[Marxism] Nation Magazine letters exchange over Eric Lott review

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 21 09:08:03 MDT 2006

I had my own take on the review here:




San Diego

During the ten-plus years since I left full-time academia, I have struggled 
for words to express the fatuousness, dishonesty and faux-leftist posturing 
of that milieu. As a lit-theory person at an Ivy, I was appalled by the 
peculiar combination of self-congratulation and self-delusion among so many 
colleagues who interrogated power and hegemony in their work while blindly 
practicing it in the pettiest institutional practices. Russell Jacoby's 
brilliant review ["Brother From Another Planet," April 10] had me in 
stitches for its pinpoint accuracy, and reinspired me to ponder the role of 
the leftist intellectual beyond elitist name-dropping, obscurantism and 
ridiculous pretenses that our rarefied radical publications have any real 
social effects on the world.

Some years ago I gave a talk at the MLA on the institutional incongruity of 
"radical Shakespeare studies." A professor warned me that this was a 
dangerous paper to present, but I was heedless and young. I had a dreadful 
cold and delivered my paper amid sniffles and suppressed sneezes. A scholar 
I very much respected praised me for being so "brave." Hurray, someone got 
it! I thought, only to have the scholar go on to tell me how courageous I 
was for presenting my paper despite an obvious head cold.

Dear Professor Jacoby--they don't, and won't, get it. But thank you for 
your heroic efforts. Keep on raging against the machine.


Charlottesville, Va.

Russell Jacoby: tin ear, Paul Piccone wannabe, professional cynic. His 
review of my Disappearing Liberal Intellectual was kind of funny, and he 
had me laughing. The laugh's on him, though, because his "witticisms" are 
so corny, his sarcasm so ham-fisted, his cuts so cheap and his 
anti-academicism so willed that he winds up shadow-boxing with an invented 
author. His "critique" boils down to calling me a professor. I know you 
are, Russ (history, UCLA), but what am I?

My book criticizes boomer liberals. The Nation had it reviewed by a boomer 
liberal. Anybody surprised at the outcome? For Jacoby, it's apparently a 
crime that I find intellectual conferences and magazines interesting; that 
I include him in the group I criticize; that I discuss black intellectuals 
(you won't find anything in Jacoby's books about them). He misses the irony 
in my account of living-wage activism at UVa and in my comments on Mark 
Crispin Miller. His piece offers not one example of the kind of ideas he 
prefers to mine. The whole thing reads like a textbook example of 
anti-intellectualism in American life. What a relief to be spared a good 
review from Russell Jacoby.



Los Angeles

I am thankful for Karin Coddon's words; I'm sorry the university drives 
people like her away.

I am "pleased" that Eric Lott "enjoyed" my "critique." I also "enjoyed" his 
"book," which sought both to slay boomer liberals for their sellout 
politics and lionize cultural studies professors for their fearless 
theories. While Lott bravely identified his militant colleagues by name, he 
was unable to identify their politics. Consider his ringing conclusion: "If 
patriotism itself is rethought as 'plural, serial, contextual, and mobile,' 
in Apparadurai's words, then postnationalist collectives of labor and 
desire might earn the devotion they deserve. Let us be for the freedom of 
transnations." Nicely said. His "book" bespeaks a narcissistic world of 
academic back-patting and faux radicalism. He now claims I miss his irony. 
I plead guilty. He also states that to attack his book is to be 
anti-intellectual. I would think it the reverse: To praise his book is to 
surrender thinking for hype and jargon. Here is an example of thought à la 
Lott: "As Linda Zerilli observes in a remarkable diacritics essay, 
universalism's comeback follows the perceived political inadequacy of 
postmodern theory--with its focus on subject position, difference, and new 
social identities--to draw up any account of any overarching collective or 
united front."

Actually, I do see irony--another English professor who cannot write 
English--but no thought. The always intrepid Lott reveals that I teach 
history and asks "but what am I?" It's a damned good question.




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