Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Ooh - has *anyone* here been reading my blather long enough to remember mere exposure? Well, fair enough, to be honest, I'd forgotten the phrase myself, or at least failed to use it in a long time. Still, seeing it again in this look at remote work dynamics at The Atlantic brings to mind other ways mere exposure affects us. So often, "normalization" was a phrase we heard during the campaign (and since). What "normalization" is is mere exposure.

Also, what "fake news" is is propaganda. I'm all for allowing the evolution of language, but this is not evolution, it is distortion and misdirection. As well as stupid. It is one glossing-over too far, at a time when misdirection is literally dangerous, and terrifyingly successful.

Anyway, I know someone who's heavy into the Agile model (mmmm - scrummy!), so - neato. Now go make with the clicky above.

Awrighty then, in other news (or not) ...

In my entire life, I have never been excited about the choice of a presidential portraitist, but the upcoming work from Kehinde Wiley has me all but squeeing. The first time I ever heard of Mr. Wiley was on a museum legend at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, next to one of his portraits. I was GOBSMACKED, and fell in love with everything about the painting, not least simply its appearance. It is glorious, and beautiful, and what it has to say is poetry and joy. Cannot. Wait. to see this new work.

Interestingly, there was a "declined to comment" in regard to whether the woman artist painting Mrs. Obama will be paid equally to Mr. Wiley, to which I say "sigh" - but it is so predictable that there would be inequity that the unspoken answer is exactly no surprise. Double consciousness.

The Washington Post has one of the most uplifting things I have read in a long time. It's not a new article, in fact it dates back just a hair more than one year. But it's in-depth reporting on a redemptive tale that is splendidly worth reading. On the heir of Stormfront .. and how he renounced "white nationalism" - not just as an ism, but even as a phrase. Perhaps even better than that simple headline: the way this came about is wonderful to read.

Viking-Arabic textile design? I'm skeptical. But The Atlantic raises enters the dialogue of medievalism, racism, and today's socio-political climate - I am thinking of you, Jeff Sypeck!


Jeff said...

Thanks for tagging me re: the Viking "Allah" fabric. This comes at a very weird time for medievalists. I haven't been even an adjunct for eight years now, so I'm commenting on this as an outsider, and I was never really "inside" to begin with, but what I see is a mostly-white field of people who study mostly-white history now falling all over themselves to signal that they're not white supremacists. They're doing this by talking endlessly about race in what should be a more reasoned and objective effort to illuminate the history of non-white people during the Middle Ages. As someone who did just that in a pop-history book a decade before it was trendy, I have to wonder about scholarly efforts driven not only by the sociopolitical mood of the moment, but also by fear of accusations of racism. The history of the study of the Middle Ages is, to a large extent, the history of people focused so intently on seeing the past through one favorite lens that they blur a great many other things in the process. I don't disagree with the effort to show medieval Europe as fully as possible, even if many cherished stereotypes crumble, but the atmosphere of fear, anger, and rancor among people who are all basically in the same left-of-center place on the sociopolitical spectrum may well poison it.

What it comes down to for me, though, is this: This researcher is not "sticking it" to white supremacists by showing proof of interactions between Arabs and Vikings. I can't say I know what white-supremacist thinking on the matter is these days (nor do I intend to find out), but I doubt they'd deny that Vikings got around, that goods got traded across thousands of miles, that people from these cultures knew each other and had opinions about each other. Regardless, scholars are making their own credibility an issue. Quite a few medievalists are disavowing objectivity; many of them have come out on social media and stated that their main purpose as scholars is to fight white supremacy. That quite a mission for people in an elite profession whose main weapons are tweets, a university lectern, and journals in libraries. If scholars can't convince the curious general public that Vikings didn't wear horned helmets despite a century of archaeology on their side, what are the odds that they'll get white supremacists to stop frothing and listen thoughtfully to them about race and identity?

