Monday, February 11, 2008

In Which I Am a "Unique Snowflake"

Unbelievably, Joseph Kugelmass continues to have a problem with Dr. Crazy. See his most recent comment to this post of long ago. I'm honestly baffled. I left a comment in response (yet to be approved)*** but I'm hoping it puts an end to the matter, which for me was over two full weeks ago, although apparently my pseudonym remains central to the debate. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, is this exasperating.

For the record, looking back over the whole mess, I feel badly about how I initially chose to respond. I think I could have handled things more diplomatically, and I think that I could have kept my temper in check more than I did. And I'm sorry for the role that I played in blowing the whole thing entirely out of proportion. That said? There continues to be little to no self-reflection on the other side about why exactly I responded the way that I did. No acknowledgment that perhaps the tone of how I was addressed might have had something to do with how I responded. That is... disheartening.

I don't see myself (or Dr. Crazy) as a rebel, an eccentric, or a "unique snowflake." I see what I do in my work and what I project outward on this blog as pretty mundane, actually. I'm a teacher and scholar who's trying to negotiate the demands of the business of higher education (the job) with things that are intellectually, ethically, emotionally important to me. What I do, or what I discuss, isn't all that different from what many others do or think about. Through Dr. Crazy, I can give those things a more public voice than I'd otherwise be able to. While that's fun for me, and interesting, and while it's been nice to get to know people through the blog and while it's nice to have an audience for my ideas, I don't see it as particularly special. It's just one more thing that I do. Even if I did see myself as a rebel, eccentric, or unique snowflake, I wouldn't expect people to agree with me without reservation or to defend me on those grounds, which seems to be the implication of comments like this (let alone comments of the "unicorn gumdrop" variety).

And so I'm left to wonder why others seem to think that what I'm doing or thinking is so.... offensive? Controversial? Arrogant? Because the impression I've gotten from this situation, as well as from ones previous, is that what people are most angered by with Dr. Crazy is not actually anything I'm really writing about. It's more the *idea* of Dr. Crazy that incenses people than anything that's actually on this blog. It's the *way* that I choose to write, as opposed to the content of that writing. The voice that I hear coming through is always one that says something like, "How dare you? Who do you think you are?" Not so different from the voice that Lily Briscoe in Woolf's To the Lighthouse imagines saying "Women can't write, women can't paint," when it comes down to it. And that may not really be what's going on, but that's what I perceive as I approach the various conflicts that seem to arise as a result of Dr. Crazy.

But so Dr. Crazy, aka Unique Snowflake (my super-hero identity? nah, Dr. Crazy is more like a super-hero name. Perhaps this is more like my rapper name?), has much to accomplish today in the guise of her Clark Kent "regular person" identity, i.e., she must prep a novel to teach, work on some admin stuff, catch up on some email, do some stuff re: book permissions, and, finally, go in to the office to take care of some business. I know. I'm totally an eccentric and a rebel. It's almost shocking how I live my life on the margins, isn't it? What a polarizing figure I am, and everything. Later, I might do a post about all of the food in my freezer, and maybe post a picture of my cat, if there's time. But for now, more coffee, and then to work.

*** ETA: Originally Kugelmass deleted my comment because in his estimation it was unsubstantive and didn't contribute to the ongoing conversation, but then put it up because of this post. I just want to note that I did not do this post to force his hand into posting my comment, but rather to think about the situation more broadly, as well as to apologize for my role in the blow-up (which I do think I needed to do).


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Don't let the asshats get you down... I skimmed most of what was in the link you posted. What I saw was someone who is self-consiously allowing their poor students to keep the vocabulary of being poor -- under the guise of letting them keep their own voices.... that is all well and good, until one of those smart but poor students goes into a casual conversation at a job and doesn't know anything. At that point, the common consensus is that, although they went to college, they didn't learn anything, and the poor but smart student wonders why they don't get promoted.

I ran into these sorts of people all the time in debate, they just want to fight and will pick at you if you keep responding.

Rokeya said...

I think the "unique snowflake" line actually contains a typo. I'm not sure, of course, but I think he meant to start the first sentence in that paragraph as "Because, in fact, IF she's not giving expression..." (there's no "if" there now). I got the feeling that JK is just trying to make the point that both of you are making statements about the profession in general here, not just him, and that neither of you are unique in that regard. (This is response to someone else's comment that he's using you as his hobbyhorse to make comments about the profession.)

