Thursday, June 25, 2009

Randomly plucked from the vast lucky dip of life's mysteries

Among the numberless occasions afforded by life for irritation, here's one that's been getting to me lately more than usual: can anyone explain to me why so many people (on and offline) who all too clearly know less than nothing about (a) literature, (b) psychoanalysis and/or (c) feminism will go a long way out of their way to belligerently trash all ideas and enterprises involving one or more of them? It seems to be mainly a boy thing. I can understand why blokes feel threatened by feminism, at least until they've actually taken the trouble to find out a bit about it, but what's the problem with the other two?

All suggestions gratefully received, although I'm expecting at least one drive-by from at least one of the types described above and I won't be grateful for that at all.


flexnib said...

My theory is that some people (yes mainly guys) don't know how else to relate to other people, except by criticising and arguing against something. It's as though it's just too hard to say, "I don't really know much about Topic X, tell me more about it." Because you must of course be Less Of A Man if you admit you don't know something, right?

It's not just with topics that could be threatening, either. I find myself avoiding people I know who are like that - or keeping the conversations superficial - because the other extreme involves much argument that goes no where (except to make my blood pressure rise). They usually can't admit when they're wrong, either, which makes it all even more wonderful. [grits teeth]

Penthe said...

And visual arts as well.

And thinking about your comment CW, there's nothing wrong, either, with thinking to yourself, I'm not really interested in that topic and I know nothing about it so I'll just shut up and go away and leave those people who are interested in it to have a nice talk among themselves. But that doesn't seem possible for some people either. Are they the same people who consistently run through other people's games in the park and squash other people's sandcastles?

Anonymous said...

Reading, writing, looking at art or making it, and thinking about the human condition/how brains work are all girly and therefore not worth anything.

Unless a bloke is doing it and then it might possibly be ok, so long as he doesn't talk too loudly about it at the pub or interrupt contemplation of important things (football, politics, cars, technology, the economy). If he talks about books, art or psychoanalysis too much he's probably one of teh gays.

I'd also agree with the "If I don't know anything about it it mustn't be important or interesting" theory.

I'm a curator, many of my relatives want to know when I will fix the greens at the golf course.

Mindy said...

I suspect that if I knew the answers to these questions I would be very wealthy indeed. Or else insufferably smug.

iODyne said...

Online, there is no excuse for those who
"go a long way out of their way to belligerently trash " anything.
It is a simple thing to click away and retain respect.

The worst crime is attacking Commentors on a blog.
The blog owner doesn't enjoy it either.
Be nice, or click away.
Consider instead the priceless appeal of a sleeping cat.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

'My theory is that some people (yes mainly guys) don't know how else to relate to other people, except by criticising and arguing against something.'

CW, that's brilliant. I'm sure you're right. My dad is exactly like that, which is probably why it annoys me so much -- I've been listening to it from the cradle.

Penthe and innercitygarden are both right as well, I think.

Glad you like the photo, FGM-S. I'm particularly fond of the way her luxuriant armpit fur sticks straight up in the air.

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

Having studied all three at university - undergraduate and postgraduate - I've walked away feeling like I know nothing concrete or discerned any or all of their mysteries, so for anyone to diss them offhand, to me, is awfully baffling.

And quite sad.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

Having undergone, so to speak, and benefited from, all three I do have views and the odd snark and snipe but I'm generally respectful if at times cheeky.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Heh! Yes you are. (AFAICS.)

I like the idea of having undergone literature, which to my mind is by far the vastest (vastest? Is vastest a word?) and most gruelling.

Barry Leiba said...

There's always this:

Personally, I think, "I don't know," and "Please teach me," are perfectly good answers to any question.

Ziggy said...

This brought to mind something else I read recently (from Alchemy by Dubravka Ugresic): "What is it that drives millions of people to shed tears as they watch Titanic, and drives a lunatic to deface a well-known painting in a Dutch museum? What is it that drives millions of people all over the world to weep for Lady Di, but to be indifferent when their next-door neighbor dies? I think I know the answer, but I would prefer to keep quiet, for the answer makes me tremble with terror."

Anonymous said...

I think that when guys do it, there is definitely a refusal to admit ignorance coupled with a desire or need to be known or remembered. Otherwise known as a form of domination. You could presume insecure identity as a source for this type of behaviour but I think strongly socialised gender roles can go hand in hand with a firm male identity.

