A Serious Question for Everyone

One of my classes is dominated by conservative Christians and I am unsure how to handle their reactions to 19th and 20th century poets. On the one hand, one wants them to read the texts in some sort of accurate way. On the other, one does not want to alienate them. Here is an example from their free writing:

This writer describes poetry as the form in which God communicates with the world. He also believes there are connections between the human and the divine. He needs to reevaluate his life because he clearly has many problems.

What do you suggest?




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54 responses to “A Serious Question for Everyone

  1. servetus


    I deal with this issue a lot, and I tend to do so by asking them to push their own assumptions right up against the text, i.e., if they address the Xty of an author, that they specifically consider how the author is different from them. Most can see that the text doesn’t really conform to their assumptions about that, and that is then the first step to understand that the past is a different country. With this quote I would ask the student specifically how the author in question defines God and the divine, and what the connection is between the human-divine relationships and the alleged problems the writer has.

  2. servetus

    This topic came up here today:


    except that the author and some of the commentors seem more interested in figuring out how to fail the students than how to talk to them about the specific issue. Not all, though.

  3. I’d give a guide, whether another text or a specific lecture or a set of detailed “reading questions,” to how you’d like them to approach the poets. Part of their grade would be addressing that guide very (specifically. You can modulate how much or how little of their responses can be a part of the assignment. (I’m thinking about papers but of course this can be a discussion activity, too). My thinking behind this is to make critical thinking kind of technical so that students of varying backgrounds feel empowered to do it. That of course is the beginning because the next challenge is to approach whatever Protestant/Catholic/conservative imaginary of their upbringing with critical thinking skills (usually secular).

    I think you’ve just given me the occasion to start my teaching statement for tenure. Well, I hope this helps you too!)

    Free writing exercises are so useful. It sounds like you’re poised to ask some sort of question like, what does that have to do with X? I’d say, be as confrontational and conversational as you really are. That way, the “guide to critical thinking” is part of the organic learning process.

  4. You could also quote the last line while imitating Groucho Marx.

    Or ask them if they think that last statement follows the Ten Commandments, you know, “Thou shalt not judge.”

  5. What I have already said in live response is “Judge not, that ye not be judged.” They didn’t get it!

    But: I’m working on it and I *really* appreciate all of these suggestions – they’re *very* useful!

  6. servetus

    Kiita’s response is really great, especially in its emphasis that critical thinking is something everyone can do no matter the point from which they start. The other thing is to start from the assumption that actually you and they want the same things. Most religious conservatives who do Bible study are actually quite used to the idea that texts say things they are not expecting to hear. The real problem are the knee-jerk people, but a lot of times asking naive questions about the connections between what they are saying and their principles will at least improve the style of argument, if not the content.

    I often seem myself as a sophist in this situation: my job is to help you learn how to make your argument in the best way you can. If I start there I can often get students to realize that their arguments are not very strong, and why…

  7. Sometimes this writer describes poetry as the form in which God communicates with the world. He also believes there are connections between the human and the divine. He needs to reevaluate his life because he clearly has many problems.

    At the risk of irritating the likes of Tom, who like many white Westerners — especially of the enlightened sort — likes to impress upon others his own version of the panopticon, I would be inclined to correct the student’s writing thusly:

    ” ‘Clearly’ is pronounced ‘crearry’ “.

    Nitpicking can be such fun.

  8. Well, here’s what Bob Marley said.

  9. Actually, the fuller details make it even funnier. I do have a reading guide, although it may not be good enough, but the only people who follow it are a) the Iraq veterans and b) the engineers.

    If I had one of those conservative Christians from a serious Bible-studying church, as I often do, they would have already solved this problem by Talking Sense About Text While Being Openly Christian.

    Unfortunately this type of Christian is absent from the present group. All the Christians are girls and I think they are virgins and I would not be surprised if they have been to Purity Balls. What they are upset about essentially is the idea of love that comes across in this poetry: it is passionate, it includes conflict, it causes trouble, and so on.

