March 24, 2009

Intellectual elitism and the case of the missing author

Over at Edge of the West, where SEK’s critically flawed post on my engagement with Patterico has been subsequently removed, there remains a number of comments that I find troubling for a number of reasons. First, there is an peculiar, but obvious, attempt there to try to dismiss my intentionalist argument without addressing it at all; second, there is the desire to strengthen this dismissal by diminishing me, either by attaching to me a political label (he’s a rightwinger, therefore he can’t possibly have anything intelligent or interesting to add to our club for serious scholars) or by cartooning my position, then dismissing the cartoon as if it somehow represented my actual argument (his position is that intention governs every aspect of textual anaysis, a position so strong as to be ridiculous).

Lost in all the self-serving back and forth about how it is legitimate to dismiss me out of hand and yet still claim to be an intellectual is any discussion of my actual position, which I’ve always invited.

And what I find disturbing is that, rather than ask me to explain that position, these “scholars” have asked SEK to write something up so that they can understand it. As if SEK, by virtue of having waded into the anti-intellectual depths of Wingnuttia, is, by virtue of his being “one of them,” more capable of making my argument than I am.

Plus — bonus! — they don’t have to deal with me, who they’ve characterized as irrelevant, even as they pretend to have an interest in the argument I make. Just, you know, provided it’s not me who makes or defends it. Double bonus — Timmy in the comments, trying to pass himself off as a literary scholar!

“Virtual-stalking” indeed…

Here’s the comment I left on the site:

“They’re trying to start a movement — an OUTLAW movement [...]”

This has the flaw, for a research project, of being not sufficiently historicized. The rhetoric appears to me to be a bog-standard outgrowth of Nixonland right-wing resentment, and as such it’s part of the standard alternation between eliminationist ranting in the years in power and faux-outlaw posturing in the years out of power that has charactered the right in the North since the start of the Southern strategy. Dave Neiwert at Orcinus has been covering the specifically Internet parts of this, and has worked out some of the historical and theoretical connections.

Such a perfect storm of dismissiveness followed by wild assertions followed by name dropping.

Like a freshly-minted parody of academic writing.

Here’s the thing, Rich. Rather than rely on what SEK tells you I mean by intentionalism, perhaps you should query me, or better still, come join in one of the discussions. My idea, you say, is “so strong as to be ridiculous”. To which I reply, only to those of a type who, rather than engaging, bring up Nixon and right wing eliminationist ranting and are so busy ascribing base motives [to those they are hoping to summarily dismiss] that they effectively talk themselves out of considering arguments on merit.

When I deal with intentionalism, it is within the frame of [such questions as] what constitutes interpretation, why do we call what we’re doing interpretation, and just what are we interpreting?

The idea that it is intent of some agency that provides a signfier its signification is hardly so nutty as to be dismissed with the rhetoric I’m seeing here.

In fact, all I’m seeing here is a dismissal of what I supposedly argue by those who take their cues from people like Dave Neiwert.

Code words. Jesus, how very convenient that you leave it to yourselves to build the frame, then prove its existence by identifying the secret code that proves it.

And by “identifying” I mean, of course, inventing. Because that’s what serves your purposes.

The way the “scholars” here are all so kneejerk dismissive speaks poorly of the field I’m guessing most of us here studied in some depth.

Where SEK has gotten me very wrong recently is the idea that he seems to think I don’t appreciate the subtleties or difficulties of textual analysis, or that I don’t appreciate many of the tools one uses to tease meaning from a text.

This is wrong.

All I’m arguing is that once we enter an interpretive situation in which we agree the author had an intent (that what we are dealing with is in fact signs, and not merely signifiers), we then set about to try to decode the text knowing it was intended to mean.

How we interpret, once we’ve established that baseline, is to use every tool we’ve developed to help us reconstruct intent — from convention to code to inter- and intratexuality to structuralim (I happen to be trained in narratology, and in literary texts, I often use that as one of my primary tools) to biography, to cultural dialogics, to historicity, and on and on.

But the goal, as far as my argument goes, is to best recover the author’s meaning — his use of language — if what we say we are doing is interpreting the same text.

Where I differ with some theorists is that they assume that, as one person here writes:

” I get it as a biographical question, come sophistimacated parlor game. I don’t get it as a component of textual analysis, where it seems entirely beside the point. And from a historical (and, I assume, historicist) perspective authorial intent would be relevant only to the extent that it, or various statements about it, circulated as one of the paratexts accompanying a work of fiction.”

Why does one need paratexts to help divine authorial intent? Why is what the text was intended to signal “entirely beside the point,” either from an historical or historicist perspective, or from any other perspective that presents as one of its goals “interpretation”?

All interpretation requires intent. Whose intent is privileged in the process is, to me, both the question and the rub.

What saddens me is that people here pretend this to be some intellectual forum, and yet I’ve seen responses that serve only to diminish my argument (without knowing it) or to dismiss me out of hand (for the crime of having been labeled by others a “right winger,” which identity I’m learning saddles me with baggage that those who are doing the identifying have given themselves license to strap to my back, as a way of preemptively putting me on the defensive).

The entire tone of this thread, in fact, is one that serves as a warning to those who may disagree with the characterizations presented here: “keep out.”

If you wish to take issue with my arguments, I’m always glad to engage on that level. But the kinds of comments here seem to me to be trying to establish erudition and superiority without having first earned it.

Rich mentions Eco, who was, to me, a major influence. Early on, I used to discuss a “textual entity” that I posited existed between the historical author and the intention of the text. Having hashed this out once with Walter Benn Michaels, he convinced me that I was adding an unnecessary set of layers — that in fact all of that proceeded from the historical author, who is ultimately responsible for creating signs, and so for creating an instance of language.

Receivers can, of course, do this as well — intend to see signifiers as signs, and in doing so construct a text — but to do so knowing that what they were encountering were signs to begin with, and then bracketing the agency who created those signs as unimportant to a text’s meaning, seemed rather much like an [opportunistic] coup [meant to install a new regime presuming to lord over textual meaning and authority].

My early academic work centered around unreliable narrators, which is what began pushing me in the direction of how one is able to detect such in the first place. Narratology proved an invaluable tool.

I have never, ever said that “textual analysis” must be dedicated solely to divining intent. In fact, I have written on many occasions that there are many valuable things we can do with texts that aren’t tied to intepretation of text-as-implied-speech act.

