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I feel the same way about Freud as I do about Plato or Newton: their ideas were fundamental and world-changing in many ways, so it's important to understand them, even if they've been "debunked" by future philosophers/scientists/theorists. Whether or not Freud is "relevant" is, well, irrelevant. His ideas were kind of an evolutionary springboard, especially in media studies, as Swagato mentioned. It doesn't mean you need to approach any work or future project through their methodology, just understand that it was important.

 

(See, we can all get along :P )

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So what you're saying,Two Espressos, is that Freud's Copernican Revolution was in the final analysis only a Copernican step?  Sounds pretty Lacanian to me... I can think of another thinker who agrees

I am not very fond of most authors I read. Will this be a problem for me as I pursue my PhD? Or is it a strength? Check box, yes or no.

Yes, this. Animal studies high five!   I do want to say something straightforward about Freud/Lacan/etc, briefly. I'm not responding to anyone in particular, as I've only just browsed the other com

I feel the same way about Freud as I do about Plato or Newton: their ideas were fundamental and world-changing in many ways, so it's important to understand them, even if they've been "debunked" by future philosophers/scientists/theorists. Whether or not Freud is "relevant" is, well, irrelevant. His ideas were kind of an evolutionary springboard, especially in media studies, as Swagato mentioned. It doesn't mean you need to approach any work or future project through their methodology, just understand that it was important.

 

(See, we can all get along :P )

Yes, yes history of ideas and all that. I agree too. But I think whether or not Freud(/any other theorist/thinker) is relevant is kind of foundational to the meaning of the discipline. Being in the humanities, we should be of the first to recognize that tradition/legacy is insufficient grounds for continued reverence.

This is not to say I want Freud et al tossed out entirely (history of ideas -- and I don't know that anyone has argued that Freud is unimportant, that's a straw argument) but I think we need to, as two espressos so eloquently put above, seriously consider the stakes of any one methodology/theoretical standpoint.

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I guess I meant a little more than "history of ideas"  being important, etc.

 

1: Why bother trying to resuscitate bunk science and apply amenable bits and pieces of it as a lens for analyzing film, literary texts, etc. anyway?  Wouldn't the application of real empirical psychological studies to film, literary texts, etc. be much more fruitful and interesting?

 

In this case, because Freud's ideas were so culturally pervasive that they actually "infected" many texts themselves, not to mention their contexts. His influence wasn't just on the history of ideas, but on entire cultural understanding of psychology for many many decades. Some texts may, for example, exhibit a Freudian influence inadvertently--but many are/were intentional. While I agree that his work was "pseudoscience" in many ways, it was nevertheless adopted as the dominant folk psychology for some of the 19th and much of the 20th century.

 

Of course, this opened the doorway for retroactively interpreting older texts through a Freudian lens, which may be ahistorical and irrelevant, but that's a whole other thing...

 

 

ETA: Amendment: As far as the work itself, while much of it has been "debunked" by current neuroscience and psychiatry/psychology, I don't think we can dismiss his more theoretical notions as "pseudoscience" if we approach them as philosophy, rather than psychology (which I think someone else already mentioned). His notion of the uncanny, for example, is relevant to the work I've been doing in the last year. Come to think of it, that particular concept has even been verified by more recent "real" science... so there, or something.

 

... also: dear got I can't believe I just devoted 2 posts trying to defend Freud... it's so not even my bag, baby.

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I guess I meant a little more than "history of ideas"  being important, etc.

 

 

In this case, because Freud's ideas were so culturally pervasive that they actually "infected" many texts themselves, not to mention their contexts. His influence wasn't just on the history of ideas, but on entire cultural understanding of psychology for many many decades. Some texts may, for example, exhibit a Freudian influence inadvertently--but many are/were intentional. While I agree that his work was "pseudoscience" in many ways, it was nevertheless adopted as the dominant folk psychology for some of the 19th and much of the 20th century.

 

Of course, this opened the doorway for retroactively interpreting older texts through a Freudian lens, which may be ahistorical and irrelevant, but that's a whole other thing...

 

I'm so very glad you mentioned this!  I wanted to say basically the same thing earlier in the thread and forgot.  My criticisms of Freud earlier were more geared towards predicating contemporary research, theory, etc. on offshoots of his ideas.  Again, I'm completely fine with Freud as a historical resource for analyzing overt or inadvertent Freudian elements in cultural texts produced in his time of influence.  And with what I've said before, it should come as no surprise that I'm totally opposed to the phenomena you discuss in your last sentence.  :P

 

(On your ETA material: I kinda discussed this in an earlier post, but I'll add one question: if you're just taking a scant few notions from Freud here and there and using them in different ways, is what you're doing even psychoanalytic theory?  Let the "you" in the previous sentence be understood as a hypothetical other, not you yourself, bfat.

