Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 08:54:35 -0500
Subject: re-post: a funny thing happened on the way to the forum

joe amato

(w/apologies to g. s.)

war is this this war

war is this and this war and this war

this war makes slate useful

and just in this way

a slate when it is rubbed is gray and when it is polished is black

this makes unpleasant to the eye and the ear

he said are they at all scarce

and she said they are not at all scarce they are not as scarce

and he said they are not as scarce

after that an occasional return

how can war finish how can a war finish

a war can finish by adding

and by adding a war can finish

a war can finish by not adding that a war can finish

a war can finish by adding that by adding that and by adding

a war can finish by adding a war can finish adding

excerpts (revised) from gertrude stein's useful knowledge. 1928.
barrytown, ny: station hill p, 1988. 132.

sometimes it's difficult to be nice, esp. when it appears that you're under attack... judging by his ebr riPOSTe, it seems michael bérubé feels that i've attacked his credibility... nonetheless, by having fallen into the default intellectual-warfare mode, he's left it incumbent upon me to highlight where we differ in point-counterpoint terms... so it's your typical male pissing contest initially, & then i'll see if i can't push or pull the terms of this debate in more helpful directions...

on the one hand i understand michael's defensiveness (i can't find another word for it), esp. at $37,600 per (of two years ago), esp. given the quality of his work, & esp. b/c i *did* publicly challenge his image as such (& i'm probably not the first to do so)... i felt that what i said was something that needed saying, that i needed to address publicly a (re)sentiment i've encountered here & there -- which, for the very specific reasons i detailed, i've experienced myself on occasion -- about those academics who, like michael, get a lot of press, & access to same... yet i must observe that it's generous of michael to share his salary information... i make $34,500 (in *chicago*) beginning next september, tenure review in one year -- BUT -- nobody in my dept., not even full profs with 25 years of service, makes more than $40,000, which is a good deal below the ceiling down at u of i at u-c... few perks here, to boot...

in fact i'm a bit disappointed that michael didn't make *more* of an issue of his salary... though he ultimately seems to acknowledge his superstar status, apparently sans superstar accoutrement, he might simply have copped to same & elaborated on the absurd wage structure that continues to generate such salaries, the cultural conditions that permit for this, etc... madonna would surely not balk at superstar status, & if she were making a pittance, you'd hear about it...

i mean, why is superstar such a dirty word in our business?... it's not bérubé's fault that he's accomplished or relatively visible... my problem with michael has primarily to do with what i regard as occasional lapses in his awareness of his subject position, lapses that i aligned with his status (& how such status comes at the expense of others less talented, or less lucky -- not bérubé's fault, again)... it seems to me that he doesn't always grasp, or give evidence of grasping, those privileges he enjoys thanks to his status...

two examples, from bérubé's response, should suffice... first, when michael turns to "theorize his positionality," he begins by observing that "by any human standards," he & his family are "absurdly privileged ... free from torture, hunger, and most diseases preventable in industrialized nations"... yet he ends this paragraph with the observation that "'academic star' designation" can "render invisible a domestic economy" that belies academic fame... but there must be *some* benefit, in fact some economic benefit, to academic notoriety, no?... why not say exactly what it is -- job security, publishing connections, ______ ?... why must the (ostensibly) middleclass & professionalized domestic be measured against the impoverished global?... this polarized compare & contrast method reflects less positionality than op-positionality, & it underwrites bérubé's op-positional rhetoric (at least vis-a-vis myself &, in particular, marjorie perloff -- & yes, i partake of said rhetoric myself at times)... it may well be that, despite mutual freedom from torture, hunger, and most diseases, despite the fact that we both make 10 or so times the avg. global yearly salary, the party of the second part (or am i of the first part?) maintains that "my blues ain't your blues"...

my second example: when michael laments that his book, public access, has suffered from a lack of reviews, advertisement, etc., i'm tempted to observe that this is par for the course in the small press world, for most poets, for most writers in fact... & though most writers may not labor under the publish-or-perish strictures of the u of i at u-c, they nonetheless suffer in many cases far more far-reaching neglect (as michael's work on melvin tolson would suggest)... in fact michael ought to have said more about what the lack of reception of his book might (emphasis on *might*) suggest as to a particular public's capacity for accessing his political-ideological sensibility (& i understand fully that the irony of this situation is not lost on him)...

in any case, i was hoping to credit bérubé (which i really do believe i did) with opening up a specific local-to-national site of deliberation, even as i meted out some self-deprecation that i was hoping would be understood as removing any trace of holier-than-thou persona (e.g., when i say that bérubé should shut up once in a while, i suggest the same about my dear old self)... & i was hoping to give some indication of how the back & forth of agreement/disagreement as played out in virtual space provides not simply a more immediate forum, but a potentially much more diverse forum -- of voices -- in which to consider these issues... more diverse than, that is, most print fora (with due allowance made for issues of access, class, cultural demographics, predisposition, etc.)... the relative slow-motion of print exchange, while it has its uses (extended meditations, monologue, polished response), is all too often predicated upon restricted access, whereas electronic exchange permits a greater number of participants & faster turnaround times (albeit, quite often, hastier compositions)... finally, i was hoping the piece would capture/evoke a sense of online flows -- even if rendering different time zones, differing cultural sensibilities, the strange proximities & distances, the son et lumière of the internet was perhaps more than i could hope to accomplish...

