Because YOU (well, Charles) Demanded It!
In the comments-thread attached to my post from a couple of days ago, Charles R. asked (and there’s some backstory to this in the preceding comments):
It’s irrelevant whether there’s an infinite amount of possible interpretations. There’s not an infinite amount of existing ones that apply equally well for evaluating all particular readings. Otherwise, you’ve no grounds to say some readings are less valid than others. You’ve already eliminated the text (“the only limitations on a text are the ones put there by readers”), so there must be some extratextual basis for rejecting some interpretations as being inferior to others. Why must there be? Well, why would anyone give 2 squats about taking a course from you? Hell, why would you even care to teach a course where every student is just as right as you are or has every ounce of value in his initial interpretation that you do on your seventh reading. Maybe, you teach to expose them to even more interpretations (“they will have been forced to deal with my ideas concerning them”), but that’s not a justification, only some impulse existing in you. And why these texts? When all texts apply no limitations of there own, any is as good as any other for proving whatever ideological point you’re forcing your students to encounter. Hell, why not just tell them your ideological stance, write a public essay on it without the nuisance of references? It’ll save a lot of time that way. But, then again, no one would be able to determine what point you were trying to delimit with the essay, so scratch that. Ah well, you catch my drift.
But really, David, assuming some moral analogue between an individual who gets god-like power from red light and a kid from Urban Detroit, who just happens to be impoverished in the confines of the last remaining superpower is fatuous at best. You might have something of a valid point if you were teaching the Bush twins or the Hilton sisters, but I doubt it.
here’s my reply
I think it’s VERY important to remind Americans (including middle or lower-middle class kids from suburban Detroit!) that they ARE privileged, and that it’s not just George Bush and his cronies that are fucking up the world, it’s ALL of us… Every realization of this fact constitutes an “origin story”, of sorts. There are so many ways to build upon that fundamental analogy, and if you’re interested to know what I’ve tried to do with it in the past year, the archives are to your left!
on the question of my choice of texts–well, if you can explain to me why you think these texts are banal, THEN we can have a conversation, but it’s not possible to do it this way! Is it only because the people that published them hoped to make money on the deal? Do you take a similar position vis-a-vis Hitchcock or Dickens? If so, don’t tell me! That would be FAR too depressing! From what I recall though, you’ve tended to argue that you “couldn’t slog through” superhero texts (even Grant Morrison?!!), and that’s fine… However, in that case, you owe it to the world (and the texts!) to suspend your judgments of them! I don’t write about things that, for whatever reason, don’t engage my interest, because I fully believe that it’s MY FAULT that I can’t rise to challenge of thinking seriously about them… What makes you any different? I need hardly add that it is my sincere belief that, if you can’t see anything interesting in Watchmen or Animal Man, then it’s because you’ve been reading with “this is pop crap” blinkers on. In case you haven’t noticed, an imperative of my scholarly project (as opposed to my literary project, which is quite different!) has been (and continues to be) to expose the shallowness of Americans’ understanding of their own most deeply fascinating (and characteristic) cultural products–like superhero comics, Hollywood romantic comedies and “weepers”!
You’ve said a mouthful about academia (Charles is “disgusted” by the thought of kids reading “corporate comics” in the hallowed halls!), but what do you really know about it? Are you a professor or grad student? If you are then could you please explain to me how you made it so far with such strange ideas? Will I merely be standing up there declaring my views? Of course! That’s what all professors do! That’s what I’m doing this semester with Emerson and Frederick Douglass and Margaret Fuller. The proviso is that I must use the texts to illustrate my points, and this gives students the leverage to disagree with my interpretations, and to come up with their own. It’s all happening in front of their eyes–and I have NO WISH to appear “objective”.
This is an experiment–I’m searching for ways to force the students to become more conscious of their involvement (and mine!) in the interpretive process. We’ll set up a list-serve to which students will be responsible for writing “letters” concerning individual issues (I will stand in for the “editors”–a nice way of acknowledging the privileged position of the instructor), and everyone will be responsible for considering the ways in which this interplay affects their developing sense of what’s going on the texts!
I’m still thinking all of this through (the syllabus isn’t due until late December!), but Charles certainly hasn’t succeeded in dampening my enthusiasm. Anyone else have any thoughts on these matters?
Good Night Friends!