His response to you actually made his stakes a bit clearer to me; it seems like he is under the misapprehension that what he calls "a radical approach to teaching" is something one necessarily chooses to have or not have. He does not seem to consider that one's own positionality as a professor in a privileged academic space does not dilute the gendered, racialized, class-specific, etc. aspects of one's own history, and thus there are particular approaches that one might take as a teacher that aren't reducible to having a radical teaching agenda, but that nevertheless operate to mobilize student thinking in ways that indeed reflect some impulse to challenge, say, a class structure (be it through gaining the tools to "pass" or whatever else). His is a dangerous position, then, in the sense that it wouldn't really make room for, say, the teaching experiences of women of color who are doubly marginalized and also teaching, say, postcolonial literatures, where what they do in the classroom is marked the minute they even walk into the room and reflects less some decision to radicalize made out there, separate from their personal experience, but part of teaching when you're not, I don't know, a white middle-class male.

Compson said...

Ugh. I remember personalities like this when I was in grad school. I wonder what kind of colleagues they make when/if they get jobs.

Anastasia said...

I think what bothers me most is the defense others are putting up "but she was only saying something personal!" you were speaking from a position, this is true. but so is jk and his, to my reading, is an unexamined position. that's his privilege.

k8 said...

At the risk of sounding like my mother...maybe he's just jealous because more people like you.

Seriously, he needs to reflect on more than just his own way of seeing things - he needs to actually look at the world he lives in (beyond the university) and engage with it. Yikes!

Rich Puchalsky said...

Dr. Crazy, you've treated Kugelmass shabbily from the start of this entire thing. You repeatedly told him to fuck off, cheered as your commenters posted all sorts of insults and made-up scenarios about him, and wrote nasty tidbits about how he's just a posturing grad student. Well, he's posting under his real name and you aren't. It's a joke for you write about collegiality, as you did on the Valve, in these circumstances.

The "unique snowflake" line was JK's characterization of another commenter's position, not an insult towards you, although you didn't read carefully enough to understand that. What's at issue -- insofar as there is an issue, which you deny -- is the exact claim that you made at the end of your original post in this thread, that your reasons for teaching are widespread although not often mentioned within the profession. That's what makes the discussion about more than Dr. Crazy and her personal preferences. But whenever someone tries to address this seriously, people like the commenter that JK was replying to fall back on "but those are only her personal opinions" -- i.e. that you are a unique snowflake, and no one else is like you.

Mostly Academic said...

Just skimmed his post and the exchange that followed. I missed the first clump (though I liked your initial blog post, and saved it).

I think his intellectual disagreement with you is one that could reasonably be debated, by reasonable people, but the personal slanging against you that ensued in the comments makes it not worthwhile to engage with him. The very first thing academics - never mind academics, ADULTS - are supposed to learn is how to keep it civil. Those who can't do that aren't worth talking to and their opinions are not worth knowing about.

k8 said...

Rich - I'm not trying to speak for Dr. Crazy here, but when I read that 'snowflake' line I did take it as a swipe at her. Although JK was responding to a commenter, the use of 'snowflake' in that sense, a word commonly used to malign the children of helicopter parents, was derogative. Also, I would add that JK has not been the most diplomatic participant in this discussion. His approach has been fairly aggressive from the start, which I've found unnecessary.

On another note, having read through this recent exchange and the post and comments at The Valve, I have to say that I am more than a little offended by the derogation of composition, the teaching of writing, and rhetorical approaches. Granted, I am a comp/rhet person, but the study of rhetoric in the university has a much longer history than the study of literature. The post and comments certainly indicate that the authors see these as somehow lesser than Literature.

Sorry - that was long and hijack-like.

Dr. Crazy said...

First, let me say this. Part of the lack of civility in this discussion is my fault. I lost my temper. I lost my temper because I felt I was misrepresented, and then misunderstood when I tried to respond in a measured way (which, initially, I did, although I can see where perhaps what I thought was measured was not perceived as such). I entirely take the blame for that, and I'm not in any way attempting to excuse myself for that.

Second, I am genuinely sorry if I treated Kugelmass unfairly, whether in comments or in any blog posts I've done. I don't think I ever told him to "fuck off" (though I suppose one might read that as implied) though I did resist being used as a figure through which he could make his argument. The fact of the matter is that I am doing something very different with this blog than what happens at The Valve. I use this as a space in which to think through things in writing, and I see what I write here as provisional. And yes, I expect that people engage with me on those terms, though perhaps that is an unfair expectation. Finally, I'll note, as I've done previously, that when I wrote that original post, it was not part of an ongoing conversation or about a call to write about teaching in my discipline per se. It was taken up as such after the fact, and I think that's where some of the confusion comes in. I was writing as much about teaching at my kind of institution as I was about teaching in my discipline, but I think that was lost when the broader call about teaching in the disciplines went out. And thus, I think that perhaps more weight (or different weight) was given to my post than I ever could have anticipated at the outset.

