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The C. Maeda et. al. Discussion

I think that mbm at upenn's point (4 Aug 92) is well-stated and well-taken, regarding perceived impatience/reproach(es) to C. Maeda's intervention (30 Jul 92). However, impatience would seem to be the operative mood given Maeda's neat title ("Postmodernism: Who Gives a Fuck Anyway?"). Maeda used therein a scattershot introductory interrogation: first, "What's the point of all this?", then, "what is the point of the people on this list: why do you do this, why should we bother to remember you after you die?" Possible reasons given by Maeda: "Are you trying to improve society? Destroy society? Get tenure? (Check all that apply)." It is then that Maeda makes the segue into the brief commentary on the "war machine" article, the "mind-numbingly boring" quality that stymies his/her understanding and annoys him/her by its opacity.

The discussion that subsequently ensued on Postmodern Culture-Talk dealt with the latter topic (pomo and/contra its jargon), but as no one has attempted to answer the broader queries, I'd like to give it a crack, i.e. "the point of the people on this list: why do you do this?" Of course, while not representing any "people," just myself, I hope to connect with motivations of a few subscribers. Although I could start too far back and in detail about being in grad school in French studies in the '70s, I can simplify the response a bit:

When Postmodern Culture came on line, it proposed the practical possibility of exploring a potentially new mode of communication/exchange, on a new medium, via an electronic journal. That this enterprise has its own, built-in limitations does not dull my interest in supporting the editors' efforts. That they also saw fit to stimulate more immediate interchange Postmodern Culture-Talk made the limitations of the journal a bit less constraining, but as we have frequently seen, most "talk" just starts getting interesting when it fizzles. Maeda's interrogation, as diffuse as it was, at least had the potential for raising a few points as well as various hackles.

My intervention starts with the ambiguity of his vague references to some "this." "Frankly, dear, I don't give a damn" whether you remember me after I die; nor is improving (or destroying) society via Postmodern Culture-Talk necessarily one of my goals (although were these exchanges to lead in either direction so much the better). And getting tenure does not seem to correspond to participating in or promoting such interchange (we might ask the Postmodern Culture editors whether tenure prospect and running this list are even compatible).

Then, asks Maeda, "why do you do this?" Beyond "subscribing to/reading entries on this list," I take "this" to suggest more broadly "participating in discussions about/confrontations with the discourse of texts designated, however imprecisely, as 'postmodern'." My reasons both for such "confrontations" and for participation in Postmodern Culture-Talk relate to my goals as teacher, to understand (some of) the proponents of said discourse and to be able to impart some of that understanding to my students. Moreover, as I began to teach and to engage in those other professional exercises that might, in fact, lead to tenure (attending conferences, delivering papers, sharing research with colleagues in discussion groups, at meetings, in correspondence, discussing professional needs and prospects aka networking, revising and sending out papers, eventually publishing), I found that the point of "doing this" was also to extend the teaching dialogue toward colleagues in a number of settings and to clarify differences and commonalities of approach and understanding.

These reasons are why Postmodern Culture and Postmodern Culture-Talk presented such an exciting potential and continue to enable our discussion and learning to progress. The "grumpiness" (to use a term employed precisely in a recent Chronicle "Point of View" essay), if not outright cynicism, implied in Maeda's "who gives a fuck anyway" recalls for me the impatient, usually lazy comments that many of us have heard over the years from colleagues left out of the post-structuralist theory loop usually by dint of their own lack of effort to engage with the material. Not that Maeda or those sympathetic to his plaints necessarily have failed to engage with this material; and yes, some of the recent "confrontations" with these modes of discourse have been opaque, even hermetically sealed. Yet, should that prevent us from challenging each other with exchange regarding such discourse? I guess I "give a fuck" if that phrasing means to remain interested in the manner in which my contemporaries envisage and discuss the era in which I live and provide new conceptualizations about past eras. Such exchange, fortunately, has followed Maeda's productive queries in the subsequent responses, fulfilling some of the potential implicit in the Postmodern Culture(-Talk) project.

Sorry for going on so long. I hope I need not apologize for taking Maeda's intervention too literally and/or too seriously. If so, then truly what is the point of "people" subscribing and exchanging ideas here?

CJ Stivale

Date: Mon, 10 Aug 92 10:33:42 EDT