What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Beyond Belief

Or, almost beyond belief, given what we know about the degradation of the humanities under the ministrations of 'cultural studies' vandals:

And you thought that the Middle Ages was all about jousting knights and damsels in distress. That's because you have never attended the medievalists' congress, the annual first-weekend-in-May ritual at Western Michigan where Persels read his wine-bottle theorizing and where it is definitely not your grandfather's Middle Ages. Persels's paper was part of a Thursday morning panel titled "Waste Studies: Excrement in the Middle Ages" and devoting a full hour and a half to human effluvia. The other two scholars that morning read papers dealing with excrement in Icelandic sagas and the theology of latrines.

Waste studies is a brand new academic discipline invented by Susan Signe Morrison, a dark-haired, extroverted 49-year-old professor of English at Texas State University's San Marcos campus and mother of two (her husband is also an English professor) who organized the session and admitted with good-humored candor in an email that her new field's disgust-provoking subject matter might be a "challenge" to scholars thinking about specializing in it. Morrison's own specialty as a medievalist used to be women on pilgrimages, but then she got the idea for her latest book, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer's Fecopoetics, forthcoming this September. In her email she explained that the idea for the fecal book came to her partly because she noticed that dung and privies played a role in the works of Chaucer, Dante, and other medieval authors, and partly because her "son was potty-training." And so a new scholarly industry was born.

Initially, I believed, or was greatly desirous of believing, that Charlotte Allen's essay in the Weekly Standard was an elaborate satire. This because, in spite of myself, and perhaps against my better knowledge, I do not wish to be that cynical. Alas, satire it was not, but a Boschean vision of horror translated to this plane of being. Fecopoetics. The very notion raises the serious question of whether the night of simple ignorance might be preferable to such willful endarkenment. Is it time?

Comments (18)

Oh, I'm absolutely sure that it is not satire. The truth is that when it comes to the humanities, satire is dead. You can't satirize it because the reality is its own satire. Which is too bad, inter alia, because it would be nice to be able to laugh at this stuff as a joke if it weren't real.

I wish, however, that Charlotte Allan had not chosen to be so unnecessarily snobby about the city of Kalamazoo, which is a lovely place, as she would have discovered if she had taken the time to see a more of it (like, more of the places where people in the town actually live) than the campus of the university and the downtown area.

I should also mention that there really _are_ those "oases of excellence in the postmodern desert." I have a close friend who routinely presents completely scholarly pieces in scholarly sessions on paleography and medieval sermons at the yearly conference in question. For myself, I cd. wish that the real scholars would find some way to separate their oases physically from the worse-than-desert of the horrible stuff Allan describes, but logistically that is probably difficult. After all, here this gigantic yearly thingy is, and I suppose the good guys might as well take advantage of it for their own sessions.

These new permutations of 'cultural studies' are a crock of ... oh, nevermind.

I'm surprised, Maximos, that you're surprised.

I mean, ten years ago, it was "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl."

In which direction might you have expected the "humanities" to move from there?


[Sound of bitter laughter.]

I was not aware of that particular molestation of Austen, merely of the more routine class/race/gender deconstructions to which I was exposed in the mid-nineties. Perhaps it was but a small step from these to the cloaca of the human experience.

It's more a matter of my wanting to be surprised.

Was Allen being tongue-in-cheek here (as a google search of Madeline Caviness reveals a pomo body of work):

One of the Da Vinci Code panels featured a paper that got my personal vote for best in the entire weekend: "Queering the Code: Jesus and Mary or Jesus and John?" a deadpan spoof by Madeline Caviness, an art history professor at Tufts University, arguing that Dan Brown's potboiler about Jesus' supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene was actually part of a Vatican cover-up of the savior's gay relationship with one of his apostles. Caviness managed to drag out and send up every cliché in the postmodernist dictionary that had been invoked with deadly earnestness elsewhere at the congress: "essentializing discourse," "destabilize the heterosexual imperative," "the heteronormativity of Jesus."