Now, as for what I said about the reasons that I gave being more widespread than are usually given voice. I think that's true. That said, I was ALSO writing from a specific position, which has to do with personal background, current institution, range of educational experiences. Those two things are not mutually exclusive, to my mind. I do not believe I ever said that my ideas were not open to critique because they were personal (I think that was something that was projected onto the post, for a variety of reasons that have to do with what kinds of discourse are valued in discussions of the discipline and what kinds are marginalized). If anything, what I believe is that personal, specific experience should be part of such conversations, that it can serve as a starting point from which to begin and that the resulting conversation will vary widely depending on whose specific, personal experience we start with. Thus, while I do believe that there are those who would agree with what I said, I do not believe that it makes sense to then say that what I said is the One True Way of seeing the discipline or pedagogy within it. What I suggested at the end of my post was that it would have been interesting to see what kind of discussion might have occurred if the range of voices participating in the conversation on this particular panel that I attended would have been wider. That's all.

What most interests me now is the way that "Dr. Crazy" has been used in the discussion to symbolize the personal, the uncritical, the uncollegial, the unengaged. I'm interested in the way in which the choice to use a pseudonym on my part then influences the ways in which some respond to me, or the way in which it serves to strip the writing on this blog of certain kinds of a authority while it infuses it with other kinds of authority. That, ultimately, is what this post is about. Not about Joseph Kugelmass, not about teaching literature or about the value of literature as a discipline.

So again, I apologize for my role in the ugliness of this discussion, because I know I've played one. I also think, however, that it makes sense to think about the discussion, ugly though it may be, in terms of broader questions about who has the authority to speak or what perspectives are authorized more broadly.

Oh, and one last thing: I think that any misreading of Kugelmass's most recent comment on my part was the result of the typo that Rokeya notes, and because I failed to import the missing "if" it did not read as a response to the other commenter but rather as yet another dismissal of what I'd said. Even with the "if" imported, it's still dismissive of personal experience as an index through which to think about teaching or the discipline, as if to write personally about these things puts one on the other side of a binary - EITHER one is serious about the discipline and teaching(does not write from personal experience) OR one is trying to be or is an eccentric (is outside of rationality or of the legitimate discourse about the topic). It's this opposition that I've disputed from the outset, not only in this debate but also in the writing I've done as "Dr. Crazy." In fact, that's kind of the whole point of Dr. Crazy, truth be told.

Rich Puchalsky said...

Before this gets into a discussion of paraphrasing vs quotation, what you actually wrote was (in part) a wish that "people who normally don't comment or respond to me would stay the fuck away" -- from here -- along with some similar things.

It's been my experience that people who stress personal experience rarely listen to other people. If they did, then they would have to find out that other personal experiences contradict theirs in some way. You demonstated that when I wrote about the "tyranny of personal experience" in a comment on the Valve, and kept the phrase in order to illustrate your post about access to theory, but treated the phrase as an abstract concept attacking your position rather than a product of experience itself.

Because, of course, it had nothing to do with literary theory. It has to do with people who insist that their experience is the true, privileged, general personal experience while anyone else's must be an expression of racism, sexism, classism, or some kind of cold, impersonal theoretical narrative.

The only way to get away from presenting your personal experience as a force that attempts to invalidate everyone else's is to permit people to talk about it in the context of generalizations. This is exactly what you haven't wanted people to do, although your original post had generalizations aplenty. But your generalizations are *yours*, while his are institutional, I guess.

JPool said...

I'm the commenter Joseph Kugelmass was responding to over at the valve, and for what it's worth I'm sorry if it felt like I was dragging you back into this by continuing the exchange with him.
Yeah, it seems the snowflake thing was mostly a swipe at me, if one that carries a good ammount of smarminess with it and, to my mind, is based upon the falacy of the excluded middle. Anyway, I enjoy the blog, and I think that you copping to your part in the escalation of the exchange was a really decent thing to do.

the rebel lettriste said...

This IS exasperating, and I am sorry, Dr. C.!

I am glad that you pointed out the fact that so much of this kerfluffle seems to be about your pseudonymous identity. And I agree that a central issue lost in the debate is that you were writing about teaching at your particular kind of institution, one that serves poor and working poor students, for the most part. (This is the kind of place I teach at too!)

I was really struck by how your posts, while pseudonymous, were also about real people--your students, yourself, your family. And by how Kugelmass cites 19th and 20th c. novels in response!