What I’ve been critical of is those who have found other useful ways to engage in textual analyses who have then turned around and suggested that what they have done is interpret the text that the author created. [Which they haven’t.] Because I don’t think one can make that claim without appealing back to the author’s intent, captured in his significations.

To do otherwise is to privilege the receiver’s intent to make a set of signifiers do what they were never intended by the author to do.

It is privileging a reader’s cleverness over a desire to understand what the author was trying to convey.

— All of which opens up the field of literary studies to a number of niche [areas of specialization]. Some of you seem to think I have a problem with that. I don’t. I just want it made clear that the assumptions about language that underpin certain theoretical stances with respect to the text-as-intended — to the text as a linguistic entity, rather than a set of squiggles or sound forms or brush strokes emptied of the very thing that makes them language in the first place — necessarily propose a notion of “interpretation” that most people would, when they found out what those underpinnings are, recognize as being a threat to autonomy.

Again, I’m saddened that a group that evidently prides itself of intellectualism is so ready to dismiss me with self-serving nods to my physicality, or to my mode of rhetoric when it comes to dealing with those who, to be honest, have treated me as poorly as I’ve been treated in this thread.

Being haughtily dismissive and then following that up with a litany of jargon and a few well-placed name drops does not an argument or a discussion make.

If you have no desire to argue these things on the merits, just say so. But don’t pretend you’ve done the more difficult work of fighting for your positions when all you’ve really done is sought to diminish my credibility in order to maintain the kind of intellectual laziness that is all to prevalent in literary and textual studies these days.

I’ve come here in good faith to answer comments that were offered in a much different vein.

I’m going to repost on my site this rather lengthy, extemporaneously composed comment; I invite Rich, Martin, and the others who claim an interest in textual analysis, interpretation, and how those jibe with intentionalism, to visit and give me the lashing I deserve.

As SEK now knows (but has yet to correct), I never banned him from my site. I removed a trackback, noting I’d done so — which had the practical effect of letting everyone know a post existed that I didn’t want linked to my post.

Here, a post has been removed altogether. And yet I don’t see SEK writing about your hypocrisy or desire to chill his speech.

To those of you who read SEK’s original post, I’ll pose the same questions I posed to him: where is the threat of violence? He links to a comment of mine that hints of extralegal strategies for dealing with such nastiness aimed my way, but what he doesn’t tell you is that I had prior to that made it clear that I’d handle the situation like I always do: namely, find and release the name of the anonymous commenter who publicly posted nasty lies about my family situation. My way of adding to internet “civility.” Tough love, let’s call it.

Given that there are no instances of my having physically accosted anyone ever, and given that there are a number of instances where I’ve handled these situations in the way I describe, by what method of “textual analysis” did SEK arrive at this charge he’s leveled against me? And doesn’t that matter?

Too, SEK leaves out key elements in the chronology of events. Is this reframing of the historical narrative presented to get to the truth? Or to help create a ground on which I’m to be indicted?

Again, does that not matter?

Can these techniques, whether out of sloppiness or malice, not be used against you?

Case in point: SEK, in a comment that pretends to explain me, writes:

What begins — what began, with Jeff, as a theoretical position about the importance of intent became this if-we-can’t-beat-Alinsky-let’s-co-opt-him mentality.

Now, as anyone who knows my argument knows, this is the precise opposite of what I advocate.

I don’t want to adopt the tactics used by people like Maher or Olberman or even Patterico. Instead, I want to destroy their effectiveness by exposing how they work and insisting that we not allow the framework by which the tactics gain purchase. Which is why I was critical of any “reading” of the Flight 93 memorial that didn’t directly appeal to authorial intent.

I don’t need SEK pretending to make my case for me. Because whenever he does so, he adds or finesses bits intended to obfuscate or blatantly misrepresent what it is I’m arguing.

Why these people think they will get a better accounting of my position from SEK than from me goes a long way toward understanding the mindset of these kind of self-proclaimed experts and wannabe elites.

Remember: while they are off teaching Victorian novels alongside the Corn Act, I’m here at home, sitting on my ass, with plenty of time to think about these things…

****
See also, “Is Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Frey anti-semitic”?

Posted by Jeff G. @ 11:56am
132 comments | Trackback

Comments (132)

  1. While you didn’t fall for the biggest blunder,*(this has nothing to do with Asia, right?) you’ve definitely fallen for one of the classic blunders:
    Never try to reason someone out of a position they weren’t reasoned into.

  2. These people are not only completely disconnected from their own purported disciplines (genuine disciplines which they have essentially destroyed), they are disconnected from reality.

    Guys: you make shit up. That’s all you do. You make shit up and pretend that it’s scholarship. Now, I’m sure that the shit you make up is extremely clever shit, shit which makes all of your fellow poseurs go ooh and ahh at the “best” conferences, but it’s still shit.

    As the old saying goes, you can’t polish a turd. If you put the turd on a pedestal, it’s still a turd. If you add a plaque with reams of elegantly-worded prose arguing that the turd is not a turd, it’s still a turd. If you get a doctorate for your too-clever-by-half word games, you have a PhD in Turdology. If you get tenure after having written many books and academic papers in this vein, well, congratulations: you’re now a Professor of Turdology.

    Jeff, keep after them. They know very well that the emperor has no clothes. That’s why you attract so much bile… raw fear and self-preservation.

    They hope that the taxpayers and alumni who foot the bills won’t catch wise as long they pretend they’re thinking deep thoughts, thoughts beyond the ken of mortal men. If it became widely known that they are, on a very basic level, simply making shit up, that would very likely change.

  3. “…hat has charactered the right in the North since the start of the Southern strategy.”

    RACIST!!!!

    But fuck the fact that the Democrat Party has always been the party of the four S’s: slavery, secession, segregation and socialism. For 200 years.

    BECAUSE OF TEH NIXON!!!!!

  4. I’m pretty sure the Mythbusters polished a turd, but they didn’t suggest it made the turd anything more than a glossy turd.

  5. Same trap, different sandbox. You can’t expect anything but pathologoical bad faith from these people be it in the realm of sausage-making or selling it retail. Why even work yourself up over it?

    OUTLAW!!!

  6. Wow… He actually trotted out the liberal shibboleths of “Nixon” and “the Southern Strategy”.

    I had naively thought the left had moved on from such vulgar, shop-worn relics.

