Tag Archives: introduction academic scholarly cultural authority relativism dry humor cate shimer postmodern neutral neutrality foucault derrida

Talking Myself Into It: An Introduction to An Introduction

        Typically in the beginning of an endeavor in which one plans on disseminating opinions on a given topic a writer establishes what they intend to argue and how and why they are more reliably informed on this particular topic than any other schlub. This is why introductions and prefaces can be so painful to read. Even when an author, who you otherwise enjoy, composes these prefaces, it is difficult to give our full attention to an outline of what we’ve already agreed to read and the spouting of credentials.

        My intention is to write articles, for my own pleasure. I intend to discuss my experiences with theology, religion, academic philosophy, cultural phenomenon, music performance and my personal, distorted perceptions of specific moments in time (which one might argue is not distinguishable from any other experience1) I intend to use a sometimes liberated and sometimes antiquated form of grammar and punctuation, based on whether I think it looks cool or sounds cool when I read it aloud. I intend to make uneducated criticisms and affirmations of sophisticated, carefully constructed ideas. I intend to use these ideas haphazardly to prop up and justify my own thoughts. I intend to employ the run-on sentence, as you may have already noticed, as well as the fragment, c.f. my second footnote. I intend to make indulgent use of parentheses and footnotes. I intend to be totally obstinate, and simultaneously, malleable.

        This is not to say that I won’t make every effort to be accurate, clear and honest; but it is to say, it is not my profession or even my hobby to do so. My compulsion, yes, but my accomplishment? Doubtful. One of the things that has given me great delight and fits of laughter during this project is my self-awareness of the ridiculousness of what I am saying and how I am saying it. Then I like to share this delight by explaining the recklessness of my assertion or expression. I may be a nincompoop, but I am bent on demonstrating that I am aware of my nincompoopery. For instance, I have just made a loophole that abdicates me from any responsibility in my roll as a writer. It wasn’t my intention, but there it is: A loophole as big as St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. Cool.

         I have no credentials whatsoever. And the subject matter I plan on approaching and the way I intend to approach it is unpredictable and unorganized. I don’t even intend to agree with myself. I have strong doubts that there is anything to be gained from reading my writing. If my social interactions are any indicator, even my humor is a catastrophic failure.

This covers the formal introduction. My defense and my argument are both non-existent! What a tremendous approach!2 This being the case I strongly recommend you do not read the following article. If you continue and therefore expire of ennui or frustration, you have only yourselves to blame.3

Now that I feel you have been fairly warned I shall get to the business of being self-indulgent. That is not to say that I will indulge myself with luxuries or hedonistic pleasures, as the compound word might usually suggest; but, instead I am using it to say: I will indulge in myself. Self indulgent — indulging in the self. That’s my re-definition.4

Introductions are a chance for authors –in the name of academic tradition, and at the insistence of friends and publishers– to ramble about themselves. How often are any of us invited to monologue about why our friends, family and co-workers are so proud of us? Where can we boast about the claims people around us have made regarding how bright and well reasoned we are? When can we espouse our own thoughts about how we came to be so successful and interesting?

If I don’t write a long, tedious introduction now I might never have the chance to subject anyone, other than my friends, to my fascinating biography.

(Of course I’m still trying to deter people from reading said biographical material, because I’m quite certain I have nothing of value to share with anyone –biographical or otherwise. But I would be dishonest if I said I did not harbor the hope that people will read it, and they will get something out of it; and furthermore, that they might make comments and once I am suddenly established as an informed and important arbiter of events –by virtue of my enlightened writing—I will be asked to shed light on controversies and dilemmas. No, it would certainly be a lie if I said I had not fantasized about that possibility. I definitely think that would be pretty rad, even if it were a huge mistake on the part of the humanity to elect me to such preeminence.)

Fortunately it is an age of the blog and collectively published encyclopedias. It’s the age of dismissing the old unspoken statutes of what it means to be an authority. It’s the age of not trusting that the doctor knows more than the shaman about anatomy and physiology. It’s an age of not believing that the evolutionary biologist knows more about the processes of creation than the priest. It’s an age of knocking down the barriers between the haves and have-nots  –particularly when what they have is degrees and multitudinous experiences.