Edited by Two Espressos
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(On your ETA material: I kinda discussed this in an earlier post, but I'll add one question: if you're just taking a scant few notions from Freud here and there and using them in different ways, is what you're doing even psychoanalytic theory?  Let the "you" in the previous sentence be understood as a hypothetical other, not you yourself, bfat.

 

In my case, no, not at all. I was using the notion of the uncanny via Masahiro Mori as applied to posthumanism, so pretty damned far from psychoanalytic theory, yet based very much on a paper of Freud's.

 

However, I'm also teaching a class in feminist film theory this semester, and drawing heavily on psychoanalytic theory for part of the course--i.e. Mulvey, Clover, etc. In a course like this, these ideas are definitely still relevant, especially for a kind of "intro" to media theory course. Plus, the Clover stuff is just fun. :)

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I guess I meant a little more than "history of ideas" being important, etc.

In this case, because Freud's ideas were so culturally pervasive that they actually "infected" many texts themselves, not to mention their contexts. His influence wasn't just on the history of ideas, but on entire cultural understanding of psychology for many many decades. Some texts may, for example, exhibit a Freudian influence inadvertently--but many are/were intentional. While I agree that his work was "pseudoscience" in many ways, it was nevertheless adopted as the dominant folk psychology for some of the 19th and much of the 20th century.

Of course, this opened the doorway for retroactively interpreting older texts through a Freudian lens, which may be ahistorical and irrelevant, but that's a whole other thing...

ETA: Amendment: As far as the work itself, while much of it has been "debunked" by current neuroscience and psychiatry/psychology, I don't think we can dismiss his more theoretical notions as "pseudoscience" if we approach them as philosophy, rather than psychology (which I think someone else already mentioned). His notion of the uncanny, for example, is relevant to the work I've been doing in the last year. Come to think of it, that particular concept has even been verified by more recent "real" science... so there, or something.

... also: dear got I can't believe I just devoted 2 posts trying to defend Freud... it's so not even my bag, baby.

I'm not sure what you think I mean when I say history of ideas or how that would be different from an influence on what comes after but, again, I'm not saying he was not important/influential (or isn't still, even for, as I already said, my own work).

ETA can we all agree to agree on this one?

Edited by girl who wears glasses
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I'm not sure what you think I mean when I say history of ideas or how that would be different from an influence on what comes after but, again, I'm not saying he was not important/influential (or isn't still, even for, as I already said, my own work). ETA can we all agree to agree on this one?
I just meant within literary texts as well as theoretical ones, which is what I think of when I think of the history of ideas. But of course you may have meant that as well. Anyway, yes, agree to agree. On to something else. Anyone want to tackle Derrida? I think only Two Espressos has even mentioned him. Personally, I'm down with his ideas, but his deliberately frustrating language directed at frustrating linguistic conventions drives me bananas. Practicing what you preach blah blah blah JUST SAY IT! For the love of god define your terms!
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1: Why bother trying to resuscitate bunk science and apply amenable bits and pieces of it as a lens for analyzing film, literary texts, etc. anyway?  Wouldn't the application of real empirical psychological studies to film, literary texts, etc. be much more fruitful and interesting?

 

2: If Freud's ideas hold no water with what we've come to know about the human body and mind, what makes those ideas--or rather, extracted bits and pieces of those ideas, as you state above-- somehow okay for humanistic analysis?  Can we even call the application of ideas from bunk science, even if transformed by philosophical analysis to somehow "reclaim" Freud, knowledge?

 

3: The above point to an even broader issue: how is it epistemologically tenable to take ideas from a completely different field and somehow apply those ideas to a critical object?

 

The third problem is a severe one, as nearly all humanistic fields do this.  It's taken to be a truism that such a thing is possible and produces what one could legitimately classify as knowledge.  Doing so may be epistemologically possible, but I've never seen a solid defense of it.

 

As far as what you've said about scientism, empiricism, and falsifiability, is this directed towards me?  I certainly think that empiricism and science is by far the best and perhaps only way to learn about the physical world, but I'm not scientistic in the technical sense of the term.  If I were, I wouldn't be interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the humanities.  ^_^

 

I stand by my denigration of Freud (and Lacan, and Zizek, and others whose work is fundamentally predicated on his ideas).  This has been a rambling, possibly incoherent post, but I think the following paraphrase of a real-life comment I once heard is apt: "Freud has been debunked by and is no longer important for psychologists, but he's great for literary studies!"

 

Am I the only person who sees a problem with using bad, dated science in humanistic work?  No wonder we're never taken seriously.

There's "bunk science," and then there's bunk science. We aren't trying to get revamp the idea of bloodletting here, we are dealing with a theory that has proven to have, at the very least, symbolic and metaphoric cultural significance, and in the humanities, we deal with these things and study them.

Empirical psychological studies? What does that even mean? Sure, it might be interesting, but that doesn't mean that in order to do that we need to somehow implement a plan to eradicate psychoanalysis.

