Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Please, don't let me be this type of scholar!

Some scholars go beyond arrogance and pomposity to defend themselves. See Peter Haidu's defense of his book The Subject Medieval/Modern. At H-France, Carol Symes gave a harsh, but not unfair, review. Among the numerous problems, she notes that Haidu has a rigid understanding of estate:
And what makes Haidu think--here, as elsewhere--that the clergy was a species of political animal readily distinguishable from knights? In the eleventh century, they were not members of different castes but the younger and elder sons of the same caste, separated not at birth but as a result of the changes that went hand-in-hand with the ideology deemed revolutionary, specifically the practice of primogeniture. Nor was the clergy closed to men of humble status, particularly in the increasingly urbanized twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Haidu's response is bizarre and flippant, resembling Brit Hume in its evasiveness and lack of depth:
In addition to outright mendacity and gross deformations, Symes’s use of language, though vigorous, is ambiguous because imprecise. What is meant is sometimes difficult to ascertain. The absurdity of Symes’s rhetorical question, “what makes Haidu think…that the clergy was a species of political animal readily distinguishable from knights?” is breath-taking. Given Symes’s ignorance of modern theory, I take that “political animal” does not intend to suggest a comparison of human society in the European Middle Ages with that of ants, gorillas, or wolves, in the wake of reflections by Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben.[3] The trope is merely another vigorously meaningless gesture whose function is to distract the reader from the absurdity of the discourse in which it is embedded.

It is a historiographical cliché that medieval clerics, especially those who reach positions of high power like abbots and bishops, were often the younger sons of noble families, destined to a clerical career by the rule of primogeniture, who retained aristocratic prejudices throughout their clerical careers. But primogeniture made a difference, and the rest of life was profoundly changed!
The last, italicized phrase in complete bull crap!

If you have a beer in hand, read Haihu's entire response. It is fruitless, but its contortion asre completely entertaining.

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At 3:42 AM, Blogger Justine said...

That's a good one!

Good example of what I dislike about academia: people trying to be clever (as in, "look at me! aren't I clever!"), using slippery fish language.

But worse are the politicians who won't argue on the merits of what you're saying. They use that debating style, where they argue on principle, and ever so slightly change the meaning of what you have said, setting up a sort-of but not quite parallel argument. Grrr!


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