the world benefited from the recognition of those rights, while people lacked them in many other parts of the world—not only the Soviet bloc and China, but also Latin America, Asia and Africa, where the client states of the great powers all seemed to repress their dissidents with the greatest indifference. Of course, it didn’t stop there. The response to human rights activism by official representatives of the socialist countries and by some of our own home-grown leftists was to point out how inequitably the market system distributed such basic goods as food, housing, education and medical care, goods which, it was implied, were a fair trade for civil and legal rights. The funny thing about this answer is that it was taken just as a rebuke of the West’s hypocrisy. Despite some laudable exceptions, we did not experience, even in the Carter era which made such a noise about making human rights the driving force of our foreign policy, a large-scale effort to wrap social and economic rights around the uncontestable but rather abstract goods of free speech and fair elections at home. The struggle for civil rights and equality within the US, which had concluded in the courts with a handful of imperfect measures for instituting fairness in civil life, did not carry over into an effective War on Poverty. The Great Society spent most of its surplus on weaponry, with a small percentage allocated to nagging our rivals about their bad human-rights record.

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04/20/13

Goof Gas; Or, Read Him His Rights

Remember that old Bullwinkle episode where Boris and Natasha dosed America’s finest brains with a secret gas that made them stupid? Goof gas has been discovered; it’s the word “terrorism.” Effective in 94% of people (personal observation).

The sordid trick of creating a special, sacred, untouchable category of people whose motives are supposed to be irrational and unknowable– or let’s say “evil,” for brevity’s sake– is having its predictable effects. The 19-year-old second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing has been labeled a Terrorist, and gray-haired elder statesmen are baying to have him thrown into Guantanamo; people I supposedly am friendly with, or friend-of-a-friendly with (by the standards of Facebook) are calling for him to be tortured (as if that would serve any purpose of investigation or law). And, most notoriously, a city of 600,000 people was on lockdown for 48 hours and thousands of police were swarming around as if he were Godzilla come back from the bottom of the sea.

If he and his brother had killed a policeman, stolen a car at gunpoint, exchanged fire with cops, and somehow set off explosives that killed three and maimed 120, while robbing a bank, we would be talking about them as vicious criminals, but we would be secure in the knowledge that we have courts and prisons designed to handle such cases, and handle them (let’s hope) dispassionately. But robbing a bank is, I guess, normal, and this other thing is somehow out of the sphere of humanity. But that’s absurd. People commit horrendous acts of violence and harm strangers all the time in their “pursuit of happiness.” Sometimes there’s a political or religious element to the wickedness, but not always. What they do can be described within the vocabulary of the police blotter and the criminal law, judges can hear testimony for and against them, they can have their day in court and their many days in prison, if found guilty. This is everyday life in a society that has laws.

No need to get all terroristic about terrorism. Read the poor SOB his Miranda rights, for heaven’s sake. Question him first, if there’s a likelihood that he has stashed further bombs that might be set to explode and hurt people. Question him about that. But don’t put him outside the reach of the law, deny him access to a lawyer or the right to remain silent, just to punish him. That actually wouldn’t punish him; it would reward him, it would make him from an American citizen (admittedly, not a very nice one) into a superman. Or Godzilla. And as far as a rational eye can see, he isn’t.

Jesse James was armed and dangerous. He was not a supernatural category. He was not evil incarnate. He was not a threat to all of our very existences. If you think little Dzokhar is, that’s the Goof Gas doing its work.

goofgas

 

Update: on April 22, the judge notified the surviving suspect of the charges being brought against him. Though indigent, he was informed of his right to legal representation. So somebody out there is reading Printculture. Good.