I don't like dealing in "different fields" either, even though I know materially, knowledges have been categorized, that doesn't mean we should appeal to them somehow in order to partition sets of ideas. In the humanities, aren't we the last set of people who give a crap about reversing this compartmentalization?

Classify? We must resist and problematize classification in my eyes.

Look, I understand, the humanities are under attack, for reasons much more vast and complicated than we are even touching upon, but our response, IMHO, should not be to adapt to the habits and conventions of other forms of knowledge, such as the sciences, that are being way better funded and lauded. I don't want to be romantic, but in many ways we are the last bastions, along with philosophy, of free production of ideas at least somewhat outside a corporate, profit driven context. But we are not the "sciences" and we still deal with forms of knowledge that can't quite be "proven" in the same way as the sciences do it. Is our job even to just produce "truth" or is it to also question the idea of truth? If we don't do this who will?

When I hear you say clean house, I think of people who precisely want to "streamline" the humanities. Screw that. I am not playing ball with institutions in that way.

Certain people want to make literary studies something that is only viable if we can come up with hard data or prove how it produces cognitive effects, or how it specifically does this or that. They want to do away with us, and my answer to that is not to try to adapt to what they want. Instead, we have fight it, and if need be go out fighting.

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I'm a huge tear down boundaries kind of person. I think categories are shenanigans. Poststructuralism is my shit. But just because I want more fluidity does not mean I think it is responsible to play with everyone else's methodologies. (Though, then again, maybe I can get behind that. I do some messy literary sociology. But I dont think questioning that practice is the call to arms you are making it out to be.) I don't think wanting to be something unique, independent and important on its own merits, is incompatible with upholding the integrity of the field. In fact, I think defining ourselves in ways that is not in relationship or opposition to other fields is vital.

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I'm a huge tear down boundaries kind of person. I think categories are shenanigans. Poststructuralism is my shit. But just because I want more fluidity does not mean I think it is responsible to play with everyone else's methodologies. (Though, then again, maybe I can get behind that. I do some messy literary sociology. But I dont think questioning that practice is the call to arms you are making it out to be.) I don't think wanting to be something unique, independent and important on its own merits, is incompatible with upholding the integrity of the field. In fact, I think defining ourselves in ways that is not in relationship or opposition to other fields is vital.

I'm going to sheepishly admit I am not sure who this post is directed to.

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Let me preface this by saying that 1) I certainly think Freud is worth reading for historical purposes and 2) that I'm not going to comment on the content of the specific books you've mentioned or the media studies angle, as I'm ignorant of those things.

 

We all seem to agree that Freudian psychoanalysis fails miserably as a methodology in human psychology, and this being the case, I think we need to contend with a few different issues:

 

1: Why bother trying to resuscitate bunk science and apply amenable bits and pieces of it as a lens for analyzing film, literary texts, etc. anyway?  Wouldn't the application of real empirical psychological studies to film, literary texts, etc. be much more fruitful and interesting?

 

2: If Freud's ideas hold no water with what we've come to know about the human body and mind, what makes those ideas--or rather, extracted bits and pieces of those ideas, as you state above-- somehow okay for humanistic analysis?  Can we even call the application of ideas from bunk science, even if transformed by philosophical analysis to somehow "reclaim" Freud, knowledge?

 

3: The above point to an even broader issue: how is it epistemologically tenable to take ideas from a completely different field and somehow apply those ideas to a critical object?

 

The third problem is a severe one, as nearly all humanistic fields do this.  It's taken to be a truism that such a thing is possible and produces what one could legitimately classify as knowledge.  Doing so may be epistemologically possible, but I've never seen a solid defense of it.

 

As far as what you've said about scientism, empiricism, and falsifiability, is this directed towards me?  I certainly think that empiricism and science is by far the best and perhaps only way to learn about the physical world, but I'm not scientistic in the technical sense of the term.  If I were, I wouldn't be interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the humanities.  ^_^

 

I stand by my denigration of Freud (and Lacan, and Zizek, and others whose work is fundamentally predicated on his ideas).  This has been a rambling, possibly incoherent post, but I think the following paraphrase of a real-life comment I once heard is apt: "Freud has been debunked by and is no longer important for psychologists, but he's great for literary studies!"

 

Am I the only person who sees a problem with using bad, dated science in humanistic work?  No wonder we're never taken seriously.

 

 

Well, first of all, we don't agree that Freudian psychoanalysis "fails miserably" (as a methodology in human psychology). The thing about Freud is that his work is as much philosophy as it is "psychoanalysis." I definitely believe in psychoanalysis as a methodology to uncover layers of thought. Let me try to make this clearer. Freudian thought offers, to me, an extremely powerful deconstructive approach--one later developed through Lacan, Derrida, et al.--and finds its applications across the humanities. I cannot speak to psychology, but I want to say, based on how I have seen Freudian thought utilised in my field (and in English, too) that I can certainly see Freudian approaches offer real inroads to human psychology. If neuroscience and MRI scans tell us 'what' is happening, then Freud for me tells us why that what is happening.