  7. “Nixon and the Southern Strategy”

    Yep, that’s what helped keep Democrats in a majority in the House for something like 60 of the last 75 years. All those Southern Republicans. In fact, the South was/is so solidly Republican, it was nicknamed “the Solid South”

    Talk about being unable to MoveOn. Humphrey lost in ’68, deal with it.

  8. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that the left has little capacity to Move On.

  9. So, an admittedly naive question: does it matter what SEK or Patterico think? I guess I don’t understand the pecking order of the blogosphere. But it seems to me that they each tried to interpret your argument, they got it wrong, you corrected them (lather, rinse, repeat). Why is it important that they understand your argument? Granted, I too would like it if people didn’t misquote me or attribute things to me that I never said or even meant. However, because they aren’t hearing your argument, it seems that the more you confront them about it, the more chance they have to mischaracterize your argument. I don’t know. It feels rather like arguing with a 6 year old. You can do it, but it takes a lot of energy (Nuh-uh. Yea-hunh. Nuh-uh. Yea-hunh.) At some point you have to say, “Hey look – grilled cheese sandwiches are ready!” and be done with it. Or not?

  10. Maybe if the armadillo made the grilled cheese sandwiches……….

  11. Fondue would be fun. We could all watch my new Pride and Prejudice blueray

  12. Let’s not hare off on the Southern Strategy crap.

  13. He actually trotted out the liberal shibboleths of “Nixon”

    Yeah, I thought DataDave’s fetishized, ritual hatred of Ronald Reagan was out of touch. But Nixon? NIXON? It’s like arguing with Grandpa Simpson.

    Nixon was elected over 40 years ago, dude — 20 years before your students were even born — in many cases before their parents were born.

    You might as well try to blame our current woes on Millard Fillmore or Martin Van Buren.

    Me, I blame everything on that bastard Chester A. Arthur, and I have a 500 page thesis to prove it.

    I can haz tenyoor naow? Plz? K Thx. Bye.

  14. Now, as anyone who knows my argument knows, this is the precise opposite of what I advocate.

    It is (how a stupid person would describe) what I prefer. But I’m some other guy.

    Jeff Goldstein sure does have a lot of crypto-Marxist commenters.

    What you advocate is good and generous (to the interpreted) practice. And good luck with that.

    I think that the movement of interpretation from arcane dork-vocation to institutional (self-)protection racket has put us past that possibility, irrevocably, and only a vengeful mockery of it — Night of the Living Author style — can confer any kind of (and it’s a shitty kind of) dignity on us lowly signifiers, out here in the fields.

    Your case is, oddly, pragmatic. I think nothing works. That’s not a difference that can be paraphrased away — except that, hey look, it can.

    Course of empire, etc.

  15. Jeff, not so off-topic, I wonder if one of Mark Levin’s people would forward you a copy of Liberty and Tyranny for review.*

    Given his favorable opinion of your Hot Air essay, and as he’s a talk radio host so hated by leftists and our “pragmatists”, I wonder if there isn’t some significant overlap of opinion on the language/culture wars.

    *I use Firefox and I’m not seeing any formatting buttons. Can I use normal html tags to italicize? I don’t want to try in case an accidental open tag messes up other aspects of the page.

  16. blowhard, I think you can add this to your browser and get on down the happyroad.

  17. Intentionalist reading of Eco’s The Name of the Rose:

    Eco, who saw the mystery novel as semiotic theory realized as a fictional world, set out to show that sometimes signs or marks or whatever can appear to mean one thing when the truth of what they mean is dead opposite.

    In The Name of the Rose, several mysterious murders take place in a medieval monastary. The structure of the events is similar to that of an Agatha Christie novel. The monk who attempt to solve the mysteries goes about it like any Poirot, gathering clues and then attempting to explain the events that the clues point to.

    And the monk indeed comes up with a brilliant interpretation of the clues. Until the denoument, when the truth is revealed and we find that the monk had it all wrong.

    Moronic reading of same:

    Eco demonstrates that medieval monks were either murderous freaks or imbeciles.

    Now, was that so hard?

  18. As if SEK, by virtue of having waded into the anti-intellectual depths of Wingnuttia, is, by virtue of his being “one of them,” more capable of making my argument than I am.

    He’s more capable of making it into something that the Rich Puchalskys of the world can gleefully boo and jeer while considering things like whether this is just a ploy to bide time while you’re taking a break from genocide. This is helpful, because Rick Puchalsky is a blithering idiot, but he doesn’t have to feel like one when Scott is spoonfeeding him wingnuts.

  19. Excellent, Sdferr, many thanks. [i]Italics.[/i]

  20. Nixon was elected over 40 years ago, dude — 20 years before your students were even born — in many cases before their parents were born.

    Let’s put this in perspective, shall we?

    Remember 1968, when you were a young undergraduate or grad student in 1968, fighting The Man, and thinking NEW thoughts, untrammeled thoughts, thoughts outside the pitiful realm of Evil White European Male logic, history, and culture?

    Now, remember how you felt when some old-timer started babbling about raccoon coats and flappers, and spouting inane bullshit like “23 skidoo”?

    Bingo.

    The most appalling thing about the senile hippie demographic is that (despite mounds of evidence to the contrary), they’re still convinced that their shopworn theories and rhetoric are fresh, cutting-edge, revolutionary.

    They may be able to keep it up that pretense until they die, but that, I trust, will be the end of it. I just don’t see their second-generation, derivative followers as being able to keep the house of cards from falling down.

  21. One more time. Italics.

  22. I’m still thanking SBP, blowhard.

  23. Can’t we just talk sports, for once?

  24. panther girl —

    Those people I answered are today’s teachers. They are teaching the next generation of voters a paradigm for interpretation that naturally tilts one leftward. There is a reason these folks who wave their hands dismissively at intentionalism all just happen to be leftists.

    The more I point this out, the more likely it is that a clear distinction can be drawn between what they’re doing and what I’d like to see done.

    psycho and I agree on much, but where he’s nihilistic I’m optimistic. Or at least, I’m going to keep telling myself that these questions, though thoroughly institutionalized, can’t be rethought and the errors excised.

    Ripples are beginning to appear. People like Patterico and his gaggle of impotent yes men would rather the faulty continue if it means they get to “win” an argument they lost when they made it, and so hold onto their intellectual turf and, by extension, their HONOR.