    They have learned that Christian relationships do not have these problems, or that when they do, it is because of some form of sin. It certainly cannot have anything to do with divine forces. They are also sure that mentally healthy persons do not have stormy love, since true love means calmly appreciating and protecting each other. Love that is described, for instance, as starting in the stomach and then proceeding on to rip apart the brain, they just cannot handle.

    This is at least what I have been able to figure out by reading all the free writing with my X-ray vision. They’re also upset about the Book of Job. The poet talked about the violence that inheres in the relationship between Job and God, and about how that generated inspired speech. They say it isn’t fair of the poet to distort the Bible that way, because he did not emphasize strongly enough how well Job was rewarded in the end.

    What my student worker said: “You are being too tolerant, Z! You have got to lay the law down to them like God, it is all they can handle!” 😉

  10. You know, I don’t think I could deal with that kind of situation — because of previous traumas.

    I remember how it felt to me at the exact point when the scales fell from my eyes regarding the actual decadent state of Western culture, and I realised, “these people really are as stupid as they appear!”

    It was painful…painfully shocking. And I realised then and there that I’d have to cover myself and my wounds as best as possible and start living and fighting back in a highly defensive manner.

    It was the worst feeling of my life.

  11. Yes. However this is not what gets to me – what gets to me are the types I had last semester, who insist on being in a Spanish class while being anti-Hispanic.

    But fortunately I am now faculty advisor of an extremely eccentric undergraduate film watching group. All of these people are very nerdy and quirky, and very well informed – on the things I am informed about, but also many other aspects of technology and popular culture about which I have absolutely no idea. They are mostly too young to drink, and all utterly open psychologically, really uninhibited. It is a completely different world and refreshing, not least because they cannot stand the run of the mill undergraduates with whom they have to deal in their classes.

  12. It is a completely different world and refreshing, not least because they cannot stand the run of the mill undergraduates with whom they have to deal in their classes.

    I completed a very close reading of TBI yesterday. It appears that Marechera was involved in something like this. ( p 108)

  13. To balance out my earlier comment, I think alienating students like the ones you describe could be useful at times. I open some of my classes with statements that if students aren’t comfortable confronting x,y, and z issues, they might look for another class to join. So I think acting as their “god,” as your student worker suggests, might be a good tactic. (Sigh. I’m contradicting myself, or else it’s just the time of night.)

  14. I open some of my classes with statements that if students aren’t comfortable confronting x,y, and z issues, they might look for another class to join. So I think acting as their “god,” as your student worker suggests, might be a good tactic. (Sigh. I’m contradicting myself, or else it’s just the time of night.)

    Yeah — that opens up for them the horrible spectre of the big wide world, which they must face existentially as loners.

    It does cut off the path for anybody seeking for a mummy.

  15. My impression is that what you do most successfully has a lot to do with “who you are.” I put this in quotes because my impression has been that to work effectively in the U.S. classroom one has to appear authentic to the students, and that that involves an inherent contradiction, that we create a “authentic” role that we then play. However, I received a lot of advice as a beginning teacher that was not effective because it “wasn’t me,” it wasn’t a role that felt authentic or which I could really play.

    So alienating the students, while it is something that some people do and something that works for them, is not something that really works for — and this has to do with the manner in which I was alienated by certain undergrad instructors, which substantially increased (by a year or more) the time it took me to conclude that liberal attitudes corresponded better to reality than the Right Christianity with which I came to the university. I can’t do it because I remember how I felt. But I think that there are plenty of people who can: but most of them can carry conflict and hostility in their teaching relationships better than I.

    On anti-Hispanic students in Spanish classes: isn’t this a result of laudable foreign language requirements and the insistence by teachers and parents that Spanish is the most “useful” foreign language? I taught six months of English in the country in which I “studied abroad” and there was a ton of anti-Americanism that came to expression there. Our white, petty bourgeois students today are being told by our media that they are being colonized–and that they have the right to be outraged about it.

