Eila’s class has had a visit from the school nurse, and we now have the 6-Step Guide to Hand Washing pasted up on the bathroom mirror. The 6th step is “turn off the tap with a paper towel.” I don’t know what to tell Eila about this, except maybe “not in this house, Missy.” It’s not really an issue, though, because we don’t own any paper towels.
As often as it can, Arts and Letters Daily links to pieces criticizing academic jargon. The most famous is Dennis Dutton’s devastation of Judith Butler from a few years back (to which she offered a surprisingly generous and unjargonly response). Yesterday’s example, from Russell Jacoby, might not be as funny as Dutton’s, but is probably truer. Jacoby rants away about the ubiquity of “problematization,” “recontextualization,” and “fragmentation,” however his point is not that the thinking behind the terminology is wrong, but rather that it’s mostly trite — we already all knew that the world was complicated and that important questions were best examined from many angles and on several levels. I agree with him, and, hey, I should know – it’s my language.
Jacoby’s real bugbear is the claim, typical of recent scholarship from many disciplines, that we need to move beyond “binary oppositions.” He suggests (recomplicating the question) that while some binary oppositions are indeed reductivist fuzzifications, others are
worth recognizing, if not celebrating: the distinction, let us say, between pregnant and not pregnant, or between life and death. Others are at least worth noticing — for example, that between a red and a green light. You either have $3.75 for a latte or you do not. Can that be “complicated”?
Wow. Never have I come across a sentence more worthy of complication than “you either have $3.75 for a latte or you do not.” For is it really a question of the amount of change in my pocket? Is it not rather a question of whether I am alert or blind to the barefaced robbery perpetrated by multi-national corporations operating in a global economy rife with injustice? Does any clearheaded individual, reflecting on planetary circumstances, have $3.75 for a latte? Surely no one does. And yet we all spend what we do not have; even the poorest among us shells out our $3.75 at the altar of the bean, prompting me to turn the matter around, to problematize the question once again, to ask: is there any way I can assert myself against the zeitgeist, claiming that I do not have $3.75 for a latte? Is there anywhere that is not a Starbucks? And if so, why?
Eila’s other sheet from the nurse is instructions, complete with diagrams, on how to sneeze and cough into your sleeve. The correct place for snot and hork is the sleeve. So much for eternal verities!