 

Now, to your points:

 

  1. I do not agree with these distinctions of "science" and "humanities," period. Both, for me, are approaches to knowledge. Neither trumps the other. Freudian thought is certainly no more bunk science for me than are the hypotheses or theories of any intellectuals over history who have had parts of their work overturned via subsequent discoveries. By "real empirical psychological studies," my impression is that you are basically referring to the kind of work cognitivists have done (in film/visual studies) or, say, some of the interesting studies that have been done via neuroscientific approaches--hooking up a spectator to an MRI during a screening, or tracking their eye movements, etc. These are certainly interesting and they tell us some 'whats' of the intricate exchange that occurs during an average film viewing, but I don't see that they go beyond that. I don't see any reason why these should overturn what doesn't need to be overturned (given its continuing applicability), but they can certainly supplement Freudian thought.
  2. I am not at all confident in claiming that Freudian thought has definitively been proven to be completely irrelevant in matters of the human body and mind (what is mind?). Again, this returns to #1. I have (as, I'm sure, do most of us) much, much more to learn about Freud and his standing in current humanistic thought, but I will not claim that "science" has established that his work is irrelevant to matters of psyche, consciousness, embodiment, and what have you.
  3. "...how is it epistemologically tenable to take ideas from a completely different field and somehow apply those ideas to a critical object?" Isn't that what interdisciplinarity calls for? The ability to successfully adapt the ideas, processes, perhaps even methodologies, of a field and interrogate the objects of another field?

Yes, my comments about empiricism and scientism were directed to what, in your earlier post, I perceived as a near-fetishising reverence for the data-driven nature of modern science. We disagree over your claim that empiricism and "science" (I would point out that science is not a monolithic concept) is "the best and perhaps only way to learn about the physical world"--largely because I'm not a fan of Cartesian thought in this regard. 

 

Freud's "irrelevance" to modern psychology is largely a function of psychology itself seeking to bow down at the altar of data-driven scientism. Data is not the end of everything. Data needs digestion, it needs interpretation. Scientific practices may suffice to tell us what's going on, but ultimately it is the work of the humanities to make sense of it. And in that sense, Freud is alive and well. 

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Lots of thoughtful responses!  I'm enjoying the dialogue.

 

ETA: Whelp, this is a really incoherent post.  Oh well.

 

There's "bunk science," and then there's bunk science. We aren't trying to get revamp the idea of bloodletting here, we are dealing with a theory that has proven to have, at the very least, symbolic and metaphoric cultural significance, and in the humanities, we deal with these things and study them.
 

Empirical psychological studies? What does that even mean? Sure, it might be interesting, but that doesn't mean that in order to do that we need to somehow implement a plan to eradicate psychoanalysis.


I don't like dealing in "different fields" either, even though I know materially, knowledges have been categorized, that doesn't mean we should appeal to them somehow in order to partition sets of ideas. In the humanities, aren't we the last set of people who give a crap about reversing this compartmentalization?

Classify? We must resist and problematize classification in my eyes.

Look, I understand, the humanities are under attack, for reasons much more vast and complicated than we are even touching upon, but our response, IMHO, should not be to adapt to the habits and conventions of other forms of knowledge, such as the sciences, that are being way better funded and lauded. I don't want to be romantic, but in many ways we are the last bastions, along with philosophy, of free production of ideas at least somewhat outside a corporate, profit driven context. But we are not the "sciences" and we still deal with forms of knowledge that can't quite be "proven" in the same way as the sciences do it. Is our job even to just produce "truth" or is it to also question the idea of truth? If we don't do this who will?

When I hear you say clean house, I think of people who precisely want to "streamline" the humanities. Screw that. I am not playing ball with institutions in that way.

Certain people want to make literary studies something that is only viable if we can come up with hard data or prove how it produces cognitive effects, or how it specifically does this or that. They want to do away with us, and my answer to that is not to try to adapt to what they want. Instead, we have fight it, and if need be go out fighting.

 

My mentioning of cleaning house has nothing to do with streamlining the humanities, making them more "practical," etc., and everything to do with ridding it of cancerous, ridiculous notions like Freudian psychoanalysis.

 

As I've stated earlier, if you're writing about psychological dimensions in a humanistic context and are not researching and citing falsifiable, empirical studies in contemporary psychology, I see no reason to take you seriously, just like I wouldn't take an astrologist seriously or any other snake oil salesman seriously.  Humanists need to stop pretending that they somehow have access to knowledge about psychological phenomena through bullshit artists such as Freud and Lacan. (Again, the "you" in the former remarks is a hypothetical, generalized person, not any poster on this site.)

