Shopping for Philosophy II: This time it’s personal

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The Road to Hell
Is this where I lose the plot?

One reason for reject­ing crit­ical the­ory as used by many archae­olo­gists is that I can­not take it ser­i­ously. A help­ful book I read was Intellectual Impostures by Sokal and Bricmont. Not because it gave me an excuse to ignore a large body of work, but rather because it gave me the con­fid­ence to be able to say that some of this stuff was inco­her­ent. It wasn’t a blanket rejec­tion of philo­sophy. Around the same time I was get­ting inter­ested in Singer’s work, because I could see what the prob­lems he wanted to solve were. And any philo­sopher that has to have an armed guard must be doing some­thing right. But by and large I’ve been able to com­fort­ably ignore much mod­ern the­ory not simply because it’s bad, but worse – it’s irrel­ev­ant. I sup­pose with Ophelia Benson skew­er­ing crit­ical the­ory and with the launch of Theory’s Empire*, a book I haven’t read yet, I could fos­sil­ise in my views with no real injury. Indeed yes­ter­day I showed that it would be par for the course in archae­ology to select a the­or­et­ical school and squeeze snugly into it.

It would be a little dull though and rather paro­chial.
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Shopping for Philosophy

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critical theory
A pre­ma­ture obituary.

Occasionally I have com­mu­nic­a­tion trouble. I have a naïve tend­ency to take things at face value. For instance I thought that archae­olo­gists who built their ideas around Foucault’s ideas had actu­ally read Foucault. It turns out they’ve read Foucault in trans­la­tion. Fair enough, philo­soph­ical French is a little dense, there’s noth­ing wrong with read­ing it English for archae­olo­gical pur­poses. It turns out that this isn’t quite what some people mean by in trans­la­tion. They don’t read Foucault at all. They read what other archae­olo­gists said about apply­ing Foucault to archae­ology.
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On Public Historiography

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Oh dear I’m not feel­ing at all well.

I’ve just read an art­icle “What Drives History?” by Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter. In it he argues that his­tori­ography doesn’t pay enough atten­tion to pub­lic inter­pret­a­tions of his­tory. This is view that I have a lot of sym­pathy for. In addi­tion I think that examin­ing pub­lic his­tory (or archae­ology) isn’t just use­ful in itself, but it could help stu­dents see the rel­ev­ance of the­ory to their pre-university exper­i­ence of his­tory. At the moment there’s a tend­ency for the­ory courses to bludgeon stu­dents into sub­mis­sion with “proper” his­tory or archae­ology. If you work from the pub­lic under­stand­ing of his­tor­ical pro­cess then you can build a bridge across to more aca­demic the­ory by show­ing how the­ory isn’t import­ant because it’s a higher plane of exist­ence, but because it’s a use­ful tool for inter­pret­ing the world we’re in and the data we have. So I seem to be in agree­ment with Prof. Black. This both­ers me deeply.

Why?

Well, it’s because the art­icle appears on the Social Affairs Unit’s blog. The Times describes it as “…driv­ing its coach and horses through the lib­eral con­sensus scat­ter­ing intel­lec­tual picket lines…” Before I know it I’ll be quot­ing the Daily Mail with approval.

Nevertheless it is a good and thought pro­vok­ing piece.

Other things to look for include The thing from the bird­bath at Snail’s Tales, which turns out to be a roti­fer, which is simply a beau­ti­ful creature.

…and this ongo­ing tale at Let Me Draw You A Map, dis­turbs me deeply.

Archaeology as it should be

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Trajan's Markets
Trajan’s Markets. Photo by MHarrsch.

A story from Ansa​.it has caught my eye. I spend a lot of time study­ing the cursed remains of pagan temples, but I’ve never come across unspeak­ably giant mon­sters guard­ing ancient secrets while I do it. It turns out I’ve been look­ing in the wrong place. Part of ancient Rome is now home to giant crabs. They get bonus mon­ster points for eat­ing the corpses of dead cats, rats and pigeons.

The International Conference on the Arts in Society

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I’ve been sent a Call for Papers for The International Conference on the Arts in Society. My ini­tial feel­ing is to ask where else the Arts would be. I men­tion it as Theme 5 Audiences includes: Virutal audi­ences, blogs, cyber-art and per­form­ance. I was about to sug­gest that a panel of blog­gers might be inter­est­ing. Then I saw the regis­tra­tion fees. Student regis­tra­tion is $377. I have no idea what the aim of the con­fer­ence is, but a charge of $226 for “vir­tual regis­tra­tion” (i.e. you don’t actu­ally go) would sug­gest that par­ti­cip­at­ing with soci­ety isn’t one of them.

Put What Where?

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Book cover
Facts of Life and Love for Teen-Agers. Photo uploaded by Paula Wirth.

I fol­lowed the link Put What Where? from Early Modern Notes because I thought that taken a cer­tain way it might sound a bit rude. Yes, I am a bit naïve. It’s a link to a story about a book on 2000 years of sex advice. There’s also an inter­est­ing inter­view with the author at the Times website.

If you ever wanted to make a case that the study of his­tory tells us more about our cur­rent times than the past, I’d reckon the History of Sex would be exhibit num­ber one. One example would be that when the for­bid­den cup­board exis­ted in the British Museum, 90% of the people who accessed it were women. Why? Umm… From per­sonal exper­i­ence I can say that I wouldn’t think ill of a woman who had an interest in study­ing the topic, but if a man does it my first reac­tion is to look for the dirty rain­coat and weak hand­shake. This must be in part from my child­hood exper­i­ence. At one school I was at girls had sex edu­ca­tion while boys had rugby. This may explain a lot of dis­sat­is­fac­tion in half of the British population.

This is prob­ably not a healthy atti­tude. Sex is a uni­ver­sal in human exper­i­ence rather like eat­ing or dis­ease. You could argue that this doesn’t actu­ally apply to monks, nuns and some Catholic priests. Yet it’s still pos­sible to pass through a his­tory course only touch­ing on the issue of sex as ‘gender’, which is some­what different.