Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Oh, The Humanities.

A while ago I came across the Twitter account New Real Peer Review, whose curator supplies abstracts of, and links to, recondite journal articles by academics in the fields of gender studies, queer studies, women's studies, postmodernism, deconstructionism, post-deconstructionism, post-post-deconstructionism, and what-not. It seems that if you want to make your mark in these disciplines, you must search out areas of experience hitherto innocent of concerns of sexuality and ethnicity and any other identity you can pinpoint, and try to open them up to such considerations whether the subject matter resists them or not. Black disabled lesbians and Scrabble? As yet up for grabs. Marginalised gender identities in the BBC shipping forecast? I'm coming to that. How about sex and accountancy? Accountancy has to be a real weenie-shrinker, right? Spreadsheets don't get most people horny, so accountants probably save up their lust for the evenings and weekends, like almost everybody else. Well, here we are told that: 'There is a paucity of research on sexuality within accounting studies in general, and next to nothing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* (LGBT) sexualities in particular'. (Rumens, 2015) Bet you'd never thought of that - proving the author's point! At the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) 99% of our Chinese students study business and accountancy related subjects, so this paper could make for illuminating reading on next year's pre-sessional courses. 

Picture the reaction.

The other week a young French lady asked me to help her write a commentary on The Wife of Bath's Tale. (I do language, not content, you must understand.) She told me that she was expected to set the tale in its Mediaeval context and then ponder whether or not Chaucer had written a feminist piece. This struck me as dumb: how can you set the piece in its Mediaeval context and then claim it as feminist piece 500 years before feminism? I'm not saying Chaucer wasn't a feminist avant la lettre - I know fuck all about literature, after all. However, it does seem you get points from your lecturers if you can lasso a bit of feminism together with pretty much anything else. 

But what speak we of mere undergrads when we have an example here direct from the top floor? Harvard's Dr Jennifer C. Nash has opened up black women's arseholes for us to look into. 'I place my work in conversation with other anal theorists, showing how my investment in black anality both builds on and departs from existing scholarship' (Nash, 2014). I didn't know you could be an anal theorist. 'So, what do you do, then?' No doubt breaks the ice at parties. Anyway, Nash reckons that black women's sexuality is regarded as 'toxic' (buzz word) and 'wasteful', hence it's connection with the ring-piece. How likely is it that many people think of black women's sexuality as 'toxic' and 'wasteful', or agree with Nash's assertion that black women are generally seen as 'grotesque' and 'unfeminine' when so many black women are so beautiful? But this is another key to keeping your job in gender studies: bang on at mendacious length about how oppressed and marginalised you are, even if you are a professor or student at an Ivy League University and thus one of the most privileged and self-determining people in the history of the planet.

Another thing you must do is make your abstracts as inscrutable as you possibly can:

''This essay undertakes a critique of recent trends in affect theory from the standpoint of the “human motor”: a trope that presupposes a thermodynamic psychophysiology distended between energy conservation and entropy. In the course of reanimating thermodynamic motifs in Marx's labor power metabolics and Freud's trauma energetics, the essay broaches entropics as a poetics of depletion that offsets affect theories promoting open-system metaphors. Open-system affect theory sometimes amalgamates emancipatory post-humanist gestures inherited from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari with neuroscientific terms. In the course of “liberating” affect from subject-oriented topoi, this “liberation-scientistic” admixture expropriates organic matter's degeneration over time. An “entropical” perspective also challenges Antonio Negri's Spinozaist affect conceived as a capacitating power that encounters... ''(Ball,2015)

OK, that'll do. You get the idea. Or more likely, that dispiriting verbal sludge make it impossible to descry any ideas, thus defeating the object of writing a fucking abstract. Now, we can take the piss out of this tosh as much as we like, but we need to consider too that people are paid to produce and teach it, and students pay to learn it. Can someone tell me what conceivable intellectual worth this pretentious horseshit could have? What benefit do this writer's students derive from being taught by someone that cranks out such minge-dribble for a living? And what can they do with the knowledge other than perpetuate the insanity? (For some background to this article, go here, where the journal editors manage to illuminate matters hardly at all.)

Anyway, reading the abstracts on New Real Peer Review inspired me to write one of my own, and I'm considering submitting it as a proposal to some upcoming conference, my own small Sokal-style hoax. It's no more or less barmy and pointless than these papers presented at the American Culture Association National Conference in Seattle earlier this year: 

  • Sensual Folds, Textured Erotics: Centering the fat queer man’s belly as site of sexual pleasure. 
  • Grunge Feminism: the subversive hypertextuality of the queered voice performed through the body.
  • Boys are from Mars, Girls are from Venus, I’ve got a Yum Yum, Mom has a Penis: Gender-blind voice casting and butch desire in Bob’s Burgers.
OK, this is mine:  
Sailing By: Intertextualities and Intersexualities in the BBC Shipping Forecast.   


Using non-interventionist externalities as a heuristic, this paper explores queered, quasi-queered and non-queered maritime spaces in an attempt to deconstruct and problematise issues of self-positioning and othering that stem from the placing and subsequent re-positioning of marginalised identities within sea areas. Practices of emancipatory gender negotiation and renegotiation embodied within existing socio-linguistic paradigms are critiqued and found insufficient to account for deviations from - and challenges to - hegemonic discourses of masculinity and / or ‘masculinities’ as reflected in gendered nomenclatorial systems, e.g., 'rising quickly' or 'falling more slowly'. We call for a more critical interrogation of the aforementioned praxes and narratives and argue for more nuanced, imbricated and critical connections between mimesis and affect, with a view to destabilizing hetero-normative articulations of subjectivity, and positioning a meta-stable externality as a paradigm for anti- (or non-) normative shipping inclusivity.

Key words: queer, maritime, sea, gender negotiation, to, for, a, heteronormativity, and. 


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