 

Categorizing and analyzing knowledge and ideas is exactly what we should be doing as humanists.  What separates an academic discipline such as English from, say, studying golf?  Should we start a Ph.D. program in golf?  If not, why not?  What are the assumptions that predicate our academic enterprise?

 

I'm certainly against the corporate knowledge-factory, so to speak, of academe.  Establishing solid methodologies and epistemologies isn't being complacent with the bureaucracy, the military-industrial complex, or anything else: it's just good practice.  

 

Our job is to both discover truths and study them critically.  We seem to agree on this point.

 

I'm a huge tear down boundaries kind of person. I think categories are shenanigans. Poststructuralism is my shit. But just because I want more fluidity does not mean I think it is responsible to play with everyone else's methodologies. (Though, then again, maybe I can get behind that. I do some messy literary sociology. But I dont think questioning that practice is the call to arms you are making it out to be.) I don't think wanting to be something unique, independent and important on its own merits, is incompatible with upholding the integrity of the field. In fact, I think defining ourselves in ways that is not in relationship or opposition to other fields is vital.

 

I'm by no means a poststructuralist (I am extremely skeptical of those schools of thought), and yet you and I seem to be in agreement, at least in part, with what I've been trying (failing?) to express heretofore.  I'm very much interested in the epistemological and methodological bases of humanist thought (hint: research interests!), hence my engagement in this topic.

 

Well, first of all, we don't agree that Freudian psychoanalysis "fails miserably" (as a methodology in human psychology). The thing about Freud is that his work is as much philosophy as it is "psychoanalysis." I definitely believe in psychoanalysis as a methodology to uncover layers of thought. Let me try to make this clearer. Freudian thought offers, to me, an extremely powerful deconstructive approach--one later developed through Lacan, Derrida, et al.--and finds its applications across the humanities. I cannot speak to psychology, but I want to say, based on how I have seen Freudian thought utilised in my field (and in English, too) that I can certainly see Freudian approaches offer real inroads to human psychology. If neuroscience and MRI scans tell us 'what' is happening, then Freud for me tells us why that what is happening.

 

Now, to your points:

 

  1. I do not agree with these distinctions of "science" and "humanities," period. Both, for me, are approaches to knowledge. Neither trumps the other. Freudian thought is certainly no more bunk science for me than are the hypotheses or theories of any intellectuals over history who have had parts of their work overturned via subsequent discoveries. By "real empirical psychological studies," my impression is that you are basically referring to the kind of work cognitivists have done (in film/visual studies) or, say, some of the interesting studies that have been done via neuroscientific approaches--hooking up a spectator to an MRI during a screening, or tracking their eye movements, etc. These are certainly interesting and they tell us some 'whats' of the intricate exchange that occurs during an average film viewing, but I don't see that they go beyond that. I don't see any reason why these should overturn what doesn't need to be overturned (given its continuing applicability), but they can certainly supplement Freudian thought.
  2. I am not at all confident in claiming that Freudian thought has definitively been proven to be completely irrelevant in matters of the human body and mind (what is mind?). Again, this returns to #1. I have (as, I'm sure, do most of us) much, much more to learn about Freud and his standing in current humanistic thought, but I will not claim that "science" has established that his work is irrelevant to matters of psyche, consciousness, embodiment, and what have you.
  3. "...how is it epistemologically tenable to take ideas from a completely different field and somehow apply those ideas to a critical object?" Isn't that what interdisciplinarity calls for? The ability to successfully adapt the ideas, processes, perhaps even methodologies, of a field and interrogate the objects of another field?

Yes, my comments about empiricism and scientism were directed to what, in your earlier post, I perceived as a near-fetishising reverence for the data-driven nature of modern science. We disagree over your claim that empiricism and "science" (I would point out that science is not a monolithic concept) is "the best and perhaps only way to learn about the physical world"--largely because I'm not a fan of Cartesian thought in this regard. 

 

Freud's "irrelevance" to modern psychology is largely a function of psychology itself seeking to bow down at the altar of data-driven scientism. Data is not the end of everything. Data needs digestion, it needs interpretation. Scientific practices may suffice to tell us what's going on, but ultimately it is the work of the humanities to make sense of it. And in that sense, Freud is alive and well. 

 

But Freud isn't alive and well: no one takes him seriously outside of the humanities, and I think that we need to question why that's the case.  You asseverate that this "is largely a function of psychology [...] bow[ing] down at the altar of data-driven scientism," and that data needs "interpretation" and "the work of the humanities to make sense of it."  I don't think that any of those claims are self-evident.  Indeed, the truly scientistic--in the Rosenbergian sense of the word, which is what I've been using all along-- deny that humanists have any claim to knowledge whatsoever.  We're just producing entertainment.