  16. This is not a specialized class and it is required of all majors and minors, and it is the only section. I suppose that in assigning what I did I was nevertheless throwing down the gauntlet in that way.

    But these Christians who cannot read are no worse than other types of students who cannot read, so they do not bother me especially; this course is already always rough because of people who cannot read; the current group cannot read because they are Christians, but the next group will have some other impediment. And reading is hard anyway, so one always wants to treat the matter with some sort of tact.

    However, the anti-Hispanic Spanish students I am not afraid to alienate at all. If they are not willing to learn material, they are to move to another section where they feel they can get away more easily without learning. I don’t care if they are there because Mommy and Daddy told them to while Lou Dobbs told them they were being invaded.

    What I say in class is that if Mommy and Daddy are telling them what to study, they aren’t grown up enough to challenge anything I say, and if Lou Dobbs is telling them what to think, they do not have the intellectual skills they need for college, and they should drop out now, not just of my class, but of the University, and that if they make one more racial slur and I hear it, I will take administrative action.

    I am actually more up in arms about this sort of behavior and about not studying in general than I am about plagiarism, although I am of course against that too.


    We also have Christians attempting to major in Spanish who, armed with letters from their pastors full of references to non discrimination, want to do the major while not reading anything by a Catholic.

    And Christians, and also married women in general, attempting to major in Classics but whose pastors, parents, and/or husbands write letters saying they must not read any Greek myths (because of the sex).

    Finally, I had one complaining about the film GUANTANAMERA as immoral because in it, you can divine through the plot that the lovers who get together in the end – a couple about 40 years old – were not virgins (she was divorced, he had had girlfriends) when they got together. This made the film inappropriate for school and proved that Spanish speakers were “trashy.”

  17. P.S. Despite the fact that these supposedly evangelical Christians do not irritate me the way the anti-Hispanics do, one thing that stands out as I look over the above catalogue of Christian behavior is how aggressive they are. All that talk about the need for humility and submission, but look how they act in real life!

    (I was reading in a “Christian” blog the other day, this woman talking about how terribly egotistical she was before she decided to submit to patriarchy.
    I kept thinking, d***. Years of church and the example of Christ to follow, and she was still so egotistical that only a patriarchal submission marriage got her thinking about anyone else?)

    Apologies to Servetus and other Christians less extreme than those I describe who may be reading – I’ve been dealing with years of oppression by Christians and as you see, I have some experiences to recount. I am not trying to suggest that everyone is that way, etc.

  18. servetus

    -I am not a Christian anymore, so no offense on my part.

    -I also am sort of amazed that people come somewhere to learn but they come already with the insistence that there are certain things they refuse to consider. I would not say that this is a Christian problem, per se, but a social problem, and one that has increased in the last decade insofar as now are they not only unwilling to learn, they are prepared to insist on their right to be unwilling.

    -Lou Dobbs is a menace.

  19. “…a social problem, and one that has increased in the last decade insofar as now are they not only unwilling to learn, they are prepared to insist on their right to be unwilling.”

    YES. And also their right to be incapable and still get a degree. Because, as we know, everyone deserves a degree. From my evil Spanish class last semester the complaint was “I have to take this language, spoken by despicable people, because it is in my view the easiest of the languages offered here. As a visual learner / ADD sufferer / anxiety patient / parent / I am incapable of doing anything difficult.”

  20. servetus

    Well, they all deserve a degree, because they all need an income, and they can get a better income with a degree than without.

    I feel like we (academics) are caught on our own petard here and I for one don’t know how to get off. It’s like we are the victim of our own success. Employers want college graduates, so we have to provide them, whatever the cost, but we are not so much facing the ire of industry as of its proletariat. This should ping back to the stuff about the university-industrial complex.

