Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

BLOG WAR!!1 On Paglia, Palin, and the Public Intellectual

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, Tom and I have been having a bit of back and forth on Camille Paglia’s commentary in the comments section of this entry. I’ve decided, since I haven’t been producing that much content over the last couple of days, to shift my responses from comments to independent entries.

I’m responding here to Tom’s most recent comment in the thread linked to above:

~

Sir,

I agree with you that there’s beef to be had over Paglia’s choice of Palin as a mascot for her anti-PC feminism. That’s what my original post was about. My argument though is that she isn’t doing it disingenuously, but that she is so blinded by everything that she has projected onto Palin, that Palin looks, to Paglia, exactly like she says she does. By taking this line I mean to propose an alternative to her critics’ reflexive accusations that she’s just Drudge-pandering. Drudge-pandering would make her completely intellectually dishonest, and I’m not prepared to accuse her of that. As I said, all the reasons she gives for supporting Palin are consistent with what I’ve read of her previous positions.

Regarding her treatment of philosophy, I think you’re expecting too much from non-academic articles. As I said in my previous substantive comment, there’s philosophy in the directions she point, but to really get to her exploration of that philosophy, one needs to step beyond what she produces for pop consumption (something I haven’t done). Every public intellectual (from Greg Mankiw, to Stanley Fish, to Cornell West, to Paul Krugman, to Sullivan, etc. etc.) relies on assertions in their exoteric output to avoid getting their readers stuck in the weeds. Krugman in a piece you lauded states the following:

Let me start by pointing out something serious health economists have known all along: on general principles, universal health insurance should be eminently affordable.

All serious health economists “know” this about universal insurance in America? In fact, many people argue with some plausibility that while Canada’s health system is more affordable than that of the US, in terms of long term prospects, it is far from “eminently” so. And I think that there are plenty of centre right health economists that can and do dispute Krugman’s claims (disputes that I recognize I can only adjudicate ideologically, and that I therefore try not to be lightly dismissive of).

What I like about the way that Paglia asserts is that she doesn’t mask the radicalism of what she’s saying in order to sneak it in the back door. The contentious points in her commentary are out there for you to see, and if you want to rumble with them, you can hit J-stor.

Re: Saussure. I think your mocking of her use of the adjective “Saussurean” to describe Saussure’s structuralist linguistics (a very particular and important school of thought that she correctly describes as underlying a shit ton of 20th century philosophy, including Foucault) exemplifies the paradox of your argumentative position. On the one hand you’re asking her to be more philosophically engaged, and on the other hand you’re dismissing her for not being adequately populist. Those aren’t necessarily exclusive demands, but they’re certainly at tension with one another, and it’s a rare writer / philosopher that can balance both effectively.

Re: the Nazi point you make with reference to this paragraph of Paglia’s, which I quoted in a previous response:

“When I pointed out in Arion that Foucault, for all his blathering about “power,” never managed to address Adolph Hitler or the Nazi occupation of France, I received a congratulatory letter from David H. Hirsch (a literature professor at Brown), who sent me copies of riveting chapters from his then-forthcoming book, “The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism After Auschwitz” (1991). As Hirsch wrote me about French behavior during the occupation, “Collaboration was not the exception but the rule.” I agree with Hirsch that the leading poststructuralists were cunning hypocrites whose tortured syntax and encrustations of jargon concealed the moral culpability of their and their parents’ generations in Nazi France. “

It is bad style to reduce your opponents’ arguments by analogy to Hitler, but she’s not using analogy. She’s talking about real guilt and real culpability. Guilt and culpability that has, for the last 64 years, been taken seriously on both sides of the Rhine. In many ways, the experiences surrounding Fascism and the Holocaust were the subject of late 20th century continental philosophy. As such, her engaging with the legacy of Naziism in France far from disqualifies her from being considered philosophically serious.

Back atcha.