>>I mean, ten years ago, it was "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl."

Not 10 years ago; it was the start of the '90s. Brought to you by the Modern Language Association. I should know -- I was there. I had the grave misfortune of working for the MLA at the time. I used to joke that MLA stands for Marxist-Leninist Association.

This nonsense has been going on for decades. All the stuff Allen cites had been standard practice for years when I was there -- the endless focus on race, class and gender; queer theory; "heterormativity"; and of course the cool parenthesis trick in your title: "(S)(M)Othering the Other, blah, blah blah."

What specifically is the problem here? Academics study obscure topics all the time, topics that, for non-specialists, are completely banal. The ovarian maturation rates of Janese quail, anyone?

These complaints about the humanities seem to be rooted in not much more than banal resentment.

That would be "Japanese quail."

Actually, I just think that fecopoetics is an incredibly preposterous exercise in theoretical onanism, especially as an attempt to understand class relations in mediaeval Europe, for which there are many well-lit avenues of understanding.

Yeah, right, Mr. Mike:

It's the *obscurity* of such topics that's bothering people here.

Troll, much, do you?

Oh, look, it's MikeWC, our resident post-modernist commentator. Well, now we know how far he'll go to defend po-mo. Papers on human waste products and "poetics" are just another obscure scholarly topic to him. Nothing's a joke or self-satire; nothing's too crazy and bizarre to deserve humanities attention. Let's remember this next time he's suggesting that someone is being unfair to such "scholars" as Foucault & Co. and that we should read their texts with furrowed brows (and discuss them with him) in order to show ourselves dispassionately interested in wisdom and knowledge.

So in other words, we're content to let whatever problem we're criticizing remain completely undescribed?

You know that Heraclitus story? The one where some groupies travel to meet him and maybe get his autograph? When they come across him, he's "warming his hands by the hearth," though I'm told that this is a softened translation, that Heraclitus was probably actually on the toilet. So the groupies arrive, find Heraclitus doing something banal, not exactly hard at work producing great thoughts, and they turn to go away. He catches them before they go, and invites them in, saying "Here too the gods dwell."

Every last inch of existence should serve as a call to thinking.

I don't care about "fecopoetics." But my own lack of interest is just that, mine.

Insisting on clinging to your pointless resentment is a sure-fire path to irrelavence. Feel free to confuse irrelavence with persecution, though. Fight that good fight!

Jeff, the thread has attracted a pious crap fly.

Irrelevance? That's rich. Those sessions at the Medieval Congress are so, like, _relevant_, man.

Mike, it has nothing whatsoever to do with resentment. It arises from the judgment, to the contrary, that fecopoetics is irrelevant to the understanding of both mediaeval history and period literature. In other words, bawdy humour is just bawdy humour; the lower orders always speak more freely of bodily functions than their social betters, and literature might reflect as much; but such literary references are nothing more than such reflections, and not traces of enforced class discipline, or any such thing. It is a waste of time to impose that straitjacket on the mediaeval period, particularly when there are other 'discourses' which manifestly do concern class distinctions, and the maintenance thereof.

I think American Idol largely irrelevant to the cause of the musical arts; it does not follow that I resent it. I just ignore it, or laugh at it, as the case may be. Which is all I'm doing with regard to fecopoetics.

A: The humanities are in a bad state.


A: It's so bad...that when you tell a humanities student that there's a whole sub-discipline on the "poetics of poop" in medieval studies, he either treats it seriously or says that his own disinterest is a mere subjective preference.

I think American Idol largely irrelevant to the cause of the musical arts; it does not follow that I resent it. I just ignore it, or laugh at it, as the case may be. Which is all I'm doing with regard to fecopoetics.

It is a bit hard to take this at face value, since it comes from someone that writes for a blog named "What's Wrong With The World," dedicated to fighting the downfall of civilization brought about by "Liberalism."

Sometimes, the appropriate response to particular cultural phenomena is mockery: we may be doomed, but some of the ways in which we are doomed are rather amusing in their bathos.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.