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Monday, December 18, 2006

Further Indignities from Kline

(moved from an update on an earlier post to its own fresh post, on the advice of Inkhorn)

In my previous post on Malcolm A. Kline, I ended by noting that the "final indignity" of his MLA critique was that the word that started his whole attack, textuality, which he claimed he couldn't find in the online Merriam-Webster's dictionary, does in fact appear in that dictionary.

Did I say the final indignity? How presumptuous of me.

Malcolm A. Kline has responded to my earlier post. I'm so pleased; I feel like Michael Berube. Turns out that I am among the "left-wing stalkers in the blogosphere" (though this post is the single example linked) who periodically take notice of Mr Kline (but not "anywhere near" as often as they do Coulter and Horowitz--sorry, Malcolm, but we're working on it). Anyway, it's news to me that I am a left-wing stalker. Although after my son Horatio was hanged in my own arbor I did become something of a stalker, I guess, seeing as I hunted down and vengefully murdered most of the Spanish court. But really, can you blame me? Also, I'll just say in my own defense that I was a bit of a plaything at the mercy of supernatural forces like Revenge and the Ghost of Don Andrea. Anyhoo... Kline declines to respond to the actual substance of my left-wing stalking; I guess it's hard to defend oneself against the bare empirical fact that a word you claimed did not appear in the M-W online dictionary does in fact appear in the M-W online dictionary. But he does call me, inferentially at least, superficial. On that point, I can only concede, as long-term readers of BtR will readily understand. This blog is nothing if not superficial. I mean, we post woodcuts from early modern books and then invite you to make jokes about "forced feminization" (a phrase, by the way, that has oddly become one of the most common Google paths to our blog).

But here's my favorite part of Kline's response:
Because I see how my photo unnerves port-side bloggers, I keep using it even though it is almost two-years-old.
And yet, on the left is the photo that appeared in Kline's original column, which we all enjoyed mocking; on the right is the photo that he "keep[s] using" and that appears next to his response to our much-enjoyed mockery of his original column.

It's like one of those bar games: can you spot the five differences between these two photos? But without nudity. So what gives? Why does Kline insist on deceiving us even about such a minor issue? Is this photo really "almost two-years-old"? Or did he take a new picture in the same outfit? Or does he rotate two awesome pictures of himself in bow tie and cigar? Or is this one of those Harry Potter magic portraits that has changed its expression from bemused condescension at the silly MLAers idiolects to stern schoolmarmishness (look that one up in Merriam-Webster's!) at the superficiality of the left-wing blogosphere.

P.S. Left- and right-wing derive from the seating arrangements of the National Assembly during the French Revolutionary period, which, as BtR readers surely know, took place about 200 years after I, Hieronimo, bestrode the stage of the Rose like a colossus. So I don't really understand what Mr Kline means by calling me left-wing. Further, I am at a loss to understand what exactly was left-wing about my original post? I mean aside from my joking self-description as a "godless liberal." The actual content of my critique of Kline hardly seems left-wing to me. That "conservatives" routinely criticize MLA papers is simply a fact, isn't it? I myself critique the "ridiculous jargon that academics deploy," but merely challenge Kline's belief that the words he's chosen are jargon, which seems to me fairly unassailable given the evidence (and, as noted, Kline does not attempt to assail the evidence). And I make the analytic point that American conservatives seem to be almost uniformly prescriptivist in their understanding of language (see William Safire). Of course, not all prescriptivists are conservative; many first-year comp students are liberal prescriptivists who use the dictionary just as Kline does; and I recall many a heated late-night, dorm-room discussion with members of the college Marxist association who insisted that the history of the Cold War hinged on the nicer distinctions between "socialist" and "communist," a prescriptivist approach if there ever were one. But something about the academic use of language seems particularly to anger U.S. conservatives. It has something to do with the anti-elitism that is the driving force of the movement, and something to do with the anti-"PC" backlash that masks a nostalgia for the "good old days." But I think it also has to do with a distinctly linguistic kind of ressentiment that manifests itself in the endless advertisements on right-wing talk radio for those programs to improve your vocabulary. The combination of anti-elitist critique of "fancy" rhetoric with a seemingly contradictory desire to "improve" one's vocabulary so as to "get ahead" is an interesting subject for cultural/psychological analysis, I think.

Ultimately, however, I think the main reason that Kline perceived my post as "left-wing" is that it criticizes Malcolm A. Kline. In today's political environment, if you criticize a "true" conservative (paradigmatically President Bush, of course), then you are ipso facto a left-winger, even if you are in fact a conservative (see Andrew Sullivan).

That said, of course, I am a left-winger.

  • At 12/18/2006 02:53:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Happy Kline; Sad Kline.


  • At 12/18/2006 05:22:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    O hair, no hair, but pelt of endless wrongs!


  • At 12/19/2006 12:24:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    I want a flipbook made out of pictures of this guy.

    I take the expression on that second picture to be not so much tough-guy as a kind of pained confusion. Look at him: he's really concerned about that word shibboleth, and he knows that somehow, just somehow, the left-wingers are slipping something past him that he just doesn't understand. (Has anyone noted the irony that he would single out that particular word, by the way? Amazing).

    I bet he's somewhere right now desperately trying to find "ressentiment" in his online dictionary.

    Try Nietzsche, Mr. Kline.

    That's Knee-chuh.


  • At 12/19/2006 09:14:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Did you notice the lede on the main blog page? Apparently, "AIA executive director Mal Kline's hairline leaves left-wing bloggers fractured." Really, "fractured"? That tether to reality is looking thinner and thinner.


  • At 12/21/2006 11:52:00 PM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    I don't know if this merits a comment, but to kill time I tried an exercise whereby I focused on the photos for 2 minutes without distraction and wrote down the first things that came to mind.

    I wish to share two of the results: "boneless chicken" and "syphilis". Don't ask me why. Maybe the stripey shirt and tie reminds me of KFC. I don't know. How's that for textuality?


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