& this word "evoke" is crucial here... let me cut to the chase: while i believe michael & i share similar convictions regarding the left, the right, justice & injustice & the like, i suspect that we differ in some significant ways in terms of how we envision ourselves as writers... "writer" isn't a hard tag -- i understand the vagaries of this latter, & given that i'm what some call a "poet-prof.," & that michael has himself made the move into trade publications, we share a discursive, if not marketplace, orientation that more traditional scholars may not... but our self-identities, our self-constructions seem quite a bit different, at least vis-à-vis our alphabetic leanings...

let me put our differences this way: for me, to steal rachel blau duplessis's way of putting it (the pink guitar), i need what i write, & i need what i write in ways that implicate other people---in the *process*... & for me, as for duplessis, this need takes the form of challenging not simply the normative (whether universal or no) as a political construct per se, but the normative as a formal & no less institutional construct, as a textual-ideological construct -- which orientation toward text itself suggests the possibility of different communities of readers & writers, of different publics (than we have now)... there are all sorts of histories---writing traditions, counter-traditions, what have you---implicit in what i'm saying here... nothing too unorthodox (or even, to use michael's term, idiosyncratic) about going back & forth, testicularly, debating points, surfacing & pushing the argumentative basis of critical discourse... "i agree here but..." "i disagree there but..."...

my somewhat unorthodox plunge into online fora using michael's essay as a springboard signaling -- not agreement or disagreement exactly -- rather a somewhat different way of conducting critical practice... espace, both in terms of the poetics list & ebr, permitted me the luxury of airing some fairly dirty laundry -- to use *my* system, locally, & without any but a single editorial green light, to speak out against THE system---the advancing (national) educational complex... & further, to hazard an ex post facto elaboration (of
this process of
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which attends again
to my writerly self ves
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wh atall is &th en
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& now -- more needs, again, & yes, more desires as well)... which latter simply *must* speak to the politics of *poetic* fora -- both the list, that is, as well as formal-material features of list exchange -- whether one regards onself as reconstructed, unreconstructed, or merely constructed... i hesitate to use a term like 'online ethnography' here simply b/c, again, i was after the evocation of an online environs, writing-wise... but my more material motivations should nonetheless be evident -- it's the online possibilities i'm busy exploiting in my piece... & these answer to michael's actual print-based arguments, if non-argumentatively...

if michael & i had been members of an online list, we might have had *this* exchange more directly, using second person, w/o the unnecessary mediation of journal apparatus, & without the status-conscious worries that come of *publication*, & of the rather rigid subject positions owing thereto; we might have reached more quickly a happy resolution of these matters, or at least a happy state of agreeing to disagree; we might have benefitted from the intervention of others; & it seems to me this speaks rather directly to the point of my piece...

i might have been able to modulate (&, if you like, demodulate) my position -- of which latter i take some pains in my writing to permit fluctuation -- in order to encourage less an agonistic exchange, however passionate, & more a mutual grappling with matters that in any case exceed individual control... i might have been able, in fact, to apolgize to you, michael, in something like real time, for any harshness gave offense...

i might have been able to pose, without pose-itioning, more questions about bérubé's notion of "economic nationalism," & to answer fewer badly-posed questions of my own surmise... one question i would surely want to ask -- right now, while i'm writing this, to be posted to a list & answered by michael within, say, 24 hours or so, and perhaps glossed by others -- is whether michael's "economic nationalism" is predicated on a somewhat idealistic understanding of u.s. political realities to the extent that *any* nationalist construct is bound to emotional structures saturated historically with the "blood & soil" of past nationalisms... another would have to do with the apparent dismissiveness of his coda, his somewhat vague assignation of "comic relief"... is literary work -- both the writing & study of literature -- comic relief?... i'd like to hear more... & i'd like to hear what michael has to say to stanley fish's recent critique of his book public access, in which fish takes michael to task for not spelling out precisely how cultural studies will alter the culture it studies (see fish's professional correctness: literary studies and political change, oxford up, 1995)... it seems to me that both bérubé & fish would do well to spend more time talking about teaching... anyway, i'd like to hear more...

& michael bérubé may well have been able to do likewise, may well have been able to throw some tough questions in my direction... goodness knows i need it -- my thinking is often as shaky & as loopy as the next homo sapien's, if not more so... this presumes, of course, some good faith on both sides -- on all sides -- which i don't (and won't) for a moment not presume, call it a mark of my optimism...

flamewars are always a possibility online, to be sure, but at least such unpleasantries are seen online as just that... flames in online discussion space generally do not pass for measured scholastic response -- as they might in print, or as they often do in electronic publication... in my experience anyway, somebody is likely to jump out of lurk mode & insist that correspondents cool down... i certainly do not wish to suggest that there is no threat of damaging or demeaning or snide conduct -- online space is no utopia... yet the immediacy of online exchange permits for rapid dismantling of assumptions as to reading & writing realities -- provided, that is, list communities are sufficiently diverse, & participants come to these spaces anticipating dialogue... diversity & dialogue are not a mean feat, i grant you, but they can be handled expeditiously by a much larger invitational effort than is usually facilitated by print media... how well online spaces work is in part a function of the specific network community, sure, how much contentiousness it can handle... i've seen folks (myself) dig in, but usually they (i) come around to backing off, reconsidering... & simply put, there are plenty of opportunities to do so...

this is not exactly what i said.


Copyright © 1996 ebr and the author. All rights reserved.

The important thing, though, is that Amato's characterization of me absolves him of having to deal with anything I have to say: I may agree with Bérubé, but he speaks from a position of superstar "privilege," so I don't have to deal with his actual arguments.
michael bérubé's riPOSTe