    That they are on our side makes them potentially even more dangerous, because it is becoming clear that they quite like their place in the status quo, and are willing to fight for its maintenance even as they pretend to see it changed.

    When Pat argued against Harriet Miers, as I did, I thought he understood things. I’m now convinced otherwise.

  25. I’m reading “can’t be rethought” as “can be…”, ‘sokay?

  26. Those people I answered are today’s teachers.

    ’nuff said.

  27. OK. Boobies. How about boobies for some serious intentionalism discussion? Talk about signifiers!

  28. I’m still thanking SBP, blowhard.

    If this was in regard to the HTML toolbar thingie, that wasn’t my suggestion.

    I’m an OUTLAW. I type in the HTML codes by hand. :-)

  29. Those people I answered are today’s teachers.

    The first time I read that, I thought it said preachers. I have no idea why.

  30. oh, I maybe misremembered you pointing me in that direction SBP, sorry. Well someone did it though, and without going back to check, if you know who you are O [temporarily] nameless one, still, I thank you.

  31. JeffG – If you don’t mind, I’m going to add an additional element to your response to panthergirl (the one I thought of immediately).

    The more times Jeff responds [online] to an argument over “his” theory, the more “new” people are exposed to that argument. To some of you, this is old hat. To some of us, we have a bit of an epiphany (or hell, a lot of an epiphany).

    …repetition is a well-established method of learning (or simply, committing something to memory …and thereby, “owning it”). Jeff’s every response, even if a rehashing of something that he’s not yet bored with, introduces – or polishes – the subject for the rest of us noob’s.

    We’re all beginners at some point.

  32. Unicorns?

  33. And bonus, kelly, think where we can go if we get into the significance and usefulness of the male nipple? No, wait, don’t.

  34. The more times Jeff responds [online] to an argument over “his” theory, the more “new” people are exposed to that argument.

    Yeah, but he’s DEATH THREAT guy so why should anyone allow him to speak his mind, let alone listen to him? What we need here is the FBI. We can’t have all this talk of uprooting innocent trees. Gaia will not stand for such affronts.

  35. “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit”

    They have constructed an exclusive club utilizing language and code words as a barrier to the uninitiated. Do you really believe that a well-reasoned argument will mean anything to them? They are the keepers of the secret knowledge, and you come along to suggest that no special interpretation is needed to understand the hidden ways.

    Were you expecting a warm reception? Their reaction will be akin to a medieval priests reaction to Gutenberg’s printing press.

    Simply put, you are NOT getting inside their tree fort!

  36. All interpretation requires intent. Whose intent is privileged in the process is, to me, both the question and the rub.

    Foucault would argue those in power have that privilege.

  37. Oh my God! Moveable printed type. We must keep this from the serfs, lest they gain literacy and threaten the landed gentry.

  38. Foucault would argue those in power have that privilege.

    Then by all means, lets continue to privilege them. Instead of privileging the utterer of the words, which is all icky and egalitarian and honest and stuff. Because the powerful can give you stuff and make you famous and LOVED.

  39. Off your leash again, thor?

  40. “Yet you accuse someone of a death threat?”

    Jesus. I said ages ago it might not have been that. Try to keep up.

    Joe, stop trying to stir up trouble. That’s all you do. It’s not a good thing to do.

    Comment by Patterico — 3/24/2009 @ 8:30 am

    Note Patterico’s answer is it might not be that.

  41. #Comment by thor on 3/24 @ 1:48 pm #

    FOAD, bandwidth thief.

  42. Comment by dicentra on 3/24 @ 1:59 pm #

    Please ignore the talking asshole.

  43. Foucault would argue those in power have that privilege.

    And he’d be correct, so don’t be too hard on thor, who is making a legitimate observation.

    Having said that, dicentra gets to the heart of the issue quite nicely.

    Which paradigm should we be using in a society that claims to value individual freedom? Why?

    This your pop quiz for the day.


  44. Comment by kelly on 3/24 @ 2:04 pm #

    Off your leash again, thor?

    Still have that big black butt plug in your rectum?

    #

    Comment by dicentra on 3/24 @ 1:59 pm #

    Foucault would argue those in power have that privilege.

    Then by all means, lets continue to privilege them. Instead of privileging the utterer of the words, which is all icky and egalitarian and honest and stuff. Because the powerful can give you stuff and make you famous and LOVED.

    You’re privileged to be so ignorant. It saves you from suffering embarrassment.

  45. It’s not a parody of academic writing. It is academic writing. Sadly. Again, can we take up a collection and get these clods a copy of Elements of Style?

  46. davis,br hits an important point.

    USENET people used to complain about September, when the freshmen learned about the Internet and dived in without knowing the conventions. Later, it became Endless September as people could get access at any time, so there was a continual supply of newbies who had to learn what was going on.

    Same here. It’s going to have to be repeated, and rerepeated, and rererepeated, and re…repeated. It’s frustrating. It gets boring after a while. There’s a reason teachers at lower levels aren’t drawn from the high end of the bell curve.

    But there’s nothing else to be done, except admit defeat.

    Regards,
    Ric

  47. Still have that big black butt plug in your rectum?

    Absolutely. It’s your toothbrush.

  48. Comment by thor on 3/24 @ 1:48 pm #

    All interpretation requires intent. Whose intent is privileged in the process is, to me, both the question and the rub.

    Foucault would argue those in power have that privilege.

    The golden rule? He has the gold makes the rules?

  49. He has the gold makes the rules?

    Well, actually, he who has the weapons (and the goons to use them) makes the rules. It’s the main thing you have to watch out with Foucault — there is a distinction between “power” and “privilege” that he tends to blur or ignore.

    Regards,
    Ric

  50. Comment by Ric Locke on 3/24 @ 3:14 pm #

    Is that much of a distinction? Theoretically you could buy some goons n’ guns with your gold, yes?

  51. Well, Geek, Machiavelli said “Gold will not always get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can always get you gold.” You have it reversed, I fear. That’s what comes of living in a society that has supported “property rights” for time out of mind — we tend to forget where they come from.

    Regards,
    Ric


  52. Comment by Jeff G. on 3/24 @ 2:26 pm #

    Foucault would argue those in power have that privilege.

    And he’d be correct, so don’t be too hard on thor, who is making a legitimate observation.

    Having said that, dicentra gets to the heart of the issue quite nicely.

    Which paradigm should we be using in a society that claims to value individual freedom? Why?

