Subscribe to Blog via Email
“Why? To What End?”
Eidolon is an unabashedly leftist (well, more to the point, identity-politics–driven) Classics online publication. When Eidolon isn’t talking about the collisions of Classics and modernity, it talks a lot about how to stop making Classics complicit in US white supremacist discourse.
The latest contribution to Eidolon by its editor weighs in on a comparable shit-fight in mediaeval studies, between Asian mediaevalist Kim and White mediaevalist Brown (and throwing some elbows of its own): Learn Some Fucking History. It is inter alia a call to arms that says it is not enough to correct white supremacists on matters of history; classicists also have to (somehow) atone for how the discipline has previously contributed to white supremacist discourse… in a way that goes beyond correcting white supremacists on matters of history.
Yes, it is that frustratingly open-ended; and since we’ve departed the realm of scholarship and are now in the realm of culture war, I don’t think it’s particularly effective polemic either (and I’ve commented as much):
… If the alt right are impervious to correction via historical fact, they’ll be a lot more impervious to correction via reception theory. And if the audience you’re seeking to convince are those “who aren’t hardened keyboard warriors”, and who are still open to being persuaded, then I’d have thought they’re going to be more readily persuaded via historical fact than via reception theory, too.
If doing historical scholarship is not actually “fighting” the alt right, neither is doing critical theory scholarship. And if the aim is persuasion of the middle (as opposed to street-fighting, or preaching to the converted), then penitence and sackcloth has limited rhetorical appeal. (As do ad hominem attacks.)
Another reader’s response to Zuckerberg’s essay, though, was so righteous, and so clear-eyed, that I thought it deserved republication here (with permission). The more so as the only response it’s had to date was to reiterate some ad hominems.
Profs Kim and Brown have longstanding internet beef. Why not mention that? You write like Brown’s current salvo came from nowhere. Her and Kim have been clawing at each other’s flesh like near-sighted Maenads for awhile. Admittedly, almost no one is as cool as this Maenad. No one could be.
I ❤ confused leopards.
Brown comes close. Her point is solid. Do your job. Social media is the dark side.
And this call to ally with Kim, and pile on Brown, is begging a number of questions in any case. The main being “Why?” and “To what end?” They are both adult academics with jobs and a personal grudge.
And speaking of begging the question, the question is severely begged by Kim’s statement quoted by Brown. “How are you signalling in your classroom that you are not upholding white supremacy, when you are teaching the subject loved by white supremacists?”
Why? To What End?
Has the field reverted to 19th century norms? Are current history departments pumping out white supremacy and apologist articles?
No. No they are not. Show us an open white supremacist in the field, with a job, doing white supremacist work. In the classics or in medieval studies? Where is a University which is willing to hire a White Supremacist leaning classicist or medievalist? Where are they? Nowhere. So what has happened? What is Prof. Kim saying? She’s saying Brown is a Nazi and a white supremacist.
Thank God. Thank God that Prof Kim lives in a country with liberal libel laws. In the U.K. or Germany or Ireland she’d be drowning in lawsuits already. She has no case. She would deserve them.
Brown says she isn’t a white supremacist. Her work doesn’t reflect white supremacy or Nazism. I believe her.
Some tiny minority of college aged racists with reactionary racist politics twist various disciplines’ historical arguments for their politics. So now all medievalists (and by association academics whose work is twisted in the same way) are suspected white supremacists, and in the classroom we must immediately disclaim? Or else we’re picking a side?
Wait. What? The whole thing is actually off the rails.
I still occasionally work in 20th century history in a public capacity as a Referent for a Concentration Camp Memorial. Hitler wore pants. Often. I dare say he liked them. I do not have to signal to the world that I am not a Nazi by wearing only my kurze Lederhosen. (He wore those too, unfortunately, see below) At this rate,in order to properly signal, I will have to lecture naked to signal that I am not a Nazi.
Nazis ruining everything. As usual.
Lots of holocaust revisionists and other Nazi apologist filth have a steeped interest in German and 20th century history. That doesn’t make the group of people licenced to teach seminars and do tours at Dachau suspected Nazis.
Why do I have to signal anything at all? The more I signal that I am not an alcoholic the less people believe me.
Yes, I have read Prof. Kim’s article, and I do take issue with the idea that academics have to be activists, especially active signalling activists. It is not a given that
“Today, medievalists have to understand that the public and our students will see us as potential white supremacists or white supremacist sympathizers because we are medievalists.”
That’s rubbish. No one cares about medievalists, or classicists really. The only time either get noticed is when administrators see how much money they are worth if their departments are dissolved.
And we are not supposed to be “ideological arms dealers.” We are supposed to do history or whatever our disciplines are and well.
The work should work for you. The public history done at Dachau does exactly that. No politics are required, just the truth as far as we can prove it. For people doing public history at the Gedenkstätte, their personal politics and activism are not actually welcome.
Plus too much politics, unless the work is about politics, ruins the work.
And now apparently everyone who even wants to approach the subject has to pass some kind of ideological purity test? And if you refuse you are taking the side of the Charlottesville marchers?
I can understand Brown’s anger in the face of something like that. And her rhetoric.
No academic needs to signal their good intentions as a result of 19th and early 20th century sins of other academics. And especially not as a reaction to the minority (if there are any) actual modern classics or medieval students and scholars that are open white supremacists. Where are they? Do we actually have any holocaust-denial style modern publishing classicists or medievalists?
Nö, we do not.
Is there a Wiedergutmachung?
Yes, our work can be misused by people who want to do evil with it. That’s true. There’s no way to stop that except to stop doing the work.
In any case. Good solid work can easily do 10 times the good of a sermon. It’s harder to do. Preaching is easy. And it takes longer to do, and longer for the effect to sink in, like the difference between a bush and a Tree.
But a well planted tree eventually overshadows all the bushes. And think of how everyone can benefit. The Maenad has some where to hang her snake, lean her Thyrsus, a place for the Leopard to nap, and somewhere to shady to sit. Everyone wins.