I know that he's blogging under his real name and everything (and that's supposed to be valorous or something.) But come on. One reason I suspect he's doing so is because it looks REAL GOOD on paper, and because it's a nice grad school ego boost.

The academy is not kind to junior faculty female profs. who stand out, who speak to the class diversity of their experiences, who want to talk openly about politics and pedagogy. This is why pseudonyms are imperative.

And for god's sake, teaching students how to survive in some kind of managerial white collar job--when they are likely the first in their families to do so--is also an imperative. They have no models. And they need them.

Thank god people like Dr. C. are teaching them how to do that, and thank god she has a forum here to write about her own experiences doing so.

john c. halasz said...

Actually, Doc. C., I found your initial POV readily intelligible, and I don't think you need apologize for your anger at being drafted into somebody else's misrecognitions and agenda, (though, of course, that sort of thing happens all the time). In fact, I thought your "different gallaxies" remark not far from the mark. The folks over at "The Bivalve" are dedicated to some sort of weird boundary patrolling operation, whereby they have a "unique" entitlement to sober "rationality", at least insofar as it is embodied in academic proprieties. And I might add, as an utterly non-academic, non-literary type, that I find the effort to align literature with some sort of orchestration of the pieties of "political correctness",- (which is, er, the worst political strategy ever conceived, as if, when one can not change the realities, it would suffice to change their labelings, which only serves to "legitimate" the denunciations of PC on behalf of whatever it would ostensibly oppose), absurd, since literature is so obviously "incorrect", if not "impious". It just as absurd to attempt to confine literature and its potential range of effects to the regimentations of academic demands for "cognitive" validity. It seems that Joseph K.,- (such a strange name),- is caught betwixt both complexes. But then I had my own run-in with the denunciations of Josephism, shortly before your encounter, when I attempted to express my own, thoroughly untutored "theory" of literature/literary discourse as that mode of discourse that attempts to body-forth and "contain" the "modal-relation to the other", emphasizing that literature is obviously non-cognitive, (since fictive, or, at least, imaginative), but nonetheless yielding a kind of self-knowledge. Which was met with the fulminations of the Emperor Joseph: "It is dogmatic and ideological to separate self-knowlege from knowledge,..." and blah, blah, blah, und so weiter. One of my basic theses, however poorly expressed, was as follows: "One of the functionless functions of literature is as a perennial satire on the mutually reifying, mutually uncomprehending relations between everyday communicative interactions in the life-world, operating under the rigidifying pressures of need and functional necessity, which otherness always sets up and disappears from, and the pretensions of formal-rational discourses, which would purport to regulate them." I don't know if you'd recognize any glimmer of recognition in that, with respect to your own quandaries, or whether that at all helps.

Anastasia said...

"It has to do with people who insist that their experience is the true, privileged, general personal experience"

I think that's exactly the point to be made about any academic discourse that excludes explicit acknowledgment of one's own position. Which is to say rational discourse. given the history of the development of western thought sober, rational discourse does in fact privilege a white, male perspective that also happens to belong to a particular social location.

"while anyone else's must be an expression of racism, sexism, classism,"

maybe it is. maybe it isn't. what it isn't is positionless.

"or some kind of cold, impersonal theoretical narrative."

there is no such thing. there is only one's own position cloaked by theory to make it appear objective and impersonal. it is a ruse and that ruse silences the voices of women, non-white people, and those from the lower classes.

sorry to highjack dr. crazy. i don't speak for her, this is my own read on this comment.

Rich Puchalsky said...

"I think that's exactly the point to be made about any academic discourse that excludes explicit acknowledgment of one's own position."

Which is, of course, what Dr. Crazy attempted. Her discourse was positionless because it was "just her opinion", and any attempt to point out the implicit assumptions of her position -- i.e. that poor people form a sort of structureless group that are all in and out of jail -- was labeled an attack on her personally.

Anastasia, you've written some of the most silencing-from-a-position-of-power narratives I've seen in a long time, using your presumed position as a professor and writing down to a grad student. I think that it's typical that you would conceal this behind an abstract assertion about silencing women, non-white people, and lower-class people, none of which has been shown to operate in this instance. That is your own position cloaked by theory to make it appear impersonal.

Mostly Academic said...

Stating that something is your own opinion positions it very precisely, particularly when the speaker has taken care to give readers essential information such as their gender, the sort of place they teach at, and their own family background. I don't really see what more Dr. Crazy could do here to tell people where her observations are coming from.

It always astounds me how happy males, even (perhaps especially) graduate students, are to do their best to silence any female with any authority. But it doesn't work here, honey, and only makes you look silly. Try it on someone more likely to be impressed.