  21. I don’t think everyone deserves a degree. I don’t think every one should go to college. I think only intellectuals should go to college. I don’t think intellectuals are all from the same class. I do not think all intellectuals know or understand that they are intellectuals. I think some people who think they are intellectuals are not intellectuals. I think universities are doing a disservice to the working classes, or to the people who would be happy to be part of a well-paid working class instead of forced into universities. I think universities are doing a disservice to the intellectual class. I think universities are doing a disservice to scholarship and the pursuit of scholarship. I think allowing everyone to get a degree is widening the gap between the educated and uneducated, not narrowing it. I think employers who require a degree but do not require (or need) the work that necessitates a degree is doing a disservice to universities.

    The more university degrees are expected to stand in for the base line criteria for unlivable wages, the more non-degree type work is devalued.

  22. servetus

    I should have been clear that I was being sarcastic, sorry. What you say is something I was trying to get at in my subsequent remarks: the fact that we have become degree factories delegitimates what we do and puts students in an awkward place: we get angry at them for not wanting an education on our terms, and they get angry at us for our refusal to serve as a mere credentialing agency.

    I wish something could be done about the schools that a majority of our students have to attend. My mother, who has a high school diploma, can write English better than 80% of the students I encounter, and this is not an uncommon situation. I don’t know what to do, though.

  23. Here if you do not go into nursing, education, or engineering, the three fields in which a four year degree lands you a decently or well paid job right away, you have to go to graduate or professional school if you want employment other than what you could have done as an unskilled high school graduate. So college degrees sink students into debt while putting pressure on them to find professional jobs upon graduation – jobs that just aren’t there. Some sort of technical certification during or just after high school would do people a lot better. Then they could go to college if they wanted to, but would not be forced into it or forced into debt for its sake.

    I am not actually aware of many employers who want college graduates, although I am aware of employers who want responsible, literate, smart employees. What pains me is that the university keeps selling these degrees to people, but not teaching them much, because the university does not care, since really they just have the undergraduates to fund the graduate programs. Then they tell these people, all right, we gave you a degree, we’ve done right by you, you deserve nothing more. It is such a scam.

    Meanwhile, though, the ones who complain about having to learn are not the working class types, they are the middle class types who have been forced into college by their families not so that they can make more money, but because it is an expectation of their class.

  24. Meanwhile, though, the ones who complain about having to learn are not the working class types, they are the middle class types who have been forced into college by their families not so that they can make more money, but because it is an expectation of their class.

    Another one of the great shocks of Marechera — to find that the British upper crust did not want to learn at all, but complained about their opportunities to do so, when they were at Oxford.

    Nothing is more conventional these days than slamming colonial mentalities from a position on high — one of purported great moral advancement and historical insight. However, in some ways, the mentality of colonialism — that education was the means to having both culture and success — was incredibly pure and sincere.

    Perhaps it was the revelation that for British toffs this wasn’t the meaning or reality of education that first gave Marechera cause to feel contempt for things within that society. (I know that for me, it was, as I said, the sheer horror I had upon discovering that I’d been struggling hard to get through to some people how couldn’t understand things I was trying to say, NOT because they were really morally superior — as they were trying to make out — but because they weren’t.)

  25. What pains me is that the university keeps selling these degrees to people, but not teaching them much, because the university does not care, since really they just have the undergraduates to fund the graduate programs.

    It’s the principle of capitalism at work. Like buy this beauty cream, and you can be a supermodel! Everything is overinflated but with little content.

  26. Sorry — typos proliferate.

    “people how couldn’t” should be “people who couldn’t.”

    It is still dark here in the A.M.

  27. Had I been Marechera I would have been absolutely disgusted at this discovery. I am disgusted with that attitude now.

    However – isn’t it the colonized who generally value education in that way? Colonial elites I am most familiar with have the attitude of the British upper class at Oxford, and colonial powers do not always put universities – or more than truncated forms of universities, in their colonies. ?

  28. However – isn’t it the colonized who generally value education in that way? Colonial elites I am most familiar with have the attitude of the British upper class at Oxford, and colonial powers do not always put universities – or more than truncated forms of universities, in their colonies. ?

