A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

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A FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND VIGOROUS DEBATE, CORNERSTONES OF DEMOCRACY
[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ].
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Education of Oronte Chum or How to Feed at the Academic Trough


Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and will always be the last resort of the boob and the bigot.
—Eugene O’Neill

He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. This amicable conflict with difficulty helps us to an intimate acquaintance with our object, and compels us to consider it in all its relations. It will not suffer us to be superficial.
—Edmund Burke

The cartoon above was inspired by a minor encounter with a minor academic, John Griswald, on InsideHigherEd.com, which I received via email several times per week. Upon one occasion, I was actually censored by IHE for a comment I’d made on a rather lame poem by Laurence Musgrove, associate professor of English at Saint Xavier University, in Chicago:

Syllabus
On the first page just after the required novels
And before the list of learning outcomes
I’d paste a photo of me from ‘73
Scraggly hair and wire-rimmed glasses
And then torn from my long gone journal
Some half poem or worry on the day
So they might see me and not me
Who could be their dad or worse
With these handouts and so much to read
How jealous I am I am almost crying
How much I love them.

My commentary was the following. Sure, I suppose, I could have been politer, more bourgeois in tone, more collegial, as they liked to say, but should the comment have been censored in a democracy? You decide.

“Why publish such a lame poem? Well, it is indicative of the general state of professors in higher education today, where few have the courage to openly question and challenge the various hands that feed and otherwise fatten them into submissiveness. Democracy is at stake in America today, so let's write a poem about the syllabus! For poems et al decrying the state of higher ed that Inside Higher Ed would likely never publish, see www.theamericandissident.org. Vigorous debate is the cornerstone of democracy... but not in higher ed, where speech codes, collegiality, and cutesy wit rule!”

In any case, I’d since written perhaps harsher comments, which were not censored. Perhaps my email to the editor in protest of his censorship actually served to sensitize him to the proliferation and harmful effects of censorship in Academe vis-à-vis Democracy. Apropos, in the ivory tower, the censor was not referred to as a censor, but rather as a moderator.

In actuality, my grievance was really not with Griswold, but rather with self-proclaimed tenured radical Cary Nelson, president of the established-order Association of American University Professors. Griswold had written a hagiographic piece, “Cary Nelson, Provocateur.” Thus, I challenged him on it. Also, I mentioned the incident of censorship to him. He was of course, as a pup at the InsideHigherEd trough, entirely indifferent to it and did not respond with its regard.

Was Griswold’s vignette (see www.insidehighered.com/blogs/the_education_of_oronte_churm/cary_nelson_provocateur)
an example of what “provocative” or “provocateur” had come to mean in Academe? If so, the corporate co-optation of the University must surely have become a fait accompli, instead of simply in progress. The castration of terms like “provocative” and “radical” served that co-optation well as an integral part of the rationalization process of far too many Academics.

Regarding Nelson, the question, of course, remained and, of course, was not raised: how did a radical become a tenured, bourgeois, faculty cocktail-party attending president of the established-order Association of American University Professors? Kowtowing ones way up the ladder was how it was normally done in Academe, while truth telling was the normal way straight out the freakin’ door… or rather out the window on to the ledge of chronic unemployment. Did Cary Nelson possess some secret formula to do it otherwise? If so, why hadn’t Griswald even posed the question?

