Lindsay Perigo Responds
Clearly this debate has touched some raw nerves. Originally tempted to wade in on Robert White's side (not that he needs any assistance) I then decided to pull back & make a conscientious effort to see as much merit as possible in Wilkinson's & Sciabarra's points of view. The issues here are similar to those on which David Kelley & I came to grief (see A Personal Statement, TFR 36). They are also reminiscent of aspects of the Kelley/Peikoff split that led to Kelley's courageous nose-thumbing at the closed religiosity of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) & subsequent formation of the IOS ten years ago issues discussed at length in Dr Kelley's Truth and Toleration. Clearly they are destined to resurface time & again, & I am more than happy that The Free Radical can serve as a platform on which both (all?) protagonists can confront each other.
Try though I might, however, I cannot in all conscientiousness avoid the conclusion that on the substantive issues involved here, White is correct. It's true that he can sometimes behave like the ARI on speed, but that should not obscure the fact that he has made some telling points in this debate which his adversaries have failed to answer (re-read the script thus far). Nor should it obscure the fact that for the most part, the vigour with which he expresses these points is appropriate to their content. Will Wilkinson is explicitly promoting a form/content dichotomy whereby one might intone something like, "The Nazis were evil," in a flat monotone in the name of "Aristotelian coolness" & "analytical precision." I defy anyone who really means that statement to utter it in that manner, whoever his audience is! Moreover, Will is most certainly engaging in some ad hominem of his own when he dismisses those who might move off Bottom C in their vocalising of Objectivism as people who "posture & pound tables & sling borrowed epithets."
Of course, those who speak in monotones in the name of "analytical precision" or, to use the fashionable term in pseudo-academia, "rigour" never would utter a statement as simple or as true as "The Nazis were evil." That would be unsophisticated. Modern pseudo-academia prefers to muddy its waters in order to appear deep. "Rigour" is made to equate with pretentious, verbose obfuscation, amounting, in the end, to precisely nothing. Robert White says he finds this phenomenon in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand & he has presented convincing evidence of it.
A little, but relevant, detour here a New Zealand academic (one worthy of the title), Dr Denis Dutton, runs a magazine, Philosophy & Literature, which holds a yearly "Bad Writing Contest" in recognition of pretentious, verbose obfuscators. Here, Denis reports on the outcome of last year's contest:
Judith Butler, a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley, admired as perhaps "one of the ten smartest people on the planet," wrote the sentence that captured the contest's first prize ... Professor Butler's first-prize sentence appears in "Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time," an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):
"The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power."
When I read the following in Robert's critique of Feminist Interpretations I wondered if we should draw the contributor in question to Denis Dutton's attention:
The worst essay is Valérie Loiret-Prunet's feminist re- reading of We the Living. She argues that Rand is a "feminist Synthesist" instead of an "instrumentalist." (What is a "feminist Synthesist" and "instrumentalist"? Don't ask, you don't want to know.) She bases her conclusion on, among other things, the number of times "images of three" occur in the novel. For instance, Kira repeating Leo's name three times, along with similar examples, is claimed to be "a subconscious resurgence of Rand's own concerns with triadic synthesis, traces of the molding of her thought, of ironical clins d'oeil, or of an instinctive choice by the author of the number three."
Now I readily concede that one can discern an actual meaning, however fatuous, in Loiret-Prunet's verbiage, but why on earth is it presented in a way clearly designed to impress the likes of Professor Butler? That, alas, is what modern humanities academics tend to do write to impress & outdo each other in their verbosity (& number of footnotes!). Objectivists, I submit, should not try to "engage" these specimens by emulating them, for their stylistic obfuscation is but a reflection of their philosophic nihilism (no form-content dichotomy for them!), & emulating their style is not going to lure them away from their (non-)content.
Of course, as both Will & Chris point out, context must be taken into account. Academia is not talk-back radio, for example, & the presentational imperatives do differ to some extent in each. But in regard to both form & content, there are surely certain axioms of appropriateness, whatever the context. For a life-affirming philosophy like Objectivism, which eschews the mind/emotion dichotomy, I would suggest that the genuine, simultaneous projection of passion & clarity is one such.
Philosophically, Mr Wilkinson informs us, with more than a modicum of presumptuousness, "Objectivism as Rand left it ... was little more than a sturdy, well-framed skeleton. It is difficult indeed to reduce a skeleton to a carcass. [Equivocation with the metaphor, Mr W!] Only the sort of academic work done by IOS can put flesh upon this frame. And this work is of the utmost importance. Objectivism needs legs if it is to run." I have afforded myself endless hilarity imagining Ayn Rand's reaction to the idea that she, the creator of Objectivism, left her creation leglessly immobile, but no matter granted, there is work to be done, & I do hope that IOS will finally get round to doing some of it, rather than agonising over its own name for months on end. But I think it would be more accurate, if we are to continue the metaphor, to see such work as body-building, adding intellectual muscle, rather than putting flesh on a mere skeleton. And rest assured that if such work actually twists the body out of shape, & clothes it in the jargon of modern pseudo-academia, this magazine for one will scale at least two passionate octaves in its reasoned protests.
Editor, The Free Radical
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