 

As should be apparent by now, I'm somewhat of a naturalist: I think that only science provides reliable knowledge about the physical world (of which the mind is a part, as it's strictly the brain).  As a prospective English Ph.D. applicant, I obviously don't agree that humanists are debarred from producing knowledge and discovering truths, this being due to a very important classification (since when is this a dirty word?) between humanistic and scientific knowledge.  Humanists should not--and indeed cannot, as I've been proclaiming-- pretend that they somehow are discovering truths about human nature.  Empirical science is the only way to discover those things.  We should be concerned with abstractions and ideas. (Maybe this sorta plays into what Deleuze and Guattari purportedly say about philosophy as concept creation?  I've yet to read What Is Philosophy?, so I cannot comment upon this angle further.)  Obviously, there is a link between ideas and the physical world, and what exactly that link is is a fascinating question.

 

As science advances, humanists are going to lose more and more credibility if they don't start recognizing the credibility and reliabilty of empiricism.  There is already convincing evidence that meaning is in part a product of what psychologists call the "embodied simulation hypothesis."  And morality and other traditionally "humanistic" domains will likely be investigated with much more accuracy by scientists as time goes on.  In short, humanists need to contend seriously with the methodological and epistemological cornerstones of their disciplines.  I would go so far as to state that the humanities cannot afford to be ignorant of scientific data much longer.  There are of course many reasons why the humanities are dying (we all know that they are; we can cut the bullshit): anti-intellectualism, austerity measures, capitalism as a whole, etc.  I claim that our self-imposed ignorance (and trust of outdated science [Freud]) is one of those reasons.

 

ETA: I realize that my perspective on these matters is very different from most other people in the humanities.  I feel alienated for this reason and question whether or not I'd really be welcome in an English Ph.D. program.  Then again, I don't know where else I'd fit.  I feel like I'd be out of place everywhere.  Sigh.

Edited by Two Espressos
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Two Espressos--are you familiar with Paul Churchland? Your approach sounds similar to his. I'm interested in how analytic philosophy applies to literature and theory. My current research is in posthumanism, which I think offers a solution to these seemingly opposed approaches (a deconstructive solution? hmm...)

 

ETA: By "seemingly opposed approaches" I mean empiricism vs. "humanistic" approaches, analytic vs. continental, etc.

Edited by bfat
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Two Espressos--are you familiar with Paul Churchland? Your approach sounds similar to his. I'm interested in how analytic philosophy applies to literature and theory. My current research is in posthumanism, which I think offers a solution to these seemingly opposed approaches (a deconstructive solution? hmm...)

 

ETA: By "seemingly opposed approaches" I mean empiricism vs. "humanistic" approaches, analytic vs. continental, etc.

 

I've heard his name tossed around, and I know he's a philosopher (of mind/science, I believe?), alongside his wife, Patricia.  But I don't really know much about him.  I'm glad to hear that my thoughts aren't totally off-base; I'll be sure to look into his work, thanks!

 

Posthumanism will be one of the most important areas of study in the coming decades.  I've done some reading and research in that area, but I consider myself an absolute novice.  Your interests sound fascinating.  I too am interested in analytic philosophy and have considered graduate school in that area, though I ultimately dismissed that route as I think that more "continental" thinkers, like Foucault, have lots of interesting things to say, and mainstream philosophy departments usually reject those strains of thought.

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I personally get annoyed with psychoanalytic texts because I don't have a solid access point into the convoluted vocabulary that has developed within that area. That said, I recently read an anthropology text that used the "collective unconscious," and I found it to have incredibly interesting ideas (it was focused on sociological "stuff" so it took "sciency" things seriously). I often also feel like I don't have an access to the points in Judith Butler (or in others) in which they veer off into Lacanian terminology (at least not to the degree I would like). That said, Cixous, Kristeva, Irigaray, etc. all use the terminology. As has been said above, it is simply another set of theoretical "terms" that is often used to say incredibly interesting things. It doesn't have to be anti-empirical.

 

In terms of getting annoyed with academic discourse--I often feel the same way about a lot of theoretical marxism. It is extremely hard to read if you're not privy to the terminological eccentricities of the discourse--that said, I know that it is often saying important things. 

Edited by bluecheese
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I was just browsing Cixous's "Portrait of Dora" the other day (I'm teaching Lidia Yuknavitch's Dora: A Headcase this semester).  That said, I haven't read much of the fictional stuff. I was just thinking that I should read more of it this past semester. Do you have any suggestions?

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I was just browsing Cixous's "Portrait of Dora" the other day (I'm teaching Lidia Yuknavitch's Dora: A Headcase this semester).  That said, I haven't read much of the fictional stuff. I was just thinking that I should read more of it this past semester. Do you have any suggestions?

JK's The Samurai might be really fun considering your interests in 20th century continental thought.

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Lots of thoughtful responses!  I'm enjoying the dialogue.

 

ETA: Whelp, this is a really incoherent post.  Oh well.

 

 

My mentioning of cleaning house has nothing to do with streamlining the humanities, making them more "practical," etc., and everything to do with ridding it of cancerous, ridiculous notions like Freudian psychoanalysis.

