Sunday, September 11, 2011

Martha Nussbaum & Criticism

Martha Nussbaum is a perfect example of the new elite that operates today in the high echelons of polite & civilized (not to mention educated) society. After scanning her Wiki entry, I wanted to ask, what was the big deal about being denied Classics tenure at Harvard? She wasn't even a Classicist? Maybe there is something I am missing here, I thought her specialty was Philosophy. A list of her credentials are here.

The popular reactions to her work tell me a lot about her:
Fragility made Nussbaum famous throughout the humanities. It garnered wide praise in academic reviews,[24][25] and even drew acclaim in the popular media.[26] Camille Paglia credited Fragility with matching "the highest academic standards" of the twentieth century,[27] and The Times Higher Education called it "a supremely scholarly work."[28] Nussbaum's fame extended her influence beyond print and into television programs like PBS's Bill Moyers.[29]

Her work is based on a rejection of Plato, and an affirmation of the traitor, Aristotle, so this, too, demonstrates what we can expect. Aristotle only affirmed tragedy as a category, and addressed the issue of "human flourishing" as a response, exactly what Nussbaum wants to do. Tragedy as an epic, as a religion, as metaphysic, is alien to her. Thus, one bases one's entire corpus on an understanding of something fundamental that is flawed - exactly man's problem to begin with.

Roger Kimball dissects her fairly well.

Professor Nussbaum finds this a thorny problem. Who, after all, is harmed in the transaction? Professor Nussbaum wonders “whether necrophilia ought, in fact, to be illegal.” She acknowledges that there is “something unpleasant” about a person who rapes a corpse, but it is “unclear” to her whether such conduct should be “criminal.” Possibly, since a corpse is generally the property of its family, there should be “some criminal penalties” where “property violations” are involved, but otherwise not.
It's hilarious she should use this example. Is this a poorly-veiled attempt to co-opt Aeschylus' play? This next quote is downright elitist (something the Left professedly hates)- who's being "elitist" now? The point is not that she may or may not be right - the point about the following elitism is that it is something she claims to be opposed to it on the face of it.
Professor Nussbaum doubts “whether the disgust of the ‘average’ man would ever be a reliable test for what might be legally regulable.”
So I guess the average person is below the Law.
From public nudity to poverty, the global AIDS crisis, and homosexual marriage, Professor Nussbaum has embraced the entire menu of politically correct causes. Poverty, she says, is “one of the most stigmatized life-conditions, in all societies.” Therefore it must be removed. And not just poverty: we must also supply items that are “part of the social definition of a decent living-standard,” e.g., “a personal computer.” AIDS is “a major cause of stigmatized lives.” Something must be done!
This is the nub. Actual, finalized equality.

One saw this at work a decade ago when she was called upon to give expert testimony in Evans v. Romer, which challenged a state constitutional amendment in Colorado that prohibited any official body from adopting a law or policy that grants homosexuals “minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination.” As the philosopher John Finnis showed in an article for Academic Questions, Professor Nussbaum, by deliberately misrepresenting the meaning of Greek words and the work of other scholars, engaged in “wholesale abuse of her scholarly authority and attainments.” Among other things, she went back to a nineteenth-century edition of the standard Greek-English lexicon because it did not include a morally opprobrious definition of a contested Greek term. She took the trouble to white-out the name of a contributor to the later edition of the lexicon that the lawyers, unaware of her subterfuge, had supplied in the footnotes of a court document. Challenged about this, she claimed that she was simply correcting a clerical error because the earlier edition was “more reliable on authors of the classical period” than later editions. I asked a former Regius Professor of Greek about that and it took him about five minutes to stop laughing. It’s clear that Professor Nussbaum doesn’t believe it either, since it has been shown that her own work regularly relies on later editions.
If this means what I think it means, it shows her true colors.

Moral evasion is typical of the Left. They are good at it - the Right is obtuse, but the Left is corrupt. Camilla Pagila revised her opinion of her, apparently (and Paglia is a "feminist", and yet a very reputable scholar).
Nussbaum's exposé is long overdue. Of course, if she had real courage or disinterested motivation, she would have written it seven or eight years ago -- just as she would have publicly allied with me in the campaign for academic reform instead of doing the opposite (as when she denounced the editor of Arion, Herbert Golder, for publishing my essay). Nussbaum isn't squeamish about borrowing my ideas without acknowledgment, however, as in her proposal in her most recent book to put world religions at the center of 21st century multicultural education. (Cooking dinner one night, I laughed out loud when David Gergen, interviewing Nussbaum on PBS's "Newshour With Jim Lehrer," gushily singled out that idea in her book, as she smiled winsomely and flashed some more leg.)
In a perfectly Leftist society, only people like Robert Bork suffer the moral "shame" (the liberals would say "opprobrium" - so much more dainty) they deserve to suffer, while opportunists like Nussbaum (if she is what she appears to be) simply move to greener pasture before the chickens come home to roost - not a hard thing to do, when you are in the glitzy set and have maximum academic (including honorary) credentials. This is exactly the kind of behaviour which they DEPLORE in any other context - someone apparently above the social Law, who can always move on to new opportunities, new horizons, new cutting-edges, while even her comrades in Revolution and Progress can see her for what she has become.

How prevalent is this in America today?My guess is very.

Here is Butler's award-winning sentence:
"The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the questions of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural tonalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of therearticulation of power."
Can you decipher this? Can anyone be sure what it means?

I think what she is trying (very badly) to say is that late stage capitalism operates in a more sophisticated and subversive manner than even the Left had anticipated - however, it's unclear as to why this would be not just a concern contra capitalism, but contra the Left. Don't they use PC for just this purpose? Or perhaps she's being deliberately vague. If so, good job.

But it is horrendous English.

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