    This your pop quiz for the day.

    I wouldn’t think Foucault would argue against priority of authorial intent where it’s easily defined, but cultural studies academics can’t even entirely agree on definitions of new historicism or Hegelelian’s historicism.

    I would simply say of historicism that it assumes that a text comes with a slice of history attached to it, how much influence that attached bag of history has over interpreting the text is arguable but the attached bag can often be helpful. “Philosophy is the history of philosophy,” and all that.

    Jeff’s right, I’m merely making an observation and not a declaration. I’m no Foucault, but it seems obvious that most here are not of equal intellectual weight to the man. Besides, anyone who sets fire to his own office gets bonus points for immolation performance art in my book as do those Buddhist monks who set themselves ablaze. Can’t argue with their intent or lack of confidence in their own rhetoric when they’re willing to melt into bone soup so as to get the final word.

  53. I would simply say of historicism that it assumes that a text comes with a slice of history attached to it, how much influence that attached bag of history has over interpreting the text is arguable but the attached bag can often be helpful.

    An intentionalist view of that would be that the author “comes with a slice of history attached”. That’s why the original version of deconstruction was valuable: it attempts to winkle out how the slice of history modified the author’s views, possibly causing errors. It doesn’t change the fact that the author chose those marks as signifiers, that his intent was to communicate.

    Regards,
    Ric

  54. Well you’ve got to get the soldiers to show up and shoot stuff somehow. If they’re not coming for money, then what?

    Is ultimate power reducible to charisma? And to think I’ve been playing all these fighters and barbarians. (Assuming we’re being ultra-cynical, but hey, Machiavelli.)

  55. Can’t argue with their intent or lack of confidence in their own rhetoric when they’re willing to melt into bone soup so as to get the final word.

    Psh. They were just tired of being cold.

  56. I would simply say of historicism that it assumes that a text comes with a slice of history attached to it

    That’s the problem with it. This is an the observation of a potential turned into a rule often viewed as absolute. For me, a good rule works on the marginal cases.

    For instance, a man who lives in a cave with no contact with the outside world. Or a shut in. Or someone who sets out intentionally to identify all the historical aspects of the cultural moment and his “situatedness” and then, having identified them, intentionally subverts them.

    Historicists appeal to the epoch. New Historicists claim they recognize their own situatedness, and acknowledge that this, too, has an affect on how they interpret. But what they don’t seem to realize is that, from the perspective of meaning, historical situatedness reduced to an overview of the culture at the time of authorial composition is just another way of appealing to a particular convention for getting at what the author intends, and one that, because it is convention, must always be subservient to intent, which is what it claims (in some cases) to be trying to recover.

  57. Geek, I would strongly urge you to find a copy of The Prince and read it. It’s short and relatively easy to understand. The modern view of N. Macchiavelli is that he was being cynical and ironic, rather like Swift, but that doesn’t mean the advice doesn’t work if the person using it is cynical enough!

    Short answer: No, it’s not just charisma, but charisma can be (though it isn’t always) a major component.

    Regards,
    Ric

  58. For me, a good rule works on the marginal cases.

    And here, for once, I’m going to disagree with you strongly, and point to recent events as evidence.

    Hard cases make bad law. Trying to build rules that always work, even out at the four-sigma fringes of the situation, is a good way to drive yourself nuts from sheer futility. That’s what Frey was trying to do with his hypotheticals — put up strawman cases ‘way far from the median, and get you to bend your responses out of shape to match.

    A good rule works well at the median, but as you get farther and farther out from there it always starts to break down. There is no rule that works in all cases (and yes, I’m aware of the ironic reflection there).

    Regards,
    Ric

  59. Well, we’re thinking of rules differently here, Ric.

    As I’ve said before, intentionalism just is, and so as a “rule” it is an immutable rule of communication. Which is why it works in all cases of language, while other rules — those that think they are working in the same way — don’t: because they don’t follow the first rule, the ur rule, namely, that intent governs meaning.

  60. I would agree with that, Jeff, as my recollection of new-h and historicism aren’t too different than yours. Still, it’s hard to claim to be from the new historicist school when the n-h’ers tend to argue most amongst themselves as to what they’re arguing under the n-h umbrella, and to that subservience to which you speak.

    I eat my historicism from the fork of pragmatism. I find some of it very useful and Foucault to be well presented and often enough sound and well formed theory, meaning he had differing opinions on so many subjects that it’s not uncomfortable to stand in perpetual mixed agreement with the man.

  61. Jeff, then you’re countering Freud’s repression how, with some sort of declaration of finality in semiotic theory?

    I’ve got to run, Jeff. Will return later to respond.

  62. As with all theorists, I look only to the kernel assumptions of the theory. And I’m primarily interested in meaning and interpretation and who is laying claim to controlling the methods for each.

    They can be interesting in many ways, but for the purposes of what I’m investigating here, I don’t have to deal with the house, just the foundation.

  63. Freud doesn’t think repression is happening in some other agency. Unconscious intent is still intent.

  64. Ric, the Founders remembered quite well where property rights (or any other rights, come down to it) come from; it’s why we have a Second Amendment. The idea is that if enough of the serfs get irritated with the Baron, he’ll find out his treasury isn’t near deep enough.

  65. blowhard,
    One thing on that toolbar that doesn’t work here is the strikeout. It puts up “s” between the . what is needed here is “del” not “s”

    Like this if you look at the source code. The toolbar has a method for making your own codes to use over on the far left.

  66. Comment by Jeff G on 3/24 @ 4:31 pm #

    Dude. What is with the people bringing up Freud in English circles? It’s the only place where people care about him anymore.

    Psych people think he contributed a good idea or two but he gets largely ignored these days. The cognitive school kinda won. My wife, also an English major, had all these teachers just fascinated by the guy, and I don’t get it. Wander over to the building with the actual psychology folks in it and ask THEM about him, why don’t ya?

  67. SDN, you’re right, of course — which is why it’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” instead of the third one being “Property”.

    But you’re wrong about the Second Amendment.

    There is more nonsense about “private property” being wagged about than any other single subject. I’m running ‘way late — the workday is over, and I have to get home, where I don’t have Internet access — so I can’t do the whole essay right now, but the summary is: The State agrees to enforce your property rights in exchange for taxes and cooperation with its program(s). There is a distinction between “personal property” and “private property” that not many people recognize.

