January 28, 2003

If You Think Stanley Fish

If You Think Stanley Fish Chaps My Ass, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Enter Edward Said, Grand High Muckety-Muck of that tired cliche' of lit. crit: Post-Colonialism. Mr. Said has spent his entire scholarly career lamenting the fact that his people have been marginalized by Western oppressors, until they have come to internalize the values of the colonizer and thus, have destroyed themselves through inculcated self-loathing and its resulting impotence.

Let me be frank: in grad school, I found Said's stuff to be useful, mainly because it was simplistic, easy to plug in, and politically en vogue, thus guaranteeing me an A on every paper I wrote using the theory. As long as you stuck to the formula white=imperialistic evil, the Other=purity and fabulousness, you were golden. And since most of the Western Canon was authored by the dreaded DWEM (Dead White Euro Male), why, Post-Colonial theory could apply to everyone from Chaucer to Faulkner. Woo-hoo! Plug, type, get an A. Repeat process as necessary, and still have plenty of time left for bar hopping later on.

Of course, Mr. Said would probably be horrified that I treated his ideas so cavalierly, but what else can one do with racism and self-loathing disguised as critical theory? Yep, I said racism and self-loathing. Mr. Said is guilty of projection. He suffers from the enraged impotence of the Westernized intellectual, and he's dying to take it out on EVERYONE ELSE. My case in point is this little screed in The Guardian, where he begins by delineating the imminent demise of America, but only sustains it for a couple of paragraphs before his real target is revealed: the Arabs themselves.

For Said, America is evil because it wants to impose its will on others. That can be our only intention, regardless of stated reasons. Why? Well, because we're inherently evil, but we're only evil because white folks are in charge. Sucks to be us, I guess. Palestine=good, Israel=evil--we've all heard these arguments before, so read them yourself. They aren't the point here--paragraphs like this one are:

Only what we and our American instructors say about the Arabs and Islam - vague, recycled Orientalist clichés repeated by tireless mediocrities such as Bernard Lewis - are true, they insist. The rest isn't realistic or pragmatic enough. "We" need to join modernity - modernity in effect being western, globalised, free marketed, democratic, whatever those words might be taken to mean. There would be an essay to be written about the prose style of licensed academics like Fuad Ajami, Fawwaz Gerges, Kanan Makiya, Shibli Talhami, Mamoon Fandy, whose very language reeks of subservience, inauthenticity and the hopelessly stilted mimicry that has been thrust upon them.

Or this one:

Why is there such silence and such astounding helplessness? The largest power in history is about to launch a war against a sovereign Arab country now ruled by a dreadful regime, the clear purpose of which is not only to destroy the Ba'ath regime but to redesign the entire region. The Pentagon has made no secret that its plans are to redraw the map of the whole Arab world, perhaps changing other regimes and borders in the process. No one can be shielded from the cataclysm if and when it comes. And yet, there is only long silence followed by a few vague bleats of polite demurral in response. Millions of people will be affected, yet America contemptuously plans for their future without consulting them. Do we deserve such racist derision?

Here's where Said slides right off the rails of sanity. It's not racist derision to get rid of a bad guy. No one is sitting around thinking, "Ya know, those swarthy desert dwellers need the firm guiding hand of whitey to set them straight." Our thought processes are more along these lines: "Hey! A bunch of assholes want us dead! Knock that off, you!" We take exception to being murdered, regardless of the races involved. But to Said, anyone stating that idea--particularly if they are of Arab derivation--is "inauthentic," just a subservient tool of the man. Yes, everyone has been hyp-mo-tized by the evil Western colonists. Oh, the horror. Said is angry that his culture isn't strong enough to resist outside influences and remain pure. He is then put in the awkward position of being resentful that brutal dictators are being removed in favor of more freedoms, and trying to state that while freedom isn't bad, it shouldn't be forced on Arabs by outsiders. At this point, most reasonable people are completely justified in this reaction: The HELL?

In order to hold this position, you have to believe that any humanitarian or self-preservation based operation by America is a mere front for those who want TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD. In this equation, we're The Brain, and the UK is Pinky. And the argument is just as ridiculous as the metaphor. The reality is that America will consult with the future leaders of Iraq, will lend humanitarian and military aid, and then will want to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. John Kerry will not be the new Governor of Iraq, installed by coup to rape the land and pillage the mosques and send the booty to Fort Knox on the backs of camels whilst ladies fair wave lace hankies at the brave conquering soldiers. Said's entire idea is based upon traditional models of colonialism, and they no longer hold true. Well, unless you're France, but that's another story.

So let's wrap up. Look, EDWARD. I'm thinking you need to address some personal issues first, before you start attributing differences of opinon among those who share your heritage to creeping Uncle Tom syndrome. Unless of course your aim is to be classed among the fine thinkers of the world like Harry Belafonte. When you make the argument that liberty and equality are inherently wrong, not because of what they are, but because other countries who don't share your skin color bring the ideas to your shores and people from your culture then EMBRACE those ideas--well, you may want to rethink your arguments, is all I'm saying. Come Mr. Tally Man, Tally Me Irony.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at January 28, 2003 10:17 AM