    Well I don’t know as I never encountered any colonial elites. I’m struggling to imagine who they are. I have been told that the white Rhodesians were not made up out of the upper crust of British society by any means — although apparently the white Kenyans were. So I don’t know whether you mean cultural elite or economic elite or both — but I have not encountered them.

  29. Further to my earlier points — I think that one of the very significant anti-intellectual currents in the Western world today (and perhaps it didn’t start out this way) is the fetishisation of identity. Pinpointing political identities and attaching ideas of moral determinism to them became the new mysticism.

    I think — and I hope — that intellectual thought is at last beginning to claw its way out of this form of idealistic obfuscation. The painting of some people as inherently good and others as inherently bad because of their origins is dehumanising to the extreme — even if you are one of the ‘lucky’ ones who is labelled inherently good.

    This approach to social justice is all so very destructive to the labellers as well as to those labelled. Those who climb on to their high horse to look down upon the world that they have framed in moral black and white do perpetuate a lot of destruction of others, in their ignorance. See Neil Lazarus’s astute concern that anti-colonial rhetoric is reductive because it silences a complex array of voices and dissent.

    What we have in Zimbabwe at the moment is the consequence of anti-colonial thinking as a reductive principle, to the exclusion of all other principles such as human welfare, thinking and cultural development. Mugabe’s platform is almost entirely an anticolonial (negative) platform. He promised little that is affirmative.

    What is the solution to this kind of problem?

    We need to think more in nuances, rather than in terms of labels. If someone says that there is both good and bad about a particular thing — such as colonialism — they are surely telling you the very human truth about the matter.

    Yet this may serve to disappoint if it does not have a metaphysically absolute ring about it.

  30. Colonial elites – both cultural and economic. The ones with the plantation in the country, the house in the city, the political connections, etc. The ones with bank accounts in hard currency countries. The ones with firepower to quell worker discontent on their lands and pull so that they are not indicted for murder.

  31. A very, very small inner circle. You could probably count their number on your fingers.

  32. And there are several other layers. Look, there are rafts of books on this.

  33. Ok– but I am talking from my experience. I am also speaking from what I’ve learned in studying Zimbabwe.

    I think there is a danger that you are talking to me as if “colonialism” is a very nonspecific thing, undifferentiated from place to place or from time to time. Thus “rafts” of books — no doubt relating to somewhere else in the world — are supposed to convince me that Zimbabwe was the same.

    But I am working with the evidence that is presented to me, rather than from idealistic postulations about what colonialism means for all time. So far, I have found only an inner circle: Ken Flower, General Walls, a few others. The evidence I have found does not suggest to me that in Rhodesia or Zimbabwe there were very many people “in the know”. The stark evidence is that the defeat of the Rhodesian colonial interests in 1980 came as a great shock to people. This goes so much to say that the majority were not in the power elite and were therefore not “in the know”. I recently read that even General Walls may not have anticipated the achievement of power by Mugabe. So, who was actually “in the know”? They must have been the ones who got their sons out of the war that was occurring. That would be one sign of being more powerful/knowledgeable than the others. But, maybe Ian Smith was right about the strings of power really being pulled from overseas.

  34. Although, nowdays we have a name for the ruling elite, which makes them easier to identify. The Chefs

  35. Chefs, that’s pretty funny. I am also speaking from personal experience although not all from the same country, and a much stronger academic and personal background on this matter than Neil Lazarus’ (who I like, and whose work I like, by the way).

    Note: colonialism does not end with formal decolonization. Also note: in English departments and from what you say, in Australia in general, some people think very moralistically and in very black and white terms on these issues. That is one reason why I am glad not to be in English. The colonial world is nuanced and varied. However, I am not going to enter into any yes-but semi-justifications of the colonial enterprise.


    From what you have said on this site it seems to me you’re still reacting in part to all this flak you have gotten in Australia about being from Zimbabwe. I’ve already said I think that’s ridiculous – Australians do not have a great deal to be proud of on that score and are in no position to speak that way.