Our only reference is reference. Your authority is derived from how many people marked your accomplishment with a click on a tiny illustration of an up-turned thumb. The final arbitrator of right and wrong, of factual and false, is an unmonitored, kind of democratic vote. If I have four and a half stars on a web site next to a display of my work, than that makes it quality; never mind that I created twenty-five fake e-mail addresses to create that rating or that my mom flags my critics as spam.

In the past when I have asked friends, family members, colleagues about undertaking impossible tasks I have always received a resounding assurance that I should do whatever thing I might suggest. I cannot recall a single time in my life when someone has told me that what I’m pursuing is too ambitious for my intellectual reach, my talent, my experience, my finances or for the time frame I have to accomplish it in (e.g. the time framed by my current age and inevitable death). I may be thirty, female and never have touched a basketball, but that shouldn’t stop me from working toward a job as a player in the NBA. It is only the stodgy old English professor who dares diminish my authority on English grammar and usage. It is only a delusion of mine perpetrated by evil, jealous, professional orchestra players, that says just because I didn’t start playing violin until my adulthood that I should never be a professional violinist.5

So that’s my only worldly qualification. The only reason anyone should be compelled to read any thing I might write is because they believe wisdom can pour forth from the mouths of babes. They believe in a democratic ideal so radical that all people should have their opinions and voices heard no matter what the topic. All of us should edit encyclopedias. We are all equally likely to give good advice for you on your diet and your cancer treatment. We should all, from child to scholar, be formulating the new philosophies and theories for the years to come.

Unfortunately, that means I have no grounds on which to write a justification of my authority. It is not necessary that I talk about my academically deprived background or my questionable qualifications, because neither has any validity. There’s no reason for me to tell you why my dad is so proud of me!

I’m sorry, but I just can’t live with that. I can think of nothing more disturbing to me than missing the opportunity to talk about myself at length in an idealized and supercilious fashion. And how can I brag when I’m so unqualified? I can brag because we’re all authorities! I can brag because my failings are my very strengths!  The postmodern world supports me!

Let’s hear no more about the cultural paradigms for and against my assignment! Let’s hear about me!

1  If you care to read more about this argument, I learned most of what I know about the postmodern position regarding the fluctuating reality of truth in Derrida’s The Truth in Painting, Deleuze and Guattari’s The Anti-Oedipus and Foucaut’s The History of Sexuality, Volume one, particularly Part Four, Chapter Two: Method. I might recommend reading these sources if I was a sadist. Which I’m not. To the contrary.

2 Tremendously atrocious? Tremendously revolutionary? Good? Bad? Beats me.

3 Did I mention I intend to use footnotes copiously?

4 This is the kind of capricious use of grammar and style I’m talking about. I’m sure there’s some distracting link that can whisk you away from this folly in an instant; you can forget you were ever audience to this self-indulgent, frivolous ordeal.

5  This may not be the appropriate time or place, but I should like to clarify here that on the whole I agree with most everyone about most everything. I realize this seems to be a logical fallacy to most people. The Law of Non-Contradiction could be employed against me with startling regularity; however, the problem is that this law does not reasonably apply to discovering outcomes of complex situations, and often we can only determine the truth of something by its outcome.

How can I possibly determine whether my culture of startling open-mindedness or the stubborn orthodoxy of authority is correct? In the concrete: How do I know that practicing violin everyday, regardless of my age, will or will not lead to me becoming a professional player when there are two widely accepted and diametrically opposed predictions? Generally I believe both, I believe that the arguments of each are equally logical, equally convincing –not necessarily equally probable, as neither accounts for all the data that might defeat the position (e.g. I have played music since I was a child, just not violin, might undermine the argument of the professional. Or I have arthritis might defeat the eternal optimist.) So given my inability to garner an outside opinion that is stronger than any other, I proceed to do exactly as I please. I don’t justify what I do by choosing the side that confirms a positive outcome will proceed from my action; nor do I ignore or deny the truth of compelling arguments to the contrary.

I feel this way on every item of controversy. I know it seems unlikely, but either the Implicit Association Tests (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/), that I was briefly addicted to, show that I am very talented at making mistakes in a very balanced way; or it demonstrates, that my explicit desire is to answer in a balanced way, so I make mistakes in a non-biased way; or, it shows, as the test intends, that my implicit assumptions about things are not biased strongly in any direction. This is the only “evidence” I have to substantiate my claim that my personality does not a allow me to choose sides on any matter.


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