When women do it, I think that it is usually from defensiveness, itself arising from an inadmissable insecurity about one's identity. A strongly socialised stereotypical female identity may feel the need to prove the 'truth' of their identity and seek to universalise their experience.

It's the lack of curiosity I find disheartening. Everything else makes me rather mad.

Bernice said...

There's also the difference between opinion and knowledge. Opinion so rarely has to validate itself, which may or may not be a good thing, but both as consumers of opinion and ready givers of our own, seem often to fail to remember how fallible opinion is.
Opinion is like gossip, useful within the social context but god help us when we mistake it for something else.
Sure you all know the aphorism:
"Opinions are like ar*eholes; everyone has one"

Are opinions then the culturally dominant endorsed form of male gossip?

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Bernice, it's an exchange I frequently have with my dad. He says 'I've got a right to have an opinion!' and I say 'Of course you do, Father; what you don't necessarily have a right to is my respect for your opinion. That's got to be earned.'

Frog, I'm sure you're right. There's a sort of latent, unexamined assumption in the way a lot of people (both men and women) talk and think that goes something like 'If I do/say/have/believe it, then of course it must be right, and anything different from it is by definition crap.'

cristy said...

With psychoanalysis, I think some people are also terrified of the idea that you (or anyone else) might be able to 'get inside their heads'. Particularly if they have been doing their damndest to avoid doing so themselves.

With literature, I think that it is partly defensiveness over ignorance, but also influenced by all that anti-elitism, anti-liberal arts stuff that was so big during the Howard era.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about this a little more, and wonder now how our system of constantly testing and examining students rather than encouraging them to broaden their enquiries contributes to this. Spending all our time at school learning to pass tests doesn't really encourage us to follow up on something new that has no chance of earning us credit, there's a big problem with our cultural attitude to learning.

Armagny said...

"My theory is that some people (yes mainly guys) don't know how else to relate to other people, except by criticising and arguing against something."

I hate to 'prove' your point by arguing but I think while Pav's gendered scope may be born out in relation to the specific topics of the post, widening it is unnecessary and completely conflicts with my experience in life, and that includes (especially) on blogs.

Men I think can tend (in broad generalising terms) towards more direct and aggressive approaches, I'd accept that. I've seen and tried to temper that in my own style. But I don't think wanting to argue is gendered. Recent wounds confirmed this for me...

As for the topic, well my fields of relative expertise are law and international relations and I would characterise Australian discourse on both as characterised by high levels of comment drawing on high levels of ignorance. So, 'spose, you're not alone pav.

flexnib said...

I am actually relating my theory to someone I know who in actual fact does not confine his argumentative stance to just lit, psychoanalysis or feminism. He seems to argue against any point one could hope to talk about - daylight saving (we're West Australian, need I say more), politics, indigenous issues, the State of Yoof Today, Why Today Sucks... It has occurred to me that maybe I need to take a (to me) reactionary stance on some of these topics right from the get-go, and maybe then our conversations would not be so fraught. But a) I wouldn't be able to do it in a believable way, and b) he would probably argue against me anyway.

(and, apropos of nothing, word verification for this comment was "bleding")

Armagny said...

Ok... perhaps there's a slight weighting towards males in this sort of behaviour type.

*conveys smile, not wanting to have aforementioned conversation-stopping effect*

Maybe I'm still dabbing a blood nose:

Perhaps it might be prudent to suggest that what we, people generally, tend to do is see experiences through a prism that is shaped and coloured by our strongly held worldview. So we might not always see something as argumentative if it is according with our worldview...

Armagny said...

"He seems to argue against any point one could hope to talk about - daylight saving (we're West Australian, need I say more), politics, indigenous issues, the State of Yoof Today, Why Today Sucks..."

How do you know my dad???


flexnib said...

LOL Mr Armagnac :) There must be many men like this.

I had actually pondered the fact that I was being overly sensitive because it was my world view being argued against, however, my husband has also remarked on this trait in the super-argumentative person whom we both know.

I am glad I don't know any women who have this trait!


Fine said...

