The Clare Spark Blog

September 30, 2009

Blogging with a difference (2)

Filed under: 1 — clarelspark @ 11:57 pm
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On the first of September I posted “Blogging with a difference”, distinguishing my research and writing methods from postmodernist approaches, but also stating some affinities, as I believe that the words we use are powerful tools that may be used as weapons by scholars and journalists with antidemocratic agendas.

     In this second installment reflecting on what we have accomplished this summer and early Fall, I offer a brief progress report on how well my experiment is going. I would say that my faith in lifelong learning has been vindicated, and moreover that there is an audience for intellectual history, especially when that history is relevant to current day controversies.

    I complain a lot about academe, but that does not mean that there are not great scholars functioning in that institutional environment. I have been lucky to know many of them, and they have been supportive of my work beyond all expectation. So if I post something that seems as if it were destined for an academic journal, such as the material on Hitler and the Big Lie or the four-part piece on Anne  Hutchinson, you can trust that it was read by qualified scholars and has earned their support. This latter essay is close to my heart because it is the first piece that I have posted that deals directly with feminist scholarship or with scholarship that is blatantly sexist (and Anne H. was a favorite subject for both types), but also because it has some of my best close readings. I spent many months and years learning about this period, and the analysis relates to almost everything that I have posted here this summer presenting the shaky frameworks of social psychology and cultural studies in general.  Though I was urged to publish the  Anne Hutchinson essay (and still might) I thought it too important to suppress any longer. Anne’s troubles may seem of little concern to the present raging controversies, but the type of academic witch hunt she posthumously endured (and while she was alive as well!)  is all too current.

     What has most surprised me are two blogs in particular: 1. The piece about my family background (mostly my father and mother) and my puritan discontent with our current conspicuously consuming culture. I was wondering about the propriety of even including it on the website, but it was remarkably popular. I do regret one sentence, implying that I believe that most doctors are quacks (my father’s opinion in the 1940s or early 1950s). At that time, many of the tests that are now taken for granted when we get our yearly physicals did not exist. Medicine has progressed, though the quality of medical care probably varies depending on where one lives. But in one respect especially, my father the scrupulous physician was correct. We know now that doctors, eager to please their patients, overprescribed antibiotics, thus encouraging mutations that would be resistant to them. We even heard such warnings at Cornell when I took microbiology or genetics in the mid-1950s. What possible excuse can there have been for such foolishness as prescribing penicillin and its related antibiotics for the common cold?

2. The naked David Hume quotes from his History of England were actually read, and a lot. I never expected such interest and am gratified that YDS visitors are as interested as I am in primary source materials from the eighteenth century (or earlier), even when written in such long sentences that no editor would allow them today. As I wrote in my book on the Melville revival, we need to understand conflict throughout the entire span of modernity, starting with the Reformation and proceeding through the Scientific Revolution, then the American and French Revolutions, all of which are unfinished, and all of which are crucial to understanding the present, especially when we diagnose or decode the often subtle propaganda intended to discourage reading and political participation in the beleaguered democracies. Are autodidacts all assassins? You tell me.

    It is my hope that some of these posts “go viral” so that they reach a larger audience. As I have repeated ad infinitum, democracies are only as good as the civic education made available to future citizens. So far, this website has attracted readers from Left to Right. It is my firm belief that all of us would rather be independent thinkers than conformists in thrall to a “leader” or to misconceptions about historical figures.



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