    Maybe I should do a Pub post. Tomorrow, perhaps.

    Regards,
    Ric

  68. “I’m still thanking SBP, blowhard.”

    I’m still and now thanking SBP for TrollHammer and pointing to zotero and TopsecretK9 for pointing out the Text Formatting Toolbar. Very nice and very handy things.

    My sincere thanks.

  69. thor, is Freud still someone to be taken seriously? In the theoretical instance that Freud is reputable, I’d take Jeff’s answer.

    geoffb, thanks for the tip, appreciated.

    Foucalt, thanks for the easy A’s in those classes. I never really understood you, though, I think.

  70. Yeah, unrepentantgeek, modern pharmacology and advances in cog psych and neurology rendered him useless. We know which brain injury causes aphasia, we know what drugs cure chemical imbalances. We still have no idea where exactly the id resides in the brain.

  71. Though to be a little fair to Freud, he started out as a cytologist but could see that it would be at least a century, at the rate of advancement then prevalent, before meaningful accounts of cognition at the levels we now take a bit for granted would be approached, then abandoned the field for a paying job (wife, kids, what-not pressing in). And that dude wanted to make a mark. His ruminations/fantasias on Dreams were just the ticket.

  72. Comment by Ric Locke on 3/24 @ 4:01 pm #

    As a matter of fact I bought a copy of The Prince the other day but haven’t read it yet.

  73. What’d I refer to, blowdork? Repression.

    Thanks for the easy backhand.

  74. I take it that by calling me blowdork you don’t feel like elaborating, thor?

  75. Is thor always so oddly hostile?

  76. Comment by blowhard on 3/24 @ 5:14 pm #

    Is thor always so oddly hostile?

    Kinda, yeah. I haven’t yet discovered what exactly sets him off either. You try to have a reasonable discussion and he starts going off on Rethuglicans and stuff. I guess we haven’t earned the privilege of talking to him yet. :P

  77. As long as you’re engaging in symbolism, let’s just make you into one, blowdork.

    See how that works.

  78. Okay, TrollHammer it is.

  79. Speaking of which, thanks SBP.

  80. Spies, at #2 (sorry I’m so late to the discussion):

    You more on target about my discipline than you can imagine. The “leading lights” of the discipline have moved so far away from the literature they ostensibly “study” that I generally advise my undergraduates conducting research to better understand a text to ignore anything written since 1990.

    One need only read the mostly superficial, jargon-ridden bullshit thor spews to understand what has happened to a discipline that at one time reveled in literary truth and beauty.

  81. What’s this about Trollhammer? My google-fu fails me.

  82. Greasemonkey script.

    Install greasemonkey and then go here. You can then personally ignore commenters.

  83. *are*

  84. Comment by blowhard on 3/24 @ 5:48 pm #

    Woah … nice little script.

  85. Bitterly cling to yesterday’s Freuds, is that what you’re sayin’, Cowhick? Aside from your direct insult to Jeff, I think blowdick is counter stroking you in your r-wingered jerkin’ circle.

  86. This isn’t a criticism in either direction, but those Hessians didn’t work out very well, did they?

  87. Instead, I want to destroy their effectiveness by exposing how they work and insisting that we not allow the framework by which the tactics gain purchase.

    The death threat 2-step is a bit of pusillanimity that should be recorded for the blog-ages. Ditto for the banning.

    I just found this place, but the reason I like hanging around is that so many of the commenters here open up thoughts for me, outside and in advance of, my own immediate ability to do so.

    If you remember a character in Stoker’s Dracula -I think his name was Renfield?- you’ll recall that he was zoophagous. I’m a bit like Renfiled if you substitute learning for life forms.

    In Theodore Dalrymple’s Not With A Bang, But With A Whimper, he rightly points out that feelings and sensations that accompany events or strike one as correlative need a healthy vocabulary in order to give shape to the inchoate which necessarily seeks formulation, expression and resolution. The human mind needs precision, and that requires a certain discipleship.

    I was a hippie, but I was one mainly for the access to contraband. There was also a pretense and ease of knowledge that was alluring. But I was never really able to be deeply influenced by hippie intellectuals because I had been educated by Nuns and Priests. None of whom would let you sloppily slide your argument thither and yon.

    That said, I’m pretty sure my friend’s Mom who graduated from high school in 1950, and then went on to University, underwent a more rigorous education than I did. That standards were quite a bit higher in the 40s than they were in the 70s.

    Reading a bit at the website linked in first paragraph reminded me that defining excellence down has been in progress for a very long time now. I’m not even sure the hard sciences escape this.

    The reason the Universities were so easily taken over by modernists is that the Classic Liberals who staffed them way back when were genuinely interested in debate. The hippies were never secure, and never truly interested in debate. They were dogmatists in the ugliest sense of that word. And the worst part was that they were inferior in learning, by leagues, to the Classic Liberal professors they replaced.

    Peaceful times allow for a people to indulge intellectual frippery. It may even be axiomatic, since war, like it or not, provides a sense of shared purpose and meaning to existence. It reminds everyone of the value of the basics that all share and that all have come to take for granted.

    We forget that heresy was understood to be a sort of thinking that added proprietary weight to a particular element or component of an argument or doctrine. By default, then, this emphasis fractured the foundation or the holism of which the element was just one part.

    I think that your argument is an argument from holism, and the opposing argument a step toward a synthesis of various and co-dependent heresies.

    I’m glad the fishin’ was short lived.

  88. Dude. What is with the people bringing up Freud in English circles?

    Freudian analysis is all about symbolism. About Freudian slips. About what you are thinking without knowing that you are thinking it. About subconscious desires and impulses. About repression and sublimation and junk.

    From a literary perspective, of course, symbolism is an effective method of signifying more than one thing with a single sign, of setting up multiple resonances with a single musical note.

    And if the author was steeped in Freudian symbolism and employed Freudian symbolism in the text, then you cannot understand the text even at an elementary level unless you understand Freudian symbolism.

    However, academics tend to think that Freud’s guesses about the meaning of dream imagery are factually true (or whatever word they’d use), so it provides them with the tools to discover what the author “really” meant whether s/he meant it or not.

    Sound familiar?

  89. Oh, and welcome to PW, Mary Louise. It sounds like you’ll fit in here just fine. Please comment more often.

  90. thinking without knowing that [one is] thinking

    […]

    Sound familiar?