    I work in a Spanish department and I have as colleagues and graduate students numerous Latin American people with good reason to resent or feel ambivalent about the United States. I am told often by students and colleagues, “As an American you probably are do not realize it, but your ancestors killed Indians and had slaves,” and “As an American you probably do not understand, but your armies are killing people in the Middle East right now.” Those are just personal insults from confused MEN – in fact, they usually are attempts at the oppression of a woman (me) – and it is easy to shoot back, “You probably are too invested to admit it, but your ancestors did the same as mine and your current government is more exploitative than the ones it overthrew.”

    I have also been known to embarrass haranguing South American Spanish professors by asking how many Indians or other Others their parents have working in their houses, and whether their sexual initiation a rape of one of these people. It quiets them rather quickly. Maybe you could try something like this on the Australians, get them to look at themselves.

  36. From what you have said on this site it seems to me you’re still reacting in part to all this flak you have gotten in Australia about being from Zimbabwe.


    Okay, I think maybe there is an issue of culpability that has snuck in here, but has not been raised as an issue as such. I thought that was perhaps the case, but I wasn’t sure. I was not reacting the issue of culpability, because, as you say, I am aware that this is how most people think about the matter. However, I was unsure whether or not you were thinking like this. So, I was not reacting on this level.

    Anyway, what I said to you about my experiences is true. And also concerning my readings — I presume that there were whites who were the equivalent of the chefs. They would be those in government or high in the public service sector. Yet if you are talking — as you were – about those who could kill for political purposes and get away with it, then the number of those kind of people, as I said, would probably be able to be counted on both hands. The chefs these days can kill people and get away with it due to a lesser degree of social organisation in general society than there was in the past. It’s also different in terms of mood… a different cultural mood and so on.

    So, all I’m saying is that if there was layer upon layer of political organisation in Rhodesia, then show me the books or articles that prove that. Also, if we are in fact talking about moral culpability and if this is indeed the underlying issue (you seemed to think that I thought it was). then let us make this quite clear that it is what we are really talking about. I’m going on the basis of what I know — but the rafts of books showing layer upon layer of political intrigue in Rhodesia itself seem to be missing.

  37. Actually, my interpretation of the Rhodesia situation is about ten times worse than the idea that it was influenced by political intrigue sifting neatly all the way down through multiple layers. I think the sordid truth is that a kind of almost literalistic or at least spiritualistic (although not yet fundamentalist as such) Christianity had a much broader and persuasive rhetorical effect on the white society as a whole than the any direct effect of any cabal (although the neatness and wholeness of the Rhodesian ideology probably implies the effect of a cabal. That has been my position all along…)

  38. Yes … the thing is that there is so much to talk about re all of this that I am almost at a loss, because of the constraining space of a blog comment thread.

    When I think “colonial world” I think 500 years and lots of players. 500 years, because I am not convinced the colonial period is over – even though the Haitian revolution has already had its bicentennial.

    Flower. I remember reading about him in the news. Ambiguities of independence, say I telegraphically. Trying to inspire myself to prepare class on something completely different. More anon!

  39. Well in general of course I accept the view which is Nietzschean, that we are all implicated in social violence — (and, I would add, none more so than those who swear that they are above all that.)

    Life is nothing but “appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of its own forms, incorporation, and, at least, putting it mildest, exploitation”–

    But having said that, it doesn’t have to be in the crudest possible way. And this insight ought not to be elevated to a formula for how to behave, unless one is really and truly into degrading human life and making it hardly worth living.

    But yeah — look deeply into any situation and there is always someone exploiting another person. Moralistic exploitation of another is the most subtle form of what Neechy describes above. As you raised earlier, certain people who seek power raise it as a public issue that they are less colonial than thou!

  40. And on another point, our apparent disagreement in this thread may have much to do with the macro versus micro approaches we are taking. My own view tells me that there was a lot of ideological manipulation going on — but that this has precisely the opposite effect on the general population than “being in the know” does. It gives a false sensation of power which is overblown in comparison to how much power the people actually have.