 

As I've stated earlier, if you're writing about psychological dimensions in a humanistic context and are not researching and citing falsifiable, empirical studies in contemporary psychology, I see no reason to take you seriously, just like I wouldn't take an astrologist seriously or any other snake oil salesman seriously.  Humanists need to stop pretending that they somehow have access to knowledge about psychological phenomena through bullshit artists such as Freud and Lacan. (Again, the "you" in the former remarks is a hypothetical, generalized person, not any poster on this site.)

 

Categorizing and analyzing knowledge and ideas is exactly what we should be doing as humanists.  What separates an academic discipline such as English from, say, studying golf?  Should we start a Ph.D. program in golf?  If not, why not?  What are the assumptions that predicate our academic enterprise?

 

I'm certainly against the corporate knowledge-factory, so to speak, of academe.  Establishing solid methodologies and epistemologies isn't being complacent with the bureaucracy, the military-industrial complex, or anything else: it's just good practice.  

 

Our job is to both discover truths and study them critically.  We seem to agree on this point.

 

 

I'm by no means a poststructuralist (I am extremely skeptical of those schools of thought), and yet you and I seem to be in agreement, at least in part, with what I've been trying (failing?) to express heretofore.  I'm very much interested in the epistemological and methodological bases of humanist thought (hint: research interests!), hence my engagement in this topic.

 

 

But Freud isn't alive and well: no one takes him seriously outside of the humanities, and I think that we need to question why that's the case.  You asseverate that this "is largely a function of psychology [...] bow[ing] down at the altar of data-driven scientism," and that data needs "interpretation" and "the work of the humanities to make sense of it."  I don't think that any of those claims are self-evident.  Indeed, the truly scientistic--in the Rosenbergian sense of the word, which is what I've been using all along-- deny that humanists have any claim to knowledge whatsoever.  We're just producing entertainment.

 

As should be apparent by now, I'm somewhat of a naturalist: I think that only science provides reliable knowledge about the physical world (of which the mind is a part, as it's strictly the brain).  As a prospective English Ph.D. applicant, I obviously don't agree that humanists are debarred from producing knowledge and discovering truths, this being due to a very important classification (since when is this a dirty word?) between humanistic and scientific knowledge.  Humanists should not--and indeed cannot, as I've been proclaiming-- pretend that they somehow are discovering truths about human nature.  Empirical science is the only way to discover those things.  We should be concerned with abstractions and ideas. (Maybe this sorta plays into what Deleuze and Guattari purportedly say about philosophy as concept creation?  I've yet to read What Is Philosophy?, so I cannot comment upon this angle further.)  Obviously, there is a link between ideas and the physical world, and what exactly that link is is a fascinating question.

 

As science advances, humanists are going to lose more and more credibility if they don't start recognizing the credibility and reliabilty of empiricism.  There is already convincing evidence that meaning is in part a product of what psychologists call the "embodied simulation hypothesis."  And morality and other traditionally "humanistic" domains will likely be investigated with much more accuracy by scientists as time goes on.  In short, humanists need to contend seriously with the methodological and epistemological cornerstones of their disciplines.  I would go so far as to state that the humanities cannot afford to be ignorant of scientific data much longer.  There are of course many reasons why the humanities are dying (we all know that they are; we can cut the bullshit): anti-intellectualism, austerity measures, capitalism as a whole, etc.  I claim that our self-imposed ignorance (and trust of outdated science [Freud]) is one of those reasons.

 

ETA: I realize that my perspective on these matters is very different from most other people in the humanities.  I feel alienated for this reason and question whether or not I'd really be welcome in an English Ph.D. program.  Then again, I don't know where else I'd fit.  I feel like I'd be out of place everywhere.  Sigh.

 

 

Before I say anything further, let me just say that I'm really enjoying this spirited discussion, and I hope each of us can continue and develop these within the context of a PhD program. Two Espressos, we have obvious differences, yet the give-and-take going on here is something I, at least, am really enjoying.

 

From what I've read so far, your animosity toward Freudian psychoanalysis seems to be bundled up with a larger grouping of work within the humanities that you perceive as obscurantist/built on shaky reasoning/simply obsolete. I agree with the latter in some respects. I'm not terribly fond of Zizek, reading Butler is often more difficult than it needs to be, the same can be said of Bhabha, and so on. However, what I'm arguing is that Freud is not to be tossed into this group, mostly for the reasons I already mentioned earlier.

