Nelson Responds to Yee Once More

Stephanie Nelson (NELSON@USCVM.BITNET)
Fri, 8 Apr 1994 10:32:12 PDT

I had replied to Danny Yee privately, but in the interests of soothing some
of the tempers that have subsequently flared, I have decided to post it to the
list. Hope that's okay, Danny.

Danny Yee, I apologize for referring to you as Steve. I was not confusing
you with Steve Misarch, but rather Steve Yee, a colleague of mine at the
office, not that that's any excuse.

Mike Lieber's vicious post is not even worth responding to directly, other than
to correct his assertion that I am given to ad hominems. I am very careful,
when I use a "fighting word" like racist or facist, to attribute it to a
statement about an opinion or a behavior, rather than to a person.
There is a difference. Also, Mr. Lieber believes that I read posts only
cursorily, with my own agenda in mind. I do not. Now let me see if I can
explain what so deeply troubled me about yours, and why, after thinking quite
hard about it, I decided to use such strong words.

The anthro-l list has over 600 members, and as Hugh Jarvis periodically
reminds us in the Statement of Being, is dedicated to the scholarly discussion
of issues relating to anthropology. Many of us on the list are professional
academics: teachers, scholars, and researchers. When I see a statement on
the list from a scholar that says in effect "based on my struggles with ONE
essay by a certain author, I have purged my reading list of any of his work
and the work of any of his supporters," I consider this to be academic
suicide. I can promise you that if you ever sat on the other side of the
table from me in a job search committee interview, I would question you at
great length about the implications of such a statement for the way you do
research and the way you counsel students. I begin to worry a great deal
about the state of our discipline when members feel it is okay to make such
statements in such a public setting. I assumed that either you were very
foolish or very tenured. I understand now that you are not an academic, and
some of the other remarks you have made have eased my mind about how you might
respond to those who don't share your distaste for Derrida. Last night I was
thinking about it a lot, and I wondered what you might do in a scenario where
one of your brightest grad students came back from a summer of heavy reading
and said, "I've been reading Derrida and Trinh Minh-Ha and Lacan and I've
decided I want to develop a new theory of Otherness for my doctoral thesis."
I would hope your remarks to the student, besides the obvious one the you were
probably not the right person to sit on that particular thesis committee,
would be something to the effect that "gee, I've always struggled with Derrida
myself, never really 'got' him, but I believe in your ability to pull off any
project you want to take on, and I am looking forward to learning something
new from you." I recently sat on a panel where a very renowned professor of
rhetoric responded to a very complex reading of Felix Guattari's Molecular
Revolution:Psychiatry and Politics, that his greatest pleasure as a teacher
was to learn from his students, and he had learned a great deal today about
something he might not otherwise have come across in his own projects.

Perhaps you understand now why I was so upset. Back to Derrida. I hope you
will reconsider your statement that you use his name as a way of weeding your
reading material. His project is an (admittedly) complex critique of
representation and reading, and is (at least I believe) of much importance to
anthropolgists. At the momemt, there is a very good discussion on the Derrida
list about the use of deconstruction as a method of inquiry into the (hard)
sciences. There was just this morning a terrific response from a Caltech
physicist that I've requested permission to crosspost here. Perhaps it will
be of interest to you.

Best Wishes, Stephanie Nelson