Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Few Thoughts on "Criticism"

I've been mulling over this idea for a while, and it resurfaced recently when one of the professors at Gothic Revival U brought up the tendency of scholars -- especially younger ones, but not solely -- to feel as though they have to tear down other scholars' work, and not just in order for their own to be heard. Lord knows I've been guilty of this myself in the past (especially when it comes to the nebulous, sometimes solipsistic fringes of capital-T Theory land, where I tend to react out of frustration).

But it occurred to me again that it's built into the very way we think about secondary and tertiary analysis in my discipline: we call it Criticism.

It's come to mean and in many ways be synonymous with analysis, but it also seems to carry the connotation, at least emotionally, of being critical, as in a negative, claws-out, destructive manner. We have two meanings for the word critical, of course. We call it "critical thinking" when we mean "analytical", but it may be telling that we now as a culture have to use the word "constructive" to qualify criticism as the helpful kind.

And so I wonder if maybe we can decide, en masse as it were, to change the terminology we use, and maybe in that way, change the way we think about secondary scholarship.

I think I'm going to do my best from now on to use the phrase "Analysis" where others use "Criticism" in my discipline. I think at the very least it'll help me remember that even if I think a piece of scholarship is straight out of Loony-Tunes Land, that I can learn something from it. That doesn't mean there won't be times when I analyze and conclude that an element of an article, or an article in general, isn't helpful to me, but I think it will help me, and hopefully others, to remember that maybe we're not here to be critics. At least I'm not.

I'm here to learn.

So now if you'll pardon me, I have some Literary Analysis to perform ;)

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Respect for Alcohol Begins at Home, at School, in Our Philosophy, Horatio.

Tenured Radical has a post up today about "Twelve Steps that institutions could take to reverse student alcoholism", which is interesting, but I think misses a few things.

First, there's the mention of a couple of terms that I'd like to contest:
I remember a young friend telling me about a category at a women’s school they called “LUGs,” which meant “Lesbian Until Graduation.” We might add to that category “AWACs,” translating to “Alcoholic While At College.” Although only a few of these students will go on to be genuine, professional alcoholics, this period of alcoholism still has a dramatic impact on their ability to learn, remain organized, be healthy and mature as intellectuals and workers.

I think that "AWAC", just like "LUG", is a very problematic term, and the very fact of its coining bothers me. Alcoholism should not be equated with irresponsible drinking. The two are very different things. To suggest that "when they realize that holding down a job and being a drunk is a skill few can master" an alcoholic will recover is, I would think, offensive to the people who actually struggle with alcoholism. While alcohol abuse is a hallmark of alcoholism, not all alcohol abuse is alcoholism. I would go so far as to say that if the realization that being drunk affects your livelihood is enough to stop you drinking, you're probably *not* an alcoholic, and never were.

This isn't to say that I don't think some of the things TR is suggesting are good ideas. I think asking responsible drinkers to counsel irresponsible ones is a great idea. But I think we need to not only look at it as a campus problem, but as a fundamental flaw with the way the United States deals with intoxicants.

First: the age of majority. It's patently absurd to suggest that a person is mature enough to vote, be in pornography, and own a gun years before they can consume alcohol. It's patently absurd to ask anyone caught within that space of time to respect that space. They don't, and they won't. "Under-age" drinking will continue until some logic is applied to the age of majority in this country. It gives drinking a social cache that makes drunkenness a sign of adulthood.

Second: making drinking illicit drives it underground and prevents any kind of education about responsible approaches; as well as education about catching alcoholism-like behaviour early. As far as I'm concerned, telling young adults that drinking is bad and banning it until the age of 21 is about as logical as abstinence-only education -- and about as effective, too.

So yes, do those twelve things on campus. Do your best to reduce problematic drinking. But don't call it alcoholism, and don't really expect it to change until you stop making it sexy by outlawing it.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Reader Recommendation

Hello early semester readers!

Just read a review over at Religion in American History of John Fea's new book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? and it definitely sounds worth reading/assigning to young historians. My favourite part?

"The Christian nation debate is not really an intellectual contest between legitimate contending viewpoints; it is instead a manufactured controversy akin to the global warming debate. On one side are purveyors of a rich and complex view of the past (including most historians who have written about the founding era). On the other side is a group of ideological cranks who have created an alternate intellectual universe based on a historical fundamentalism."

Go check it out. Even if you're not interested in the book, it's a good blog :)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A Note to Those Attempting Old English Pronunciation

In fact, only to you who hail from parts of North America prone to palatalization and nasalization of your vowels:

While the pronunciation of "Hwæt" does rhyme more with "cat" than with "what", this is only the case if you speak like Dr. Gregory House. If your normal pronunciation of "box" resembles in any way the spelling "bee-ax" suddenly Old English epic poems seem to begin not with "What!" but with a sound more fitting for a millpond than a meadhall. I promise you, that though there may be much in Old English study open to interpretation, no Anglo-Saxon scop ever called to attention a horde of drinking men by quacking like a duck.

Sincerely yours,

A Concerned Party

postscript: One day, I will have internet at my home again. For now, I'm in a cafe next to a laundromat, blogging while Vaulting does more productive things.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Radio Silence

The Casa de Vaulting and Vellum is picking up and moving across town today, to a place without internet until Thursday. Just in case you start to worry.

Wish us luck.