I personally don't think the general public is all that swayed by the version of medieval history promulgated by a few pathetic white nationalists, but they're also not swayed by forcefully ideological interpretations of history from the progressive-activist side of the spectrum. I think what can change minds, slowly, incrementally, are scientific studies presented on shows like Nova or otherwise articulated by people who put scholarship ahead of activism. I'm in favor of everyone taking a deep breath, worrying less about the supposed influence of a very small group of racist idiot dead-enders, and getting on with good, careful scholarship. Some medievalists might call me naive, but since my life and career no longer depend on people in that field, I'm free to offer an honest opinion of what I see. And if it turns out I'm wrong, I'll gladly admit it.

Jeff said...

(I thought about this more overnight and I just want to clarify that last bit: I don't think medieval scholars should worry less about white supremacists as citizens; medievalists can do whatever the rest of us can do as concerned members of society. I just don't believe their claims that they have special scholarly anti-white-supremacist superpowers.)

DLM said...

Jeff, thank you for your thoughts! I think you're right - the old road to hell and a certain need to prove our intentions. Problematic in any field of study, no matter the nobility of the impulse.

This falls into my feelings about much popular science/celebrity scientists, and teledons. I think it's important for our culture and society to *have* honored intellects, but I also tend to view folks like David Starkey and Neil DeGrasse Tyson (and, yes, even St. Sagan, whom I love a lot but have some disagreements with) in the context of their celebrity. Even Einstein, one of the earliest of the modern generations of Famous Geniuses, I listen to more as a philosopher (and even then, critically) than as a physicist - and I think that's true of most folks. Few can understand his empirical contributions, but everyone loves that sweatshirt of him sticking out his tongue.

As you say, *as citizens*, these folks' efforts are laudable - but within the discipline of science and study, I ask more than theories and hope. And it's enjoyable to view critically - whether it's Secrets of the Dead, or NOVA, or the latest headlines. I even think critical consideration of The Latest Thing (especially with medical headlines, which are such an overwhelming problem over the past fifty years) can extend their news-cycle-worthiness, and prompt real results - where trumpeting supposed sure-conclusions does not.

Jeff said...

I recently saw Carl Sagan on an old rerun of Johnny Carson, and I was impressed by how thoroughly he spoke and thought like a scientist, even on a popular TV show. I like Tyson too, but he seems so friendly and accessible that I sometimes worry he isn't making clear to younger people that the work he does requires a special sort of thinking, detached from the Latest Thing. Those sorts of people act, I think, almost as translators to the public, and their work is worth doing, but if public perception changes slowly in the sciences, I'm guessing it changes even more slowly with regard to the humanities. (Having read Cosmos when I was in high school, I think one of Sagan's biggest less-appreciated accomplishments may have been making the public aware of the history of science and of places like the great library of Alexandria.)

The link in your new post this morning about sexual harassment in academia is another reason why we can't really look to scholars to crush white supremacy. The academic world has so many problems of its own—including the exploitation of graduate students and adjuncts—that it's silly to imagine they can solve an off-campus problem when they can't deal with the ones on their own campuses and in their own offices and departments. From what I can tell, white supremacists are lured back to decency by some hard-to-define combination of patience, compassion, and positive contact with the people they think they hate. I'm amused, though, by the image of a professor denouncing a neo-Nazi while flinging an article about a Viking textile at him.

Have a great Halloween!

DLM said...

Hah! That is a great mental image. Add in "while he's pinching a TA's bottom" and it's complete. *Sigh*

I've been a bit heavy on the harassment links of late, I know, but the burgeoning rage for these stories has finally begged comment(s). Mainly, that the continuing coverage seems to be making this a Somebody Else's Problem situation even as it trumpets the staggering extent of the issue. It's extremely tiresome when a much more pervasive dynamic is dismissed as an "open secret" time and time and time and time and time and time and time again.

Not that I am bitter ...

Hey, but happy Hallowe'en to y'all too! Will you have an opportunity to wear a horned Viking helmet anywhere? :)