December 04, 2004

Oh geez. It has been over a month since I finished a book.

But finally, finally, made it through to the end on at least one: Walter Benn Michael's The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History. I'm always fascinated by Michael's work, part fascination of annoyance and part fascination of his love of argument. This one begins with Susan Howe and while his argument is interesting, I'm not convinced he knows his Howe. Same thing with his reading of identity politics in general. The argument is interesting in the tight little world in which he defines identity politics. But identity politics do so much more than he assumes them to do. The book pretty much ignores that one of the reasons to preserve diverse language practices is because often different languages contain different knowledges. It is not that all are equal and all are just markers of identity. (Big refusal to deal with Whorf, who I know is out of style yet still feels constantly relevant to me.) Or there are weird sentences like "Our descendents will all have some culture--as long as we know in principle that it can't possibly be worse or better than ours, why should we care which one it is" (50). This is of course true as long as we assume that there are no special knowledges embedded in cultures. But environmental knowledges radically vary from culture to culture. So it might actually matter which one we choose. But the book made me want to reread Acker's Empire of the Senseless. And I think I also felt jealous of it because it moves between avant garde poetry and science fiction and is the sort of book I keep wanting to write except on language, not on identity and culture.

Also to check out:
Rorty's essay "The Inspirational Values of Great Works of Literature" in Achieving our Country

Richard Powers Plowing the Dark

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