Nelson’s website, Modern American Poetry, was anything but radical or even remotely “provocative,” or even at all necessary. Well, it did have a Soviet-Union looking sketch of a worker holding a sledgehammer on it (www.english.illinois.edu/maps/), but how did that make it different in substance? Nevertheless, I had to give Nelson kudos for being somewhat unusual in academe for his being somewhat open to criticism; he’d actually posted the satirical cartoon I’d done on him on his webpage (see www.cary-nelson.org/nelson/cartoon.html). Just the same, his was really but a rehash of Academe’s canon. Where was the hardcore questioning and challenging of that largely bourgeois canon? How did twisted thinking (discoursing in oxymorons, castration of vocabulary et al) become so seemingly prevalent (the norm!) in Academe? Now, that would have made a great subject for a doctoral thesis! If I hadn’t already done mine, I’d get to work on it right away.
Finally, Griswald aka Churm, scribbler of the dubious Nelson tribute, needed to ask himself how his education (i.e., the Education of Oronte Churm) had failed him so royally. How had it succeeded in blocking the natural flow of his intellect, placed it into a state of paradigmatic paralysis, where politeness and collegiality, not to mention obsequiousness, hagiography, and rampant self-vaunting, were far more pertinent than truth telling, and indeed rendered his intellect utterly incapable of raising the simple—though truth unearthing—questions and points underscored here? The quip and silence were academe’s favorite rhetorical weapons of choice for dealing with uncomfortable truth jams. Perhaps this time, Griswald would simply choose silence.
BTW, Griswald actually prefaced his Churm blog with the above quote by Edmund Burke. It was, at least for me, difficult to comprehend professor/writers like him... and so many there were! Was his simply a matter of some deeply unconscious inability to perceive reality? Clearly, Griswald was not into the "wrestling" Burke rightfully praised; he rejected it outright. For him, "our antagonist" was not our "helper" at all, but rather someone to be ignored and buried. If he really agreed with Burke, he would not have eschewed "wrestling" (i.e., vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy) with me. Granted, he did respond, regarding this blog entry, though not in the comment area. Nevertheless, his brief email was hardly evidence at all of a desire to "wrestle": "Thank you! Where do you teach, Tod?"

Now, why did he wish to know where I taught? Did he want to contact the deans in the hope of getting me ousted for un-business-like (i.e., pro-democracy) behavior? Why else would he want to know? Again, it was difficult to understand such professor/writers.

17 comments:

mather said...

From the look of him, he could be an oil executive.

mather said...

The comment he made about "Where do you teach, Tod?" sounds like he's setting himself up to attack your place in the world, instead of the ideas, argument you're presenting. He's not addressing what you're saying, but the position from which you're saying it from. He'll probably attack the diminutive size of the school, or the fact that you don't have tenure, or the fact that you're not teaching at all right now...anything but the essential character of what you're saying. Societal positioning seems to be the only thing that matters when it comes to validity of opinion.

G. Tod Slone said...

YES! I am pleased to see that you and hopefully others out there understand what goes on. Perspicacious remark on your part: "Where do you teach, Tod?" sounds like he's setting himself up to attack your place in the world, instead of the ideas, argument you're presenting."
This too is quite perspicacious(shit, I haven't used that word in a while!): "Societal positioning seems to be the only thing that matters when it comes to validity of opinion." It would make a great essay. I'd have to ask the opposite of what I'd asked Griswold: how did your education not fail you?

G. Tod Slone said...

PS: David Ochs expressed that he was happy you and I weren't still battling. He liked some of your stuff.

mather said...

Oh, oh, apparently somewhere down the line you and Matt DiGangi, editor of Thieves Jargon, have been acquainted. Ja ja! I mentioned to his frat boys on his messageboard that they should check out American Dissident. DiGangi wrote back, calling me a "very specific kind of cunt" to mention AD. You don't remember him? Well, he remembers you!

mather said...

Appreciate the comment by Ochs, I like him too, but don't see much of him, he's hard to find. Why doesn't he chime in on your blog? Give him my email, I'm dying for correspondence.

G. Tod Slone said...

Did I battle with DiGangi? Your piece will be great if you include direct quotes like that "cunt" one!

mather said...

I don't know if you battled with Mr. Matt DiGangi or not. I think I remember his name somewhere on your site, but for the life of me I can't find it. All I know is I told him and his readers they should look at your site and that's the way he responded. Obviously he's aware of you and doesn't like you, ja ja! Surprise! I haven't written anything up about it yet, I'm waiting for an angle, but there are definitely plenty of quotes from those clowns. The latest: some guy called me "matherngill", which (this was explained by the context) is a combination of Mather and Massengill, which is a feminine hygiene product. I know I called you "Good Tod Slone", but if I ever make fun of someone's name again (their real name, I mean) please to put an arrow through my ears.

mather said...

I don't think I truly expressed my appreciation for the badness of that poem you chose to site and criticize. It's a doozy, all right, all I can say is wow...It really is easy to publish when you are in that position. But, still, he loves his students so much, and that's really all that counts. That and a couple big grants a year. And a 4 month vacation. And a house in the foothills.