    Sounds thormiliar.

    Except for the thinking part.

  91. what began, with Jeff, as a theoretical position about the importance of intent became this if-we-can’t-beat-Alinsky-let’s-co-opt-him mentality.

    Did he really say that? Now that’s fucking lazy.

    I said something like that, with a gratuitous drug reference and a dick joke tacked on, just a couple of days ago. In the same comment I said it wouldn’t work, but what the fuck do I know.

    I would think that OUTLAWISM (I can hear them giggle) would appeal mightily to the rigorously academic. It’s not, after all, easy to do. Now I’m not talking about trying to figure out what some mopey post adolescent wandering around Greece and fucking all the hotel maids meant when he scribbled his drug and masturbation fueled letters to the editor, I’m talking about the everyday language used by political opponents to sway opinion. It’s a lot like being a vegetarian, it certainly makes you much, much better than anyone else, but there’s trade offs. OUTLAWS have to give the other guy a break. When Obama says he’s going to buttfuck every last quarter from every man, woman and child who ever had a passbook savings account, an OUTLAW has to get past the soundbyte on CART7 that Hannity played non-stop, to get to the context of the statement, namely that Obama really only wants to buttfuck every last quarter out of gainfully employed men who aren’t in a Union. See? There’s downsides to being an OUTLAW. Just like a vegetarian has horrible gas, papery skin and an innate inability to catch or throw a football.

    You’d think a group of people who like to drive old Swedish cars would really dig the extra work.

  92. dicentra, regarding Freud, his symbolism is simply one form of symbolism, a subset, correct?

    So, if the text uses Freudian symbolism, we must understand the use of Freudian symbolism. If the text uses Christian symbolism, we must understand the use of Christian symbolism. If the text uses x symbolism, we must understand the use of x symbolism.

    The question lay people have, is Freudian symbolism any more important than any other symbolism? It’s not, right?

  93. Dicentra, thank you.

  94. Mary Louise, Dicentra’s complement to you seconded (then cubed, making plus 8!) Please jump in more.

  95. Another thumbs up for Mary Louise here.

  96. is Freudian symbolism any more important than any other symbolism? It’s not, right?

    In the real world, no. In Academia, yes.

    In Academia, they don’t have a clue about Christian symbolism; instead, they re-imagine it as Freudian symbolism.

    True story:

    In a class taught by a Freudian (we called him the falo ambulante), we read a memoir written by a nun in Colombia in the 1700s or so. She would often allude to troubles that she was having with the other nuns, and you got the feeling after awhile that she was the provocateur but was blind to that fact. The troubles just happened.

    Later, her sister moved into the convent with her (not everyone who went to convents in those days did so out of religious conviction: it was often the only place for a single woman to go). And then later her sister fell ill and died.

    The nun then wrote that she had a dream featuring her sister, and they were both dead and in the next life. Her sister gestured toward their time on earth and said, “what was all that?” The nun said something to the effect of “It was nothing. A shadow. A fleeting dream.”

    “So,” the falo ambulante asked, “what is that all about.”

    When no one else answered right away, I stated what I thought would be blindingly obvious: “In the next life, the troubles we experience during our mortal lives will seem very remote and very insignificant.”

    What followed was the silence of profound incomprehension. It wasn’t that they objected to what I said — they didn’t even comprehend it! (Another Mormon was in the class and registered the same impression.) I might as well have spoken in Swahili!

    The silence was broken only by another student piping up that the dream revealed how the nun was repressing her feelings or whatever regarding the troubles she had in the convent.

    And off it went, through a Freudian labyrinth, never once touching on what the dream might have meant to the nun. Not. Once.

    This happened every time they read a religious text: I never expected that they would agree with the theology of the texts, but I soon realized that they didn’t even understand the religious component in the most basic sense.

    It was as if I had stumbled into a colony of congenitally blind people who had not seen for many generations but they still possessed artifacts from their sighted ancestors. They’d tie themselves into knots trying to understand what a painting was for, and when I’d come up and say that it was a landscape, they’d have no idea what I was talking about.

    So my explanation was summarily dismissed. And any allusion to my being sighted? Faggetaboutit!

  97. Sdferr and Blowhard, thank you too.

    This place is a little island of great wit and learning.

    Keep protecting the Long Walls, and those of us who are lacking what you are not, will support you.

  98. (we called him the falo ambulante)

    LMAO.

  99. +1 for Mary Louise sticking around.

  100. Thanks for that, dicentra.

    I had a similar experience once. This was in college and it was some 101 type class. I don’t remember the poem but it mentioned the death of doe as part of the decline of a land. Everyone found the death of the doe to be the most interesting part of the poem. There were many explanations but I had a very simple one.

    I said, “Well, when you deer hunt, you can shoot many males and still have as many fawns the next year. If you shoot even one female, you’re actually reducing the next year’s herd. So, I don’t think the death of the doe has to be purely metaphorical, it might just be descriptive of a land in decline.”

    That might have been true, it might have been false, it might have been a simple statement about animal husbandry. But it didn’t occur to anyone else, that it might have been simply descriptive. Because they had never been taught about wildlife conservation.

  101. Falo ambulante? Is it roughly, “likes to talk a lot”?

  102. Comment by thor on 3/24 @ 2:36 pm #

    Comment by kelly on 3/24 @ 2:04 pm #

    Off your leash again, thor?

    Still have that big black butt plug in your rectum?

    Say.. Has anyone ever seen Patterico and thor in the same room? Both have that same quick wit and remarkable way with words..

  103. google has it more like “the walking dick” bh.

  104. *Yawn*

    Did I miss something?

    *Yawn*

  105. No Richard? No Martin?

    And here I thought they were “interested” in intentionalism.

    I guess only if it’s being mouthed by the correct types. “Body builders” (CODE WORDS!) need not apply.

  106. babelfish was giving me “it makes it wandering”. Thanks, Sdferr.

    My one semester of Italian did only one thing: make me mispronounce Spanish.

  107. Just a guess here, Eric, but a few grades and maybe your meds?

  108. Short philology lesson:

    Spanish renders the Latin “ph” as “f” and the Latin ending “us” as “o”.

    Clearer? (Sdferr got it right, btw. But we had to use the Freudian terminology, see?)

  109. That’s simply hilarious. It was Spanish. I’ve beclowned myself properly.

    Let me rephrase, my one semester of Italian did only one thing: make me not recognize Spanish.

