Addressing his professional colleagues in the preface to the first edition of his Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886, the sober and unflinching Richard von Krafft-Ebing assured them he understood his duty to ward off the idly curious public. “A scientific title has been chosen,” he wrote, “and technical terms are used throughout the book in order to exclude the lay reader. For the same reason certain portions are written in Latin.” The translator of its 12th edition did not heed this due diligence. The case histories are all in English, and the “technical terms” Krafft-Ebing coined, such as “masochism,” would soon come into common usage.
Or perhaps they already were: it’s not clear when the translation appeared, though the scanned copy available at the Internet Archive looks like something printed in the 1920s or ‘30s. The paperback copy of Psychopathia that I found at a garage sale as a teenager (back in the pre-online, Betamax-era dawn of civilization) was a cruddy reprint of that edition, likely pirated in the early 1960s by somebody cashing in on the loosening of obscenity standards.
Krafft-Ebing would have been aghast to think of a wide-eyed adolescent reading his evidence that the limits of the human libido reach all the way to the limits of the human imagination -- if anything, a little beyond them. Kids these days have probably witnessed everything the Victorian-era sexologist describes on video by the age of 13, but the book sure did boggle my mind.
Time jades you. Sitting down to read John A. Long’s popular science book The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex (University of Chicago), I felt immune to the kind of astonishment that Krafft-Ebing elicited in me ages ago. The cover – which should win a prize, by the way -- shows two fossilized dinosaurs in flagrante delicto, with a black censorship bar to keep things within the bounds of decency. Part of the humor, of course, is that the mentality that would be shocked by the scene is practically as extinct as the dinosaurs themselves.
It’s an astonishing book, even so. And in a couple of ways.
The author -- who serves as vice-president of research and collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County -- devotes roughly a third of the space to recounting how he and his colleagues at the Melbourne Museum identified the earliest known fossilized embryos of a vertebrate – discovered, complete with umbilical cord, in fish from 380 million years ago. Besides its age, the fossil revealed that the mother had been carrying her fertilized eggs, rather than just depositing them in a safe place.
The team announced its findings in a paper that ran in the journal Nature in 2008. It so happened that this roughly coincided with Queen Elizabeth's visit for the opening of its Royal Institution of Australia (described on its website as a “national science hub” for research and education). A computer-animated clip showing the prehistoric mother and child ran during the festivities, and Long spent a couple of sleep-deprived days answering questions from reporters around the world. Someone later calculated that the discovery netted “around $2 million worth of media coverage,” and within a week of announcing the fish’s scientific name, Materpiscis, a Google search found it appearing on almost 50,000 sites around the world.
The media frenzy sounds grueling, but it’s much less interesting to read about than Long’s account of subdued excitement in the laboratory, as the researchers figured out what they were seeing under the microscope. It was, Long explains, “the first known case for fishes, our distant ancestors, that involved the male copulating with the female rather than spawning in water like almost all fishes today do.” Long suggests that this intimate moment occurred on the ocean floor; and, given structure of the partners’ genitalia, the female was probably on her back as the male mounted her. (The missionary position has never seemed as old-fashioned as it does just now.)
Another paper in Nature from 1998 by a different group of Australian scientists determined that the earliest evidence of sexual reproduction of any sort can now be dated to somewhere between 1.68 and 1.78 billion years ago. Mind-bending as the temporal scale here may be, Long’s survey of the evolutionary history of sex is accessible and absorbing, and could be adapted for the screen easily enough. Which, given the rise of creationist museums, would probably be a good idea
But if it were, much of the audience would be shocked. Nothing prepares you for learning just how polymorphously perverse nature really is. Despite the enormous differences between Long’s book and Psychopathia Sexualis, they are both catalogs of behavior at its most extreme.
That doesn't mean gay penguins, either. A few years back, the heteronormative propaganda of March of the Penguins was undermined by news that Silo and Roy, two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo, were raising a chick together – with similar arrangements emerging at other zoos around the world. This is not shocking. Same-sex erotic activity has been reported in about 450 species.
No, what we're talking about here is animal behavior that wouldn’t be appropriate to mention in a diversity training video: Female porcupines seen using a stick as a dildo, masses of grunions (a kind of fish) having regular orgies on the beach in California, and male bedbugs that impregnate by stabbing the female’s abdomen and ejaculating in the wound.
Once the glans of their partner’s penis has been inserted, female Chinese fruit bats perform the impressive feat of bending down to lick the exposed portions of his genitalia. This is the first known case of a non-human mammal “practicing [fellatio] as part of the stimulation leading to mating,” notes Long, “more or less as foreplay.” The Chinese scientists who reported the behavior indicate that “mating pairs spent significantly more time in copulation” when the female performed this acrobatic maneuver, as one may well believe.