The same sort of prejudice exists about film and psychoanalysis. I have doubts about some of hte arguments myself, but what infuriates me is when someone says; It's only a film. You're reading too much into it'. Film's popularity is a double-edged sword in this way.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Fine, absolutely. The 'It's only a film' and 'It's only a book' and 'It's only TV' merchants crack me up. Of course it's not about believing these narratives literally (although many do), but rather about internalising their values and messages. Besides, if these things are not rich in cultural meaning then what is the point, Molesworth, what is the point of it all?*

Armagnac, top marks for self-awareness there. Very unusual trait in blokes.

*Runs away*

*Fotherington-Thomas. See various Molesworth at Skool books.

Fine said...

The very odd thing is when cinema studies student use this line. Why are they bothering if they think meaning is so transparent and uncontestable?

It was a happy day when someone told me about the 'authorial fallacy'. Now I understand, all because an artist says this is what their work means, it doesn't mean it's the only possible meaning.

Armagnac, I think it's one of the problems of identity politics. People desperately staking out their area and you'd better not trespass on it. God forbid that another opinion might be valid, or even interesting.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

My father had 6 sisters, my mother 4. I have 3 sisters and two brothers.

It always amuses me when people say that men dominate the conversation and speak more and are more argumentative than women.

On a population basis it is probably true, but in my mob it was all elbows and butting in at the table or get togethers (proddies can read "get togethers" as booze-ups).

Barry Leiba said...

You know, I was thinking more about this and I wondered if it has any relation to another phenomenon (one that seems, in my experience, to be more prevalent in women, though certainly not exclusive to them), the "I have to have the last word," thing.

I've often had to stop myself from laughing uproariously aloud when I've watched two people engaged in one of these hopeless battles of weariness.
A: And that's all I have to say about that!
B: Well, you're still wrong, anyway.
A: I am right, B, and you know it. But I'm done arguing about it.
B: Good, because I'm done too.
A: OK, then. Not another word about it.
B: That's right, not another word.
A: It's settled, then.
B: Well, it's not settled, but we've said enough.
A: Yes, we have.
B: And no more.............. [etc]

lucy tartan said...

I've got nothing useful. Just 'because they're idiots,' which is the truth, but it's not a very illuminating explanation.

The phenomenon of people who don't know what psychoanalysis is going to agonisingly painful lengths to trash it is really the strangest one, because p-a actually *is* threatening, but only if you actually know what it is. The typical caricature idea of it is so silly that it's hard to imagine someone thinking it was worthwhile getting worked up about.

With some idiots it's just the sight of a person taking something seriously and getting absorbed in it that they can't bear.

lucy tartan said...

Barry Leiba, I bet you are a Beckett fan.

Anonymous said...

I’ve noticed that the trashing of literature (and often feminism) is related to a worldview where the arts, generally, are seen by such types purely as a commodity. I’ve read something recently that I thought was quite interesting: I think it Was Philip Mead in The Australian talking about the value of studying literature in a way that links it to any other activity, rather than thinking about it in terms of ‘I must get some high culture in’.

I think there’s a lot of pretentiousness combined with utter hypocrisy among people who have never had much to do with ‘the arts’, apart from having done English at school, and who now buy books (and paintings) just because mentioning so-and-so is sometimes a valuable cultural currency. One of these types recently told me that Virginia Woolf is overrated because he thought she was ‘too insular’, and ‘not a very populist writer’. He thought Woolf was now taught in university departments mainly for ideological reasons, but as a writer she was ‘a complete failure’. I suggested he could look at a few academic papers, perhaps, and walked off.

I’ve generally found it nearly impossible to advance discussion with people who view creative human activity in these sorts of terms, as well as purely from a utilitarian, positivist perspective, so I’m not sure if this has added anything to the discussion, but I’ve vented off a bit if steam just writing this.

anonymous editor

Anonymous said...

In the general aspect, I have come to the conclusion that the behaviour outlined originates from the economic stratum. These three subjects, and personal introspection in general, do not figure highly in the neo-liberal economistic mindset which has been so prominent over the last two decades.

Anonymous said...

I read Kristeva's 'Stabat Mater' under the guidance of Carolyn Burke at UNSW, and found myself identifying with both sides of the page - the symbolic language on one side and the semiotic language on the other. It was one of those moments - I was not lost in the babble, nor in the disembodied, boring factual side - on the fence maybe. Where would a bloke sit I wondered - in the regimented symbolic world where the body is all but removed and sub-texts are blotted out. Perhaps Kristeva is out of fashion now, I don't care. This was one of those moments for me.