G. Tod Slone said...

To hell with the arrow! I'll put a hatchet through the top of your head! Yeah, that poem was so bad, how could I have resisted? Yet the dude is surely some known poetaster in the insider poesy circles of the ivory tower. This weekend other poetlings will be reading at Walden Pond. I'm not sure yet if I'll go or not. They disgust me viscerally, which is why I might not go. Of course, I was not invited and probably risk arrest if I do go and speak or hand out flyers or hold a sign. I only live here after all!
DiGangi can be found between the two dead Russian gulag poet photos at www.theamericandissident.org/Focus.htm. The more you mentioned him the more the little bell in my head started to ring. The common reader, that was his thing. I failed to please the common reader, that was my flaw according to the poetling DiGangi.

G. Tod Slone said...

Well, I just checked on Jargon and noted the dude is from Somerville, MA. That's home to Doug Holder and any number of other poetlings who simply do not like me. I'm a little too harsh for their dainty Beatnik/Bukowski tastes. So that explains it all when you mentioned me to them. I'll probably have to lampoon the fucker in a toon to go with your proposed review. But I'll of course wait to see what you come up with. They're like a boy's club. Upset one of them and they'll all hate you, put you on their blacklist, and pretend you don't exist. They're of course not at all into vigorous debate (your favorite term), cornerstone of democracy. The're more into imitating the ole Soviet Writers Union during the days of Stalin. BTW, their title, thieves jargon likely came from Villon, one of my favorites. Villon wrote (not always) in a very complex jargon, so that today it would be entirely incomprehensible to the average French poet. You'd have to get an academic glossary to translate most of it into a comprehensible poem. "Vous entendez joncherie?" is a line from a Villon poem. "Do you understand thieves jargon?" Villon was a strange fellow because he actually had an M.A. degree and man way back then in the 1400s that was a bit special unlike today. He also mingled with thieves and also likely with academic types. Hell, he entered poetry reading contests at the king's chateau and I think he won one once, which is why he got a reprieve from the noose and got exile instead.

mather said...

I don't know anything about Villon except that I can't read his poetry at all. I tried, and couldn't. The English version I'm talking about. I figured "Thieves Jargon" was just another hip phrase. To be an "outlaw" or a "thief" or a "madman", I mean to pretend to be one, is very popular. But these guys haven't stolen anything except the tiny spotlight, and apparently a phrase from Villon. Yes it's a boys club all right. They're all mindless mid twenties college students bucking to be professors one day, play-acting at cutting-edge artistes. They'll make it to tenure I'm sure. Diversionary entertainment is exactly what DiGangi publishes, except that to me it's not entertainment, nor is it diversionary, but I can see that's what he's going for. Cleverness really works on mid twenties guys, I've noticed. They eat it up, puff pastry cleverness with surrealistic syrup dribbled all over it. The magic of stream of consciousness! They like the sound of their own words like the smell of their own farts and the feel of their own abs. They rule with their youth and the binding of commonality, plus some computer savvy and plenty of money. It's simple.

G. Tod Slone said...

Well written, though I'm not so sure age has anything to do with it. You'll find them of all ages, colors, and genders, including benders.

mather said...

I find the older poets tend to go for the over-craftedness in poetry, which I guess is just another kind of cleverness. The older ones drool over the careful, carved out cleverness, while the young ones prefer the zany, dazzling, I'm-alive-and-bored-and-I-want-the-world-to-admire-me-for-it kind. There is an infinite variety of cleverness, which is a disheartening thought.

mather said...

I know this blog isn't about me or Thieves Jargon, but I have to tell you this because it's funny. Matt DiGangi finally started deleting my entries to his blog. He had told me to put some of my poetry there on the blog to prove I have "earned the right to be a hater". DiGangi said I didn't have the "sack" to back up myself up with my actual work. I told him of many journals and netzines where he can find me and of course he can google me, but he didn't want to do that. It's beneath him. The funny thing about it is our whole original argument, the seed of the whole fiasco between us, started because I wrote and asked him if I could submit, and he wrote me back and told me I wasn't worthy of submitting, or rather told me I had to prove I was worthy. And now, full circle, he calls me a coward because I won't offer up my poems on his blog when he orders me to. Can you believe this guy? Of course you can.

Anyway he's deleting everything I say. I guess I'll start writing the critique now. Fun's over.

G. Tod Slone said...

Well, thanks to DiGangi your critique will have plenty of passion and there's nothing like passion in a critique. Personally, I detest these spineless cretinos who choose to censor commentary. As mentioned, in today's PC America, the censor is called the moderator.

G. Tod Slone said...

Maybe you can get your ass posted on this site: http://outlawpoetry.com/