 

What I cannot understand is your almost absolutist insistence on "falsifiable, empirical studies." You also say that our "job is both to discover truths and study them critically." I thought we were long past this rather hubristic (and very Enlightenment-era) notion of "discovering truths"! Surely after Adorno and Horkheimer, and Foucault (to name just a few), the era of humanistic pursuit of "truths" as though they wander the wilds of civilisation waiting to be discovered is over? You claim that humanists are pretending to access "knowledge about psychological phenomena...through Freud, et al." Some do/have done, certainly. But there are also many, many others (and this is the group I'm a fan of) who have successfully navigated a path between aspects of Freudian thought that are clearly in error, and aspects of Freudian thought that in many ways offer philosophical understandings of...well, a whole lot of things across the humanities. I cited a few examples earlier (Lippit's work, Lear's work, the continuing relevance of the Mystic Writing Pad), but also consider things like Derrida's "Freud and the Scene of Writing," etc. It is not for no reason that nearly all of the 20th and 21st centuries' most prominent thinkers across fields have, at some point or other, confronted Freud in their work. 

 

"Categorizing and analyzing knowledge and ideas is exactly what we should be doing as humanists." I disagree most emphatically. The time for categories and disciplinary stakes is long, long past. My own field is perhaps the best example. As film increasingly insisted on its own critical studies, humanists fought to establish it as a discipline unto itself (film studies, that is). This took most of the early 20th century. Among the principal criteria used was the famed indexical rhetoric of the film (photographic) image, that is, the logic of the trace. The photograph inevitably is an index of something that occurred in time, something that was there (Barthes deals with this in Camera Lucida). And just as film studies finally became among the hottest fields in the humanities, everything fell apart. The emergence of the digital image all but wrecked one of the core founding criteria of the field. Today, film studies is increasingly conversing with art history as we are (re-)framing film and the moving image arts within a much longer historical tradition of projection, movement, and time-based imagery. Categories were set up, and are now being broken down. This does not risk exploding the essence of film studies as a field; it simply redefines the stakes.

 

If anything, the kind of compartmentalisation you desire strikes me as very reminiscent of Taylorisation, of commodification, and ultimately of corporatising academia. You may see it as good practice, but I ask: according to whom? It seems to me that only a market that predicates itself upon commodification would approve of narrowly categorised (pigeon-holed) fields.

 

You say that it is not self-evident that the work of the humanities is to interpret the data churned out by science. This is a good point, and has given me something to think about. I think it is justifiable to ask that the humanities demonstrate its claim to the work of interpretation. I don't have an answer for this right away. However, if you're referring to Alex Rosenberg, then that definitely explains our differences. I think Rosenberg is a science-fetishist, and his constant harping on "neuro-___" is nigh-unbearable. I really cannot abide those who jump at the lure of whatever offers some perceived "validation" to other eyes--in our times, this means tagging "neuro-" onto whatever and calling it a day.

 

I also must disagree emphatically with the idea that the humanities are dying. Yes, the various pressures you named are all part of why they are denigrated, but considering that (again, relevant to my field) the last 2-3 decades have seen the output of a couple of books (Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Observer and Martin Jay's Downcast Eyes) that have fundamentally affected ideas of historical vision, visuality, visual culture, and indeed the stakes of visual perception itself, and considering that neither of these needed to rely on empirical "evidence," I'm more than confident that this era, too, shall pass. By which I mean, again, the ongoing fetishisation of science and data. Yes, we live in a data-driven age. Of course it seems that data is indispensable. By the way, do read Crary's book. It is 150 pages or so, and is a near-perfect example of how the humanities can do the work of "interpreting" scientific razzle-dazzle.

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Thanks for responding, Swagato.  I don't have time to respond in depth to your post at present (tons of shit to do today), but I'll write something later.  I will say, though, that I'm very glad that you've read--or at least are familiar with-- Alex Rosenberg.  I'd like to go into that a little further.

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@Two Espressos: Can you define "empirical evidence" within the humanities? I have an issue with this word because even (and it's been mentioned already) bloodletting had "empirical" evidence as to why it was effective during the time. I also think you're giving the scientific methodology (and all that junk) too much credit. "Science" is not a science. Can you give me an example of an "empirically" determined truth in literature (that's not a date or fact)? What exactly are you referring to, and how are you comparing it to Freudian studies? 

 

If you've already answered these questions, and I missed it while reading through this tread, my apologizes! I've been away from the cafe for a bit, and it was a lot to go through, but very interesting convo! 

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I'd be very interested in reading their response later on, as promised. This comment by rems is one that really resonates with me:

 

"Can you give me an example of an "empirically" determined truth in literature (that's not a date or fact)?"

 

For some years, certain figures within film and visual studies pursued and pushed a cognitivist approach that claimed to move away from High Theory while, ironically, promoting its own version of High Theory. Many acknowledged the new information made available to us through these cognitive approaches, but ultimately, the fact remains that no amount of neuro-babble will deliver up a formula for the perfect film, or the perfect horror film, or the perfect comedy film, etc. Likewise, I do not see science in general ever overthrowing or 'defeating' the humanities by laying bare the "secret" of why, or how, a work like In Search of Lost Time produces the kind of affect that it does. I welcome the kind of analytical information scientific methods can offer, but I see them as holding little further potential than that. 

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