The pages on necrophilia in Psychopathia Sexualis were, as I recall, particularly disturbing. Long points out that snakes and tortoises have been known to commit it – presumably as a result of confusion, rather than by preference. And there’s a kind of spider the very name of which recalls one of the technical terms Krafft-Ebing introduced: the Harpactea sadistica. The male has “needle-like structures” used “to stab the female and deposit his sperm directly into her ovary, eliminating the need for any courtship niceties.”
Well, all sorts of bizarre stuff is bound to emerge in the course of 1.7 billion years. Every kink its own genome. But the really strange thought is that most of this behavior must have proven its worth in the struggle to survive. Not the necrophilia, let’s hope. But who knows? After reading The Dawn of the Deed, it’s hard to think of anything as an unnatural act.
Given the work before us, I will go into my first class today and try to meet my students as simply and directly as possible. Some of this work comes from the past, some from the state, and some from what we in my department have agreed to do. Some of this work will come from what we carry with us, some from what we find blocking the way between us, and some from what we see up ahead. We variously work ourselves into the work of the other.
Education is labor-intensive and expensive because it falls upon the tangled mess of human relationships struggling to find the work that works best. We just can’t know the work before we work it. We hate the work we can’t make work, and we love the work we can. It takes time, and it takes money. And for some, more than others. Work, like love, is what we find when we find ourselves in what others have done.
The best teacher I ever had loved me for my work and I loved her for hers. With a blue pen, I put words on college-ruled pages in a three-ringed notebook. Those words helped me find what I loved about the world. About books. About school. About small towns. About rivers. About music. About words on pages. She met me simply in the classroom and surprised me by what she loved. I knew I could talk to her and she would help me find myself in what others had done.
I know you had a different teacher, but it’s still true.
Let me put it another way. We are always reaching back into what has already been made. We do this with all of our body. It is very hard and very easy. We do it when we want to. And we do it when we aren’t aware we’re doing it. We are always standing together splashing each other in joy and sorrow with what we have made.
But there are also some of us who are pressing our noses against the window of what’s to come. I’d like to see more of us breathing into that glass. I’d like college to be more like that kind of pressing and breathing and working. Let us make work at college a place where we are both in and at and outside that window. What’s out there? Who?
I know money is power and circulates in ways most of us don’t see. You probably have more than I do. Or I have more than you. We certainly have more than they do way over there. Still, we don’t have more than those who have decided what gets taught. Soon they tell us – as they always tell us — that we’ll need to do more with less because they’ll be putting more of their money elsewhere while putting more of their power upon us. After all, it’s their money. And it’s their power. How do they do this? I try not to cry about it.
And by not crying about it, I mean, I try not to cry about the tangled mess of education and power and money and work and how each of us finds our way in the world. It may be that we need better direction or better technology or better learning outcomes or better threats. It’s hard to know really.
But each day, we still show up at the knowledge factory. We know what our work is.
Laurence Musgrove is professor and chair of the department of English and modern languages at Angelo State University, in Texas, where he teaches courses in composition, literature, creative writing, and English education.
For generations, American conservatives have had an uneasy relationship with higher education. Although most recognize the importance of a college degree for employment, many conservatives are convinced that college campuses are indoctrination mills, designed to convert impressionable students into lifelong supporters of the Democratic Party. Republican concerns about higher education have become so serious, that the party delegates specifically address the issue in their 2012 platform:
“Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in private institutions may be, in state institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination. We call on state officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the left.”
Beyond their vague demands for the careful oversight of public colleges and universities, conservatives actively work to counter the influence of liberal academia, promoting right-leaning institutions like Liberty University and Hillsdale College. For impressionable youths already drawn into academia’s web, the right creates alternative centers of learning like Prager University. This website, created by nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager, offers five minute courses designed to “undo the intellectual and moral damage” done by a traditional college education.
As fellow conservatives who study the politics of higher education, we recognize elements of truth to the conservative critique. Virtually every study of higher education finds that college professors, regardless of their field, lean left. Furthermore, even those few professors who do identify as Republicans tend to hold views well to the left of Republican voters. Anecdotally, we know that some faculty use their classrooms to promote an ideological agenda. However, judging from the strong language included in the GOP platform, it seems clear that many conservatives overstate the problem. Whatever the long-term effects of a college education, there is little evidence that it has a dramatic effect on most students’ political beliefs. For example, the authors of The Still Divided Academy provide evidence that over time students’ views are remarkably stable. Additionally, relatively few conservatives feel victimized by their status as a political minority.