  110. They’re really sending over the bottom dwellers now.

    When last seen, EricPWJohnson was worrying about my underemployment while riding Pat’s jock with his snout like it was Seabiscuit.

  111. There was a time when I lobbied classmates to call our Tutor “the Digressionator”. No sale.

  112. They’re really sending over the bottom dwellers now.

    Sending them over here? No?

    What fun is that?

  113. “the walking dick”

    With ears.

  114. Dude! They are DECONSTRUCTING you! It’s the modern leftist version of literary criticism: instead of dealing with what is written, they discard any context, disregard the semantics, break down the whole thing into words and phrases, put them into a jar, shake them up, and then take them out and arrange them to mean whatever they believe you SHOULD HAVE meant if you weren’t just a prisoner of your hopelessly bourgeois mindset.

    Hey, if it can happen to an established star like Will Shakespeare, what’s an ordinary blogger going to do about it?

    If I were you I’d take it as a compliment and start hanging around the trendy Starbucks near leftist centers (colleges, government offices, newspapers and TV network buildings, etc.). Get an imported tweed blazer and a turtleneck and mill about, spouting random “deep” sounding phrases like “priapismic colonialism” or “paradigmic metaphysics” and before you know it, you’ll have a bigger cult following than Ward Churchill.

  115. Okay. I got bored, and there were too many big words. (I mean, I got bored in the middle of the comments thread; no attention span tonight.)

    I actually like Patterico a lot; I never understood how he could say all those reasonable-sounding things, but never really quite address the core of your argument–or even really seem to get it.

    I do not mind Jeff engaging with people who are beneath him (and–again, I don’t mean Patrick). Because that is what he does. But I do wish he would write a book: it could be lots of textual thingamaboppers, a little fiction, some martial arts, a smattering of sexy stuff about Martha Stewart and a bit of surrealism.

    Either that, or I want to have dinner with his wife again while Jeff parties his ass off. That would be fine, too.

  116. Is thor always so oddly hostile?

    Yes, thor always insists on talking teh smack without any actual…well, smack. Occasionally, random bits of righteousness flow out of thor, but (and I repeat myself here) only randomly.

    He’s got decent taste in music, though. If only we could keep the topic nailed to music.

  117. Oh, and fucking epic rant, Jeff. Not that I meant “rant” in the sense of a Lileks screed, but wow. The pathetic thing is, I’m guessing few of them were actually informed by that.

  118. Get an imported tweed blazer and a turtleneck

    Hey, I have an imported tweed blazer.

    I hardly ever wear it in anger, though.

  119. 2 hours late, work called.

    I too welcome you Mary Louise. Another ex-hippie, I was late 60’s. Left the Left in ’76. This is a great place to be, where the learning and the fun never ends.

  120. Can’t argue with their intent or lack of confidence in their own rhetoric when they’re willing to melt into bone soup so as to get the final word.

    You have an incredible grasp of the obvious. Too bad you lack conviction.


  121. Comment by Slartibartfast on 3/24 @ 10:22 pm #

    Yes, thor always insists on talking teh smack without any actual…well, smack. Occasionally, random bits of righteousness flow out of thor, but (and I repeat myself here) only randomly.

    He’s got decent taste in music, though. If only we could keep the topic nailed to music.

    To the contrary, my righteous taste in healthy non-smelly vaginas advances beyond the decent and into the tastefully indecent. Smell my finger; it doesn’t stink at all and it was moments ago penetrating the dark recesses. Clean motor! Love it.

    Cue the sax. Morphine’s in my buds.

    “Where is the ritual?

    And tell me where is the taste?

    Where is the sacrifice?

    Where is the pain?

    Someday, they’ll be a cure for pain.

    That’s the day.

    I throw my drugs away.”

  122. Hardly an insult to Jeff’s approach to literature, thor. He’s interested in finding meaning in text that necessarily originates with the author’s intent at the moment of composition.

    You know as well as I do that contemporary literary studies has put miles of distance–and murkiness, in my opinion–between the text and the author.

    You are probably right, however, in your measure of my appreciation for the finer intricacies of lit theory. I was exposed, but it never really “took” because I am at heart a teacher. And teaching undergraduates the idea that what an author intended is not really important is dangerous, counterproductive, and denies them the sublime pleasure of understanding and appreciating truth and beauty.

  123. Oh, and I may be a hick, but I am no Freudian.

    My Freudian professor was a Shakespearean, who we simply called “Dirty Freddy.” I’m pretty sure even his friends and colleagues called him that.

  124. sbp: As the old saying goes, you can’t polish a turd.

    I mention this only because it lends new meaning to the metaphor. On the cable show Mythbusters, they actually succeeded in polishing a turd. In fact, if memory serves correctly, there’s a Japanese art dedicated to turd polishing. It has to be a special kind of turd, but a turd nevertheless.

    I like to think of some high-falootin’ yet useless academic pursuits as polished turds that are still simply and quintessentially turds.

    Regards.

  125. …there’s a Japanese art dedicated to turd polishing.

    Why am I not surprised.

  126. Thanks for the correction on turd-polishing, folks. I’ll have to modify that for future use.

    Hmmm….

    Even if you manage to polish a turd, it’s still a turd.

    Must think about this.

  127. …there’s a Japanese art dedicated to turd polishing.

    AFAICR, the Japanese art deals with polishing lumps of soil, not necessarily feces. The Mythbusters merely extended the range of the art after shoe polish and wax failed to accomplish a suitable polish.

  128. The Mythbusters merely extended the range of the art

    What an art for which to extend the range! I love this place.

    The metaphor extends as well, expressing symbolically the rather silly extent to which pseudointellectualism balloons to permit excoriation of despicable and hateful intentions where none exist, and thereby silencing debate, debate in which the pseudointellectualism has no convincing nor logical response. So it was and is with Marx or Lenin or Stalin or Hitler and their minions, whose missions silenced debate with historical “necessities”, political expediency, and murder.

  129. Really, if you think about it, ceramics are nothing more than hardened, shiny, dirt, and that can be a high art indeed.

    A little googling turns up the fact that the Japanese pastime is called Dorodango (also describes the Mythbusters episode).

    You can see some nice examples and instructions here.

  130. BECAUSE OF THE DORODANGO!!!!!11!1!1!1eleventy

  131. Pingback: One Fine Jay » In need of shepherds

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