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Rogue Specimens

returning to the wild since 1987

lareviewofbooks:


One of the most intriguing and valuable books I read in 2011 was Catherine Liu’s American Idyll: Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique (University of Iowa Press). We have billionaire antielitists, tenured antielitists, rightwing nutjob antielitists, leftwing wacko antielitists, famous artist antielitists, multi-platinum antielitists, and Congressional antielitists, and Liu wants to know: Why is everybody on this bus? The book articulates some ideas that have been knocking around, inchoate, in my own head for a while. I asked the author to tell us why she wrote it.
– Tom Lutz

CATHERINE LIU

I wrote this book because, all through college and graduate school, I found academia hypnotized by largely pointless but bitter struggles about “elitism.” At the beginning of the Culture Wars, Allan Bloom and William Buckley were clearly the elitists and they were clearly the bad guys; but then again, anyone who read and liked literature more than listening to Madonna was cast as an elitist too. In graduate school, and then as I started my first job at the University of Minnesota, everyone was drawing lines and taking sides, for or against canons, for or against Deleuze, for or against Habermas, for or against Derrida, all using the word “elitist” to cudgel their opponents. I found it all infuriating and enervating.

“Elitist” is used as an all-purpose insult by both the culturally reactionary and the culturally progressive: people who speak foreign languages are elitist (if they learned them in school); recently on NPR, a Wisconsin Republican called union members “elitist.” How did this term come to be so useful and meaningless at the same time? My generation of academics also throw the word “deconstruction” around all the time, and so I thought we should take up the “deconstruction” of knee-jerk antielitism.

(I also wrote this book because I wanted to understand the Midwest and the U.S. in general. I wanted to understand why my bicoastal existence and my parents’ immigrant self-obsessions had led to me to reach largely mistaken conclusions about the U.S.)

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[End re-blog; enter my caption. I can’t figure out Tumblr’s formatting of these different platform options. Same shit, different year.]

It’s been quite a few years since I last felt like the awesome paradox of futuristic nostalgia that is supposed to comprise New Year’s [Eve] reflections/resolutions had anything to do with me. This year, when the clock LED’s tipped over to midnight, I was in the middle of polishing champagne flutes so that the diners still in house could drink out of them. This was completely fine by me. Countdowns make me nauseous, definitive moments shared by mass groups of strangers in public give me the creeps, and the making of promises—especially if I’m the one pronouncing—makes me knee-jerk want to bet against something.

Analysis of what kind of person I must be aside, the one thing I did actually want to deliberate on in a “during 2012”-y kind of way was my reading (and then writing) habit. If I had the time I would totally keep a grade-school-in-summer style log of what I’m reading and how all of it ties into my projects. This got thrown out as soon as the quarter started—it’s hard enough to make sure I read all my literature homework. And my online writing projects are already outrageously backed up. So instead of writing about all the books I’ve read—because I won’t have, until I graduate—I’m going to try to write more about the books I’m smacking onto my to-do list. Totally almost the same thing, except without the “having anything to say” part, right?

I’m really excited about this book, not only because the author has apparently written a novel titled Oriental Girls Desire Romance, but because in this shorter write-up she says things I wish I’d known to say in any previous conversation/argument about, among other things, words like “accessibility”. When we use that word, to whom do we think we are according greater access? What does that imply about those perceived to be privileged allowance within a closed circle of understanding? Do we actually expect that those perceptions have their basis in reality? And what does that imply, conversationally, about who we are willing to expect/allow to represent—in public or academic or cultural presence—different kinds of understanding and resources? Also, what is the institution of the university for?

(Source: lareviewofbooks)

2 years ago
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    CATHERINE LIU I wrote this book because, all through college and graduate school, I found academia hypnotized by largely...
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    CATHERINE LIU I wrote this book because, all through college and graduate school, I found academia hypnotized by largely...
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    [End re-blog; enter my caption. I can’t figure out Tumblr’s formatting of these different platform options. Same shit,...
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    … I find the younger generation of graduate students more willing to look seriously at intellectual history, Old Left...
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