jargon...or nomenclature

Sat, 8 Jan 1994 01:50:05 EST

though I am humble slave war captive, your luck ran out tonight for simple,
even idiotic, reason that am trapped in building by "snow, heavy at times,"
next train out of town 5:15am, contingent on LIRR and cab company. I should
like to say at the outset that we should all be grateful to John McCreery
for setting an example of High-Style Academic Prose, which I cannot do, which
is yet readable, which I cannot do, either. But please, gentlemen, exercise
all due restraint; for whilst epistemology is fine in its place, it leads
the impetuous straight over the cliff onto ontology, "How do I know what is
known exists to what extent," and such. Which is plain silly. We should
remind ourselves, how frequently I should not say without empirical research,
that our sense of the absence of silliness is generated by our social context
and culturally biased evaluations, which in relativized perspective prove way
off. Which means, "Is the distinction between the postmodern and that whereto
it is counterposed, whatever that is, of such magnitude as to justify the
intensity of the argumentation? Or, are there many other cleavages and
categorizations, aside from postmodern vs [other], more salient, or simply
more interesting, than the latter? [This, in academic discourse, is taboo
under "changing the subject," but what with DELETE keys and kill files, is
unread, hence blameless.]

Specifically, in December, zeek of the University of Texas at Austin,
<zeek@illuminati.io.COM> informed you that I was on protracted leave from
ANTHRO-L as I was obliged to read Donna J. Harraway, Simians, Cyborgs and
Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge 1991; on account of which I
had indeed to read it, but one cannot read just one book by one author,
not even a dilettante. On page 73, for example, Harraway cites Marge Piercy,
Woman on the Edge of Time, 1976, which I then read; and Piercy, in her 1991
novel, He, She and It, cites in her Afterword Harraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto:
Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,"
originally published 1985; Chapter 8 in this volume, pp 149-181; also most
strongly endorsed by zeek (personal communication). But the reader also
finds extensive discussion of the work of Catharine A. MacKinnon, in Ch. 7,
"'Gender' for a Marxist Dictionary: The Sexual Politics of a Word," classi-
fied without criticism, and Ch. 8, strongly criticized, pp 158-159. Which
led to reading MacKinnon, whose bestselling Feminism Unmodified does not
mention Marxism, unlike the 1982 article, "Feminism, marxism, method, and
the state," Signs, 7(3): 515-544. Which raised an interesting if totally
unrelated issue:

In classic bourgeois culture, by largely misleading "tradition" alleged
to have terminated with the Eisenhower Administration, "pornography,"
"obscenity," and "profanity" were nearly synonymous. All were Dirty.
Something was "obscene" if a "pornographic" image was generated even
by mere words; or if it contained occurrences of words of the category
called "profanity." Since those lumping days, splitting has definitely
occurred, as MacKinnon, in collaboration with Andrea Dworkin, has crusaded
against pornography and both written and agitated for the enactment of
anti-pornography statutes. Yet, MacKinnon uses a certain obscenity, in
its variants as parts of speech of course, in a number of places (which
Harraway does only once). The point being, to identify the sociolinguistic
rules for the properly contextualized use of improper language by learned
people, for which I'd appreciate suggestions. (At the time, I wrote something
at a strange hour which put dirty words in the foul mouths of learned people,
but was too tired to recall why I did so when I got to the computer room to
type it in, then made up fairy tales to explain what I couldn't remember, oh,
forget it.)

This is more interesting to me, if not much interesting at all, than
whether Harraway's epistemology is related to her avowed postmodernism,
or whether she has the epistemology she does orthogonal to her avowal
of postmodernism.

Harraway, whose PhD was earned in biology, evinces a strong commitment
to scientific objectivity; I daresay, as strong a commitment as that of
Bob Graber, who once again has issued his 'I'm-from-Missouri' condemnation
of "the postmodernist gang." [Note on "Ethnoregional stereotype of inhabitants
of the Show Me State for the edification of Canadians, Australians, and other
unarmenians" deleted (1) for reasons of cost, not mine; and (2) Bob Graber is
a real person who should not be confounded with stick-figure stereotyping.]
She vehemently castigates those feminist theorists, associated in USA-Canada
with [New-Age-ish] cultural feminism, who would reject the very concept of
objectivity as having been gendered male in Western culture beyond possibility
of redemption. What she in fact denies is that she has seen it yet.

