“Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
“Here it is in modern English:
“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”
FROM: Politics and The English Language by George Orwell
I recently bought a book: “The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism” being interested to know what was ‘going down’ in circles who discuss ‘life the universe and everything’ in socio-political terms, in this our 21st century.
I placed George Orwell’s observations on English Language, as it was current during his times (1930s, 1940s) above here for you to read, so that you get straightaway the gist of what I am aiming at in my ‘translation’, in a similar vein to Orwell’s, of a piece of work which I have found fairly typical of the style and content of what is ‘going down’ in those Theory and Criticism circles.
But I am translating, I hope, somewhat backward to Orwell and into ordinary language what is written so tortuously in the ‘Norton Anthology’ and in a form of English no-one but those ‘in the in set’ would ever have patience to read and to value as a personal or general expression of views.
Here then first is a sample of dreadful language taken from the Norton Anthology:
“The clearest available example of such epistemic violence is the remotely orchestrated, far-flung, and heterogeneous project to constitute the colonial subject as Other. This project is also the asymmetrical obliteration of the trace of that Other in its precarious Subject-ivity. It is well known that Foucault locates epistemic violence, a complete overhaul of the episteme, in the redefinition of sanity at the end of the European eighteenth century. But what if that particular redefinition was only a part of the narrative of history in Europe as well as in the colonies? What if the two projects of epistemic overhaul worked as dislocated and unacknowledged parts of a vast two-handed engine? Perhaps it is no more than to ask that the subtext of the palimpsestic narrative of imperialism be recognized as ‘subjugated knowledge’, ‘a whole set of knowledges that have been disqualifIed as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity’ (PK, p. 82).
This is not to describe ‘the way things really were’ or to privilege the narrative of history as imperialism as the best version of history. It is, rather, to offer an account of how an explanation and narrative of reality was established as the normative one. To elaborate on this, let us consider briefly the underpinnings of the British codification of Hindu Law.
First, a few disclaimers: in the United States the third-world ism currently afloat in humanistic disciplines is often openly ethnic. I was born in India and received my primary, secondary and university education there, including two years of graduate work. My Indian example could thus be seen as a nostalgic investigation of the lost roots of my own identity . Yet even as I know that one cannot freely enter the thickets of ‘motivations’, I would maintain that my chief project is to point out the positivist-idealist variety of such nostalgia. I turn to Indian material because, in the absence of advanced disciplinary training, that accident of birth and education has provided me with a sense of the historical canvas, a hold on some of the pertinent languages that are useful tools for a bricoleur, especially when armed with the Marxist skepticism of concrete experience as the fInal arbiter and a critique of disciplinary formations. Yet the Indian case cannot be taken as representative of all countries, nations, cultures and the like that may be invoked as the Other of Europe as Self.”
FROM: Can the Subaltern Speak? By Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Now here is my ‘translation’ of it:
“The conspiracy is to label the ‘non-westerner’ as the ‘alien’, and to dismiss the ‘non-westerner’s’ cultural background. Foucault says that the political consequeces of The Enlightement similarly protrayed as ‘alien’ the ways people had thought immediately previous to it.
But the conspiracy might go further. What if this is part of a comprehensive tyrrany of thought that disqualifies, as if scientificaly, and as being ‘alien’, and so ‘of little worth’, many kinds of people and their cultural backgrounds? And this version of history is that which is in common use, and it is written by those who dominate. (Note the change here from ‘what if?’ to ‘it is like this’)
The way humanities are taught in the USA treats such ‘alien non-westerners’ as ‘diminished’ peoples. My own choice of research was seen there as a sentimental assertion of my Indian identity. (I am using my Indian background here as an example because it is one I know about, even though other ways of domination by disparagement persist). Nonetheless I saw my research as being as valid as any other; and objectively so, because ‘the historical fact of western dominance’ remains no adequate justification to devalue it.”
The couching of these ideas of the writer by her in a highly wrought vocabulary which acts to try to ‘objectify’ the ideas expressed, by removing, obfuscating, the personal side of the authour’s endeavour, in as far as the highly wrought vocabulary allows; this I believe, is the abiding reason for doing this kind of strange writing. This has been my observation. It is an opinion, but it is an opinion for which my attempted ‘translation’ provides, I hope, some evidence of viability?
