Thursday, July 29, 2010

Making an intervention

My strength as a writer and as a theorist has typically been in the form of synthesis, bringing together ideas that haven't been considered together, or that have been previously regarded as incompatible. Indeed, the bulk of this book project has been work on the latter: considering alongside one another essentialist and constructivist notions of the individual subject on the feminist stage. That in itself is a critical intervention, but one that is characterized by an attempt at critical harmony rather than dissensus.

The current chapter, however, is one in which I am actively refuting a major critical commonplace, not just on the criticism of one text, but on how we read a whole body of texts. And this is a big one, too. When I presented an early version of this argument recently, the response was measured, and in conversation about the idea, one similarly early-career scholar said only, cryptically, "Oh...Bold." The insinuation there was, "Oh...mind-blowingly stupid and wrong-headed." On the other hand, the reader who reviewed the book proposal and sample chapters felt that this particular argument was "nothing short of brilliant" which is overstatement, I think, but good to hear.

At any rate, while I'm committed to this argument, and find it both logical, compelling, and important to make, I am made anxious about the argumentative strategy. Actually refuting "critical orthodoxies" and "post-structuralist dogma" feels, well, not my style. On the one hand, it feels rhetorically like the kind of thing that overconfident first-year grad students do with concepts they haven't entirely grasped, and so in that way, it feels brash. On the other, it feels like the thing that I should be doing, by making an actual intervention in the discussion, making a real, contestable argument rather than playing the critical peacemaker.

I imagine that in fact much of my writing career will be filling that critical peacemaker role--synthesis has always been my intellectual forte, and frankly, it's what I do in interpersonal relationships, too (ENFJ's are harmony seekers, so the Meyers-Briggs test says). But in this chapter, I'm doing things I haven't done well before: stake out a claim, refute the conventional wisdom, and make some noise.

And honestly, it's making me nervous.


undine said...

Horace, your totals are inspiring.

Stake out that claim and make a noise!

Tom said...

Horace--Revise those orthodoxies, I say! Scholarship can be evolutionary (tiny changes to current understandings, more "nuanced" readings, application of established theories or perspectives to a new text or set of texts, and the like) or revolutionary (new methods, overturning critical orthodoxies, new theory). Evolution is safe (if not always easy), and revolution is hard, dangerous, threatening, and it always risks failure. But it sure can be exciting.