Yet even if liberal professors do not oppress conservative students, professorial ideological imbalance causes problems. While conservative students benefit from hearing alternative worldviews, liberal students at many institutions are rarely exposed to ideas challenging their core beliefs. Furthermore, without a critical mass of conservative faculty to challenge their liberal colleagues, social scientific research is inherently skewed to support leftist policy positions.
We argue that, rather than abandon American colleges and universities to the Left, conservatives need to “infiltrate” higher education, joining the faculty and thus reinvigorating higher education. In our recent article for the American Political Science Association's journal PS: Political Science and Politics, we synthesize more than a decade of research on politics in academe to provide conservatives with a roadmap for success. While conservatives in academe often face special challenges, with hard work, caution, and humility many can prosper in universities seemingly closed to the right.
For conservatives bold enough to consider academe, it’s important to select a field that is relatively tolerant of dissent. Obviously, fields like chemistry and engineering are less hostile to conservatives than sociology or women’s studies. Our own political science is a field already accustomed to political disagreement, with a solid seventh of political scientists leaning right. Whereas political scientists sometimes delve into ideologically charged debates, its practitioners often pride themselves on examining controversies like Congressional voting patterns, voter turnout, and judicial decision making that transcend the traditional liberal-conservative divide.
Conservatives who aspire to work in academia must recognize that, to succeed in academia, they must be intellectually rigorous, particularly since many peer reviewers will lean left. To guard against the onslaught of criticism that may follow work contradicting liberal orthodoxy, conservative scholars must do excellent research rooted in facts, and devoid of extraneous political commentary.
Furthermore, conservative academics must be both resilient and good-natured. Academic life is full of setbacks. Articles submitted to top journals are generally rejected, notwithstanding their political content. Just as women in business ought not blame every problem on sexism, and African Americans should resist the instinct to see every slight as racist, so conservatives must not play the victim, blaming every setback on politics. The ability to work diligently and happily, despite the normal travails of academic life, will ensure that conservatives don’t give up when the road to tenure seems bumpy.
Finally, if conservatives are to "infiltrate" academe they should leverage the power of the free market, moving from colleges or universities that prove inhospitable to political dissent. While some institutions will not tolerate right-leaning faculty, many others welcome a fresh perspective.
With boldness, persistence and patience, conservatives can make inroads into academia rather than simply abandoning higher education.
“Why have you come here to study world literature?”
The answers are as diverse as the 100 participants in this month-long summer school. A philosophy student from New York wants to study literature through the lens of world-systems theory. Two Turkish students hope to look beyond the nationalist curriculum they were taught in college. An associate professor from Lisbon has been charged with starting a world literature program and needs institutional advice. An American student has become weary of postcolonial studies and is looking for alternatives. A Chinese postdoc based in Canada believes that studying literature across cultures will generate a new humanism. They may not agree on what world literature is, but they speak about it in a tone of authentic urgency I have not heard in a humanities context in a long time.
They are in the right place: Istanbul. Although the term "world literature" was coined by Goethe in 1827 in the small duchy of Weimar, it was developed in Istanbul during World War II by German Jews such as Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer who were seeking refuge from Hitler. After the war, they moved to the United States and took their version of world literature with them. It was in the United State that world literature took root during the Cold War, slowly turning a humanities education centered on the Western canon into a more global undertaking.
Having imported world literature, American institutions are now exporting it to the rest of the world, including Istanbul. Which is why we are sitting here, at Bilgi University at the end of the Golden Horn, under the auspices of a World Literature Institute, which is loosely anchored at Harvard University. We, that is, an international faculty originating in places like Romania, Brazil, Germany, and Cyprus, but based in American institutions or their global satellites, such as NYU-Abu Dhabi. Bilgi University itself is an example of a similar process. Originally a private university financed by a Turkish businessman with ties to leftist dissidents, it is now part of a U.S.-based for-profit company, Laureate Education, that runs educational programs worldwide.
World literature isn’t just something that Istanbul imports, of course. The two chairs of comparative literature here at Bilgi University, Jale Parla and Murat Belge, have been stalwarts of a non-nationalist approach to literature, often against much opposition.
But the star of the summer session is Orhan Pamuk, something of a poster child of the new world literature. His international success, crowned by the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, catapulted him into the rarified stratosphere of global authorship where novels are published simultaneously in many languages and distributed to a global readership. This success has led to a nationalist backlash, with some Turkish readers fearing that he no longer writes for them. Pamuk is irked when accused of writing for a global authorship only, just as he is irked when his novels are approached as postcolonial