Wednesday 30 November 2005

White with Loathing

To read and find ugly a sentence such as “Personalised embodied narratives foreground the particularity of the everyday” requires no rare sensibility. No fine eye is needed, furthermore, to see that it bears the markings of a pseudo-philosophic pretence that might hide a banality at best or an absurdity at worst. One might appreciate that to write such stuff and find it worthy of expression, however, requires several years of academic instruction, in which span of time any trace of aesthetic sensibility or mental acuity is exorcised as if it were a foul and irksome ghost. Hence we should not be startled to discover that the author of this squalid phrase is suitably qualified to express it, being that she is a lecturer in the language of which it is a blight.
Anne Brewster, like many a lecturer in English, does not much concern herself with the English language or the literature of the “dead white males” whose works have helped to shape it; for like many of her ilk she is obsessed with race, and in particular with the “project of rewriting whiteness”. Quite what this might entail, I cannot tell, though it seems to involve a desire not to be white, if the following is anything to go by:
If it is patently impossible to divest ourselves of whiteness, I'd suggest, perhaps the best we (as white subjects) can hope for is persistently to interrupt our narrativisation of it.
Anne Brewster, “Writing Whiteness: the Personal TurnAustralian Humanities Review, Issue 35, June 2005.
Plainly, I have arrived on the scene late in the day; for the assumption has already been made that no decent person could possibly be white and of good conscience. Assuming then that “whiteness” is a sin, and that we are not yet able to divest ourselves of it, how are we “to interrupt our narrativisation of it”? Our author has a suggestion:
If, as [Richard] Dyer suggests, the project of refunctioning whiteness necessitates ‘making whiteness strange’ [White, (London: Routledge, 1997. p. 4)], this can be effected through making oneself strange. (Ibid.)
You may be disappointed to learn that “making oneself strange” does not involve standing in corners at parties muttering to oneself about the contents of one’s tool-shed, nor does it recommend keeping black puddings as pets. It involves rather reading “indigenous literature” in order that one may somehow become estranged from oneself towards a new identity less afflicted with “whiteness”:
I have argued elsewhere . . . that the experience of defamiliarisation produced by reading indigenous literature, for example, shifts us into a space of uncertainty because the ‘self’ to which we return is not a fixed site. Defamiliarisation reminds us of the inability of identity to remain identical to itself and of the fact that whiteness itself is a zone of indeterminacy. (Ibid.)
This wish to destroy one’s own kind reminds me somewhat of the tragic Otto Weininger, the philosopher and Viennese Jew, of whom even Hitler was reputedly an admirer; and with statements such as the following, it is not difficult to see why:
To defeat Judaism, the Jew must first understand himself and war against himself. So far, the Jew has reached no further than to make and enjoy jokes against his own peculiarities.
(Otto Weininger, Sex and Character. (London: William Heinemann, 1906.) p. 207.)
Herr Weininger committed suicide at the age of twenty-three. I do not know whether Ms Brewster views suicide as an option, in order that she might finally divest herself of whiteness. I get the feeling, however, that persons such as she would like to be around to shepherd the rest us off first. The last man out shuts the door, as it were.


The Pedant-General said...

"Personalised embodied narratives foreground the particularity of the everyday."

9 words, 6 excluding the definite article and prepositions, of which only 1 - ONE! - has not had its "part of speech" mutilated horribly.

That must be a record. Even for an academic.

Where do you get this stuff from? Does your job require you to read this or do you have a secret underground network of informers in all places of higher learning throughout the land? Do tell...

Deogolwulf said...

The sentence is quite an achievement, isn't it?

It is merely my hobby to look for such things. If I were to give this hobby a Romano-Greek name, I think "taurocoprologist" would do nicely.

Akaky said...

Narrativisation? Can one commit such an outrageous act in public, even in these morally lax times, without the vice squad stepping in to restore order and decency?

Tom Paine said...

Extraordinary. I laughed, I cried, I linked. I am lost in admiration for your dissection and in horror of the beast dissected.

Anonymous said...

"Personalised embodied narratives foreground the particularity of the everyday"

Close but no cigar. She's good but clearly still learning her trade. True, the way the words are arranged in the sentence makes no sense but, tragically, considered in isolation some of them are still intelligible. For example, a real professional would replace "the everyday" with "quotidianity". Actually, we can get rid of those simple Anglo-Saxon words "of" and "the" by changing "the particularity of the everyday" to "quotidianial haeceity". "Foreground" is good academic cant, I admit, but wouldn't "prosceniumise" be a vast improvement in nebulousness? "Embodied"'s a bit obvious too. Plus the punctuation is nowhere near fancypants enough for any self-respecting pomo. So revised version

"Personalised" (in)corporealised narrative(s) proceniumise "quotidianal" haeceity/haeceities.

What do you think? We'll make a Judith Butler out of this Foucauldian Eliza Doolittle yet.

dearieme said...

I think that she must be part of one of those "Let's see if they really can type Shakespeare" experiments.

dearieme said...

By the by, you'll find that Kirk Elder is from Peebles. Keebles is in Ooxfords.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure the article wasnt got from the postmodern essay generator site?

Anonymous said...

Here is a postmodern essay generator:

There may be more...

Anonymous said...

As a half-Indian i take great pleasure in loathing ridiculous white people such as Ms Brewster.

Face it, Shakepeare was white; Dante was white; Kafka was white; Mozart was white; Bob Dylan was white.

True, Miles Davis was black as us Derek Walcott, but that only goes to show that genius isn't an exclusively white property.

Deogolwulf said...

No one hates the whites like the whites.

We could, of course, speak of Indian mathematical genius.