In short, to be rude and reductive: “Bullshit baffles brains”
Here is another writer from the Norton Anthology, who is talking about human gender (I don’t know her attitude to gender in non-human animals.) The introductory preamble (from an editor’s hand) to the writing calls the text from which this extract below here is taken ‘the most important text’ of its type of the 1990s. The author of it herself claims, as my subtitle above attempts to refer to, that genders (and ‘soul’ alike) are imprimted from the outside world upon people, and that genders (and souls) are not core identities within the beings of individuals. Now read on – (if you can stomach the prose?)
“But how can an epistemic/ontological regime be brought into question? What best way to trouble the gender categories that support gender hierarchy and compulsory heterosexuality? Consider the fate of “female trouble,” that historical configuration of a nameless female indisposition, which thinly veiled the notion that being female is a natural indisposition. Serious as the medicalization of women’s bodies is,the term is also laughable, and laughter in the face of serious categories is indispensable for feminism.Without a doubt, feminism continues to require its own forms of serious play. Female Trouble is also the title of the John Waters film that features Divine, the hero/heroine of Hair-spray as well, whose impersonation of women implicitly suggests that gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real.
Her/his performance destabilizes the very distinctions between the natural and the artificial, depth and surface, inner and outer through which discourse about genders almost always operates. Is drag the imitation of gender, or does it dramatize the signifying gestures through which gender itself is established? Does being female constitute a “natural fact” or a cultural performance, or is “naturalness” constituted through discursively constrained performative acts that produce the
body through and within the categories of sex? Divine notwithstanding, gender practices within gay and lesbian cultures often thematize “the natural” in parodic contexts that bring into relief the performative construction of an original and true sex.What other foundational catgories of identity—the binary of sex, gender, and the body—can be shown as productions that create the effect of the natural, the original, and the inevitable?
FROM: GENDER TROUBLE Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by JUDITH BUTLER
Do note, that as in the previous extract about non-western ‘subjugations’, wherein I pointed out that its argument shifted from ‘what if’ to ‘this is how it is’ without pause for evidence, in this second extract, the argument likwise is not made. Rather there is a bald assertion of ‘how it is.’
We are expected to take for granted that the writer’s argument has already been won; and so that the “epistemic/ontological regime” is just that, a regime, a setup, a construction; and do note that the word ‘regime’ when used in politics – which is, it appears, what we are talking about here, – the term labels, in ‘normal’ media statements, a state or a national administration which is persona non grata so to speak – just an observation I make.
The distancing of the author into an assumed ‘objectivity’ by way of the use of a highly wrought vocabulary however does admit of choices of terms which carry pejorative elements, it appears.
The author also presumes that the ‘gender categories’ ‘set up’ by this ‘regime’ are supportive of its “gender hierarchy and compulsory heterosexuality”. So it’s an attack on maleness I guess? On men also? You can’t pin it down exactly, because the words ‘male’ and ‘men’ are never used; ‘masculinity’ might be used here and there. So the door is open for an escape route for the author were one to come out and call a spade a spade and say that this text is an attack on men and on male domination of society. Maybe the accusation aimed by our author at the person who dares to say this, is to say s/he is being ‘reductive’ and so “naively simplistic”? Of course our author having all that hundredweight of porridge prose behind her is able to make this call from within such a bastion of tortuous meanings?
I won’t nit-pick anymore. Let’s be sensible. I’ll just give a brief overview for you of what the passage cited above here is saying to me. Nothing slanted to be attacking the author; let the ideas speak to you for themselves.
The chief premise this author makes I have encapsulated by saying that in regard to ‘soul’ and in regard to ‘gender’; she proposes that in fact ‘outside is inside’ and “inside is outside’. She accepts that ‘soul’ and ‘gender’ are in fact effects of social and psychological ‘conditioning’ (my term) upon persons; that they are not the core causes of effects in the socio-political setup (regime); that there is no inner identity in persons which carries those persons’ core attributes – such as ‘soul’ and ‘gender’; and that on the contrary, these quailtites are not our cores but are externally generated and imposed from outside, so as to appear to us, their recipients, to be those core characteristics of our identities which define, by which we define, our persons.
That is basically it. The foundation of the whole edifice. But let’s take it as it is and pursue it to its consequences, which for myself prove to me it is not the truth.
Humans are – let’s say for argument’s sake we use the term – ‘conditoned’ by their socio-political environments, even let’s say it’s a conspiracy that uses manipulations of gender identifications which are manufactured so as to uphold male dominance; and these maufactures do so by way of humans self-identifying via dominant and prescribed gender orientations etc etc,: and all is a conspiracy being upheld by the ruling elites. OK that’s the whole shooting match.
The corollary to this scenario, and it is a corollary which the author and her colleagues use in their own favours, is that human beings are thus open to themselves being ‘engineered’ ‘manipulated’, ‘conditioned’ to be and to behave as precisely that party wishes which has the most sway and influence over society and politics, and that it is able to assert these over people. The author of the text above is among that party which wishes to ‘liberate’ humans from gender prescritpions wherein heterosexuality is the enforced norm, and wherein deviations from this norm are repressed and punished by the socio-political environment and its dominant (masculine) forces.
So we are all open books, with empty pages on which anything genderwise, and many other wises, can be scrawled down by the present dominant elite.
Does it not follow that the author herself and her cohorts likewise are open books on which ‘anything’ (so to speak) can be inscribed? Or are these elites exempt from this social engineering, and if so why are they exempt?
The only reason which is viable ( it apppears to me) and which might exempt elites from being subject to their own ‘Frankenstinian’ psycho-designs on the rest of us, seems to me to be the argument that these elites, being conscious of the ‘conditioning’ techniques being applied, so as to manage individuals and societies, are thus masters (mistresses? – I’m confused!) over these techniques, and so are able to, or else have already, ‘broken free of’ the presumptive power of the effects of this engineering of, and upon, the rest of us.
Hence we posit a duality of human beings; a few, an elect, being vessels made to honour and to ornament; and a mass, a remainder, being vessels of clay, to be utensils. Otherwise these eltites are in fact the captives of their own preconditions, just as are the rest of us.
“For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.”
I will finish with a little personal detail. When I was young the place in the world which fascinated people around me, and myself, which drew us all and our interest and desires like a magnet, but which also shocked and astonished us in the same depth of degree, was the US State of California. Things happened here which were ‘larger than life’ as we ourselves knew life to be. It was the place we wanted to go when we died. A land of milk and honey overflowing runing over and in full measure. But also it was ‘out of our leagues’ for shock value and for astonishments that came out of the place from time to time.
Since my youth we people in The West and in other places have made California our secular ideal; not to visit or to live in but to live after its fashion. Our trajectory socially economically politically has been continually to be ‘upping the ante’ in the stakes and the race to realise California in our own back yards; and in a way which runs parallel to the way in which Christians and Jews dream of realising a sacred New Jerusalem on earth.
The song goes “Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to Die” – and California provides the perfect solution; one can even be frozen there upon one’s death and held suspended until ‘technology’ reaches a point where it can resurrect you!
In the 1920s the fad amongst intellectual elites was the theory of eugenics; a vision of a Brave New World in which humans were bred to roles; and again some to vessels of clay and service; others of gold to ornament. Basicaly selective breeding of humans. Since then we have had Dolly the Sheep and a prospect now of human custom-made babies etc etc. Some to wrath and some to honour no doubt.
This weird secular ‘push’ for California goes on; we are all still aiming at ‘Going to California in My Mind” and this project of ‘liberating from prescribed gender’ which I have been trying to show you to be tinpot; this ‘liberating’ of the human race from gender subservience to our elite leaders, and so from the ‘masculine hegemony’; is it any more than another power grab by a group which sees a window, and an opportunity, to ‘take charge of the farm’ by offering the promise to us of California?
And are we, the people who are ‘Only a Pawn in their Game’ in any better position in fact than was Caliban when he took his service out of Prospero’s care and gave it into Stefano’s the buffoon’s:
Got a new master, got a new man!”
And we go along with it because we are all caught up still in pushing the envelope for that California trip, as if here, in California, San Francisco were not, like all other metropolises, a place of ‘no continuing city’.
Yes we are longing for something; vaguely, passionately, as individuals, as a race, as socio-economic groups, and we have longed thus always. This longing in us all: evidently it is not a sign or proof of a lack within us, of a lack of innate identity or gender or soul or of anything else. No, it is not an instance of our essential amorphous Protean lack of a core nature at all: but it is its essential opposite. It goes deep and is dificult to bear and so disturbing to bring to consciousness; it is a reasisation, an understanding, however cloaked, that we belong somewhere else than on this mutable earth of uncertainties, that we belong to a place where there have been many mansions built prepared for us, and which would not have been promised us were it not in truth.