  41. There are so many interesting things to talk about here and I’m behind at work, so I can’t think about it wholistically at the moment.

    One of the things I’ve also heard echoes of in your accounts of how Australians stereotype ex-Rhodesians is that British attitude towards “colonials” – they are less – like the French one towards the pieds noirs, and for that matter, the perennial Spanish attitude toward South Americans.

    Another detail is that Zimbabwe is in that newly independent moment – it has just been a few years, only two governments really – that has all the turbulence of the postcolonial kind – (I’m one of those who thinks the ‘postcolonial moment’ is more or less that one, postcolonial isn’t a long era,
    and it is often a movement within the colonial, not something that comes after colonialism is *gone* but just after formal decolonization.

  42. Gareth seems to think (according to his books) that “postcolonial” starts at the moment of colonisation.

  43. Anyway, Ian Smith wrote a memoir called “The Great Betrayal” where he slams the British political establishment for betraying the integrity of the colonial power to other interests. So I was thinking of that, and not merely — as you might have thought — licking my wounds.

  44. OK, I’ll have to actually read Gareth for that, it’s interesting! Yes, betraying to other interests, there is *so much* that goes on [& huge amounts of history and theory] …

    I am coming back to this; I am in this crunch which involves recalcitrant sophomores and confused juniors, plus graduate students in gauntlets, and hiring. I thought I was finished Friday but I was not.

    Anyway my main point is that the colonial world is complex and there are many subject positions in it. The idea that there are only two entities, colonizer and colonized, period, is naive and historically uninformed and … does anyone actually believe it?

  45. does anyone actually believe it?

    I’m not sure that they believe it so much as that some people find it useful to believe it for their own purposes. It plays into a rhetoric of moral purity, which some people seem to need.

  46. Yes but that view is all too oversimplified except in the more obvious of cases. A random person might try to say it so they can feel good, but a scholar wouldn’t, or shouldn’t. I could say a great deal about this but have *got* to go deal with my classes.

  47. I think most people are absolutely ravenous for moral self-justification. A scholar might also be hungry in this way.

  48. I suppose, but you really can’t in colonial studies, you’d be laughed out of the room and not allowed to teach or publish if you really tried to claim that there were only two subject positions in the entire colonial world. I mean, I can’t see even letting anyone pass an undergraduate course on that claim.

  49. I see. Well to be honest, I haven’t really found such stupidity in postcolonial studies. But of course we find it within postmodernism with its millenial agenda to promote those whose subject positions seem to denote progressivism (gays, transexuals, nuns) and oppose what my apparent subject position apparently stands for. We also have the problem of undergraduate Marxism, but also of the general social conservativism which is more prevalent in the community than in academia. There are lower-middle class rabble who are very hungry for any form of moral self-justification they can get.

  50. aHA – within postmodernism, I see. I’ve just gone through reams of job applications for a colonial position, scores of people, each dissertation on someone different, each person occupying a different subject position, this colors my view.

  51. I wonder whether it may be possible to get past “subject positions” and move towards something like “personal character”, accumulated personal experiences and wisdom” — something like that.

    I mean the subject position may tell you certain things about a person, but hardly as much as most people think it does. Knowing my subject position does not, for instance, tell you whether I have been oppressed or how bad that oppression was.

    Subject position is kind of like an Idealist hypothesis about identities. So long as there are no contingencies in life, and so long as there is uniform recognition of the hierarchy, which doesn’t ever change, you can be sure of understanding a great deal about a person by considering their subject position. But otherwise, I’m afraid not.

  52. This is also true, but the point stands – more than two types of personal character, or whatever term one uses, in the colonial world.

  53. But my point is that I don’t think that subject positions can tell you very much about “personal character”. They can give you an approximation of the amount of power and privilege held — but only an approximation. They tell you very little about character.

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