Friday, May 25, 2007

Butler vs. Nussbaum


[Salon, 1999]

Dear Professor Paglia:

Denis Dutton, the teacher at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand who founded the annual "Bad Writing Contest" a few years ago, recently announced the winner of this year's contest as Professor Judith Butler of the University of California at Berkeley. Her "winning" sentence comes from an article she wrote for the journal "Diacritics":

"The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the questions of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural tonalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power."

Now, I don't think I'm a stupid person, and I think I have a pretty good grasp of the English language, but I haven't a clue as to what Professor Butler is trying to say. And she's a professor, yet! Apparently someone, like, read her work and thought she should be paid big bucks to do more. I don't get it. There are crazy people ranting on the streets who make more sense (Berkeley could save a wad of cash by hiring a dozen of them to take Butler's place). But I recall that in one of your books you said she was a student of yours once. Did you teach her to write like this?

Joseph Molden
Santa Cruz, Calif.

Dear Mr. Molden,

"A hard rain's a-gonna fall!" prophesied Bob Dylan in 1963. The academic sun that once brought high rank and riches to PC queens like Judith Butler has begun to fade in the gathering storm.

May the Muses bless New Zealand's Professor Dutton for his witty championing of basic standards of logic and style! Unfortunately, Butler is only one of a flock of poststructuralist seagulls whose empty squawks have been hailed as divine wisdom by gullible professors and imposed on hapless students in required reading lists[...]

[...]Please do not blame me for Butler's lousy writing! She was never officially enrolled in my classes in the mid-1970s at Bennington College -- although her circle of close friends were repeat students of mine. I was then in my most militant lesbian-feminist mode (which led to me getting fired after a fist fight at a college dance half a decade later). My influence was everywhere on that small, seethingly insular campus. For example, I helped organize a feminist film festival, for which I chose the films and wrote the program notes. I gave illustrated public lectures on sexual personae and "performance" (a Swinging '60s London and Warhol New York principle that stupid people think Butler or Foucault invented). In an essay for the alumni journal, I celebrated Bennington's transvestite production of Jean Genet's "The Maids," starring a charismatic theater major, Mitchell Lichtenstein, as the maid Clare.

The sad truth is that Judith Butler -- at that time wry and smart but timorous, mundane and as nervously anxious as early Woody Allen (I used to call her "the little brown mole") -- fled Bennington at the height of David Bowie's flamboyant, gender-bending period (Bowie was our god) to enroll as a transfer student at Yale University, where she eventually got her B.A. Yale was then the first landing point, via Johns Hopkins, of French poststructualism,

a ponderously labyrinthine style of false abstraction that killed the American-born Warholite pop revolution dead in its tracks, when acolytes like myself were trying to use it to revolutionize academic discourse[...]


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