She proves, based on a quite enormous body of primatology literature,
that what has been problematized in primatology has reflected, allowing
for idiosycncratic aspects of theorizing and methodological choices of
highly intelligent researchers, political ideology of gender and hierarchy
external to primatology itself. (Inspiration for the length of preceding
sentence from some real biggies in Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures,
1973. But Scientific American, whose commitment to science and objectivity
as vulgarly understood is beyond all doubt, featured Geertz as its star
scientist of the month a couple of years ago. Question, is my Sentence
postmodern or not? This is of course Silly, which is what is a subtext
of the present post. Which is not intended to offend Bob Graber, whose
stereotype of the "postmodernist gang" I find forceful and compelling [a
reference to inhabitants of Show Me State deleted].)

Harraway's evidence for her thesis, Ch. 1-5, pp 7-108, is overwhelming;
and her grasp of rules of scientific evidence, in origin, application, and
development, is far above and beyond my ability to nitpick, even understand.
This is by no means analogous to those who maintain blind faith in the Deity
as to both existence and gender, yet have never seen him her it. (Analogously,
while I am reasonably certain that during the period 1968-1975 on a number of
occasions I did - as socially construed - "have" an "Experience" which by
others was at the time called "seeing God" which I denied as being objectively
real as opposed to socially created Experiences even as I was Experiencing
same, let alone that any imaginary being or Deity was implicated or seen, as
I was at the time most explicitly certain that the latter did not exist; and
what is more articulated an aversion to the word "cosmic" as silly. Also,
that "no Experience is allowed to exist in any culture which has not first
been conventionalized.")

Harraway cannot find the pure case of "scientific objectivity" anywhere
she looks. If the objects of investigation are remote from the amenability
to ideological gender-and-hierarchical-order contamination that afflicted
primatology, their order and intensity of investigation (same with order of
discovery of scientific laws) reflects extra-scientific vested interests;
and imagery or metaphor of extrascientific origin and ideological content
is illustrated (literally, in plates). Scattered throughout are suggestions
that technology, as developed, is specific to the capitalist context wherein
this occurred; but this may not be asserted scientifically, as it is improper
to narrate a counterfactual account of the order and character of occurrence
of that which has actually occurred. (In shame I passed up a deconstruction
site of metaphysical overtones of artificial intelligence involving people
named lamontg, sameer, willow, wendy, cosmicbob, .rez, and other students,
undergraduate, of the hard, yet uneasy, sciences, which would have made, as
a dataset, a splendid Xmas gift to some needy workaholic, but this was
unethical, reasearch on human subjects wise, inter alia.)

What's so postmodern about Harraway, then? This might come down to word
usage frequencies. One very common one is "totalizing, totalization," a
Frankfurt School-y term:

"MacKinnon's radical theory of experience is totalizing in the extreme;
it does not so much marginalize as obliterate the authority of any other
women's speech and action. It is a totalization producing what Western
patriarchy itself never succeeded in doing - feminists' consciousness of
the nonexistence of women, except as products of men's desire." (p. 159)

Another candidate is "logocentrism," here in the variant "phallogocent-

Which does not amount altogether to any position on an issue of substance
than it is indicative of membership in a subculture, whose verbiage picks
up interdisciplinary lint. Which is a different matter, analytically. It's
all, in my opinion, going to get studied under "history of social theory,"
contextualized as "post-industrial marxism in feminism and anthropology,"
where the latter would include, say, Conrad and Demarest's 1984 volume,
Ideology and Empire. (What is people's opinion of the authors' treatment
of Marvin Harris, inter alia?) Or, "marxism, feminism, cultural radicalism,
and other fin-de-siecle ferment," Or, "from late marxism to proto-something-
else," with the usual "Split! Split! Lump! Lump!" fads.

Bob Graber's absolutely right when he says, most of the time, that "people,
generally speaking, do *not* know what they are doing," else they couldn't be
doing it. *Why should we be an exception*? We do not know what we are doing,
sufficiently at least to permit our doing of it. Sorry for the length of this,
but I've never yet written anything I haven't changed my mind in the middle of,
the exceptions having been Paranoid or Psycho or both. Missed my train.

Daniel A. Foss