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4 Responses to “BLOG WAR!!1 On Paglia, Palin, and the Public Intellectual”

  1. I’d put this on my homepage, too, but I don’t want to ruin my rep as a smart-ass with nothing of substance to say.

    If you won’t accuse her of intellectual dishonesty, can we at least agree that there’s a staggering display of cognitive dissonance going on? And no, this isn’t an argument, but I don’t really want to think about defenses of Sarah Palin anymore. They just baffle the shit out of me.

    Re: your second graf. Agreed. I sometimes do expect too much. But with this, I take issue:

    “Every public intellectual (from Greg Mankiw, to Stanley Fish, to Cornell West, to Paul Krugman, to Sullivan, etc. etc.) relies on assertions in their exoteric output to avoid getting their readers stuck in the weeds. Krugman in a piece you lauded states the following:

    ‘Let me start by pointing out something serious health economists have known all along: on general principles, universal health insurance should be eminently affordable.’

    All serious health economists “know” this about universal insurance in America? In fact, many people argue with some plausibility that while Canada’s health system is more affordable than that of the US, in terms of long term prospects, it is far from “eminently” so. And I think that there are plenty of centre right health economists that can and do dispute Krugman’s claims (disputes that I recognize I can only adjudicate ideologically, and that I therefore try not to be lightly dismissive of).”

    Er. Not with the whole of it. I think the quote’s a bit cherry-picked, though. That is, in the very next paragraph, Krugman writes:

    “After all, every other advanced country offers universal coverage, while spending much less on health care than we do. For example, the French health care system covers everyone, offers excellent care and costs barely more than half as much per person as our system.

    And even if we didn’t have this international evidence to reassure us, a look at the U.S. numbers makes it clear that insuring the uninsured shouldn’t cost all that much, for two reasons.”

    And then he goes on to list those two reasons. It is, in short, an argument. I can’t speak to the nitty-gritty of the solvency of the Canadian healthcare system, but I think the statement that “universal insurance should be affordable” IS pretty much a given. Krugman expects his readers to have a basic grasp of the facts on the ground, as he’s writing for the NYT, not the Nat’l Enquirer. Every economist I’ve read on the healthcare debate agrees (granted, I read crazy left-wing economists, so what do I know?) But, I don’t know, if you think about the US budget, and where money gets spent, we could slash the shit out of defense, still spend double what the rest of the advanced nations do, and insure the shit out of everybody. I think it’s only if we ignore the reality of where our tax dollars already go that we get stuck on ways to fund “affordable” healthcare.

    I’m not feeling the most on point today, so please let me know if that doesn’t fly for you. Plus I have to keep scrolling back and forth to see what I’ve said, and there are these long quotes. My head hurts.

    Re: Saussure. I shouldn’t have made the paranthetical comment, you’re right. But I don’t think the snide aside exemplifies the paradox you think it does. I realize that a lot of philosophy is heavy, heavy reading, and that most people aren’t necessarilly going to want to do it. Which is why I yearn for clean, simple language–hopefully well-written prose, to boot. But the principles of good philosophical argument–validity and soundness–remain worthy goals, goals, that is, that needn’t be couched in the discipline of philosophy to have merit. So no, “populism” and “philosophical engagement” aren’t exclusive demands at all (as you admit). It might take a Russell to do ACTUAL philosophy with both rigor and a kick-ass style, but I think a Krugman (or a Froomkin, or a Greenwald) stay pretty close to the ideal of consistency and evidence-based argumentation.

    Does that make sense? My head, my head…

    The Nazi thing was a joke, to try to lighten the tone a little bit. WWII sucked. Hence existentialism. (Also a joke–the causal relationship need not be examined too thoroughly for the time being).

    Love,
    Blogbytom

  2. […] my latest, in response to his latest. I’d put this on my homepage, too, but I don’t want to ruin my rep as a smart-ass with nothing […]

  3. […] my latest, in response to his latest. I’d put this on my homepage, too, but I don’t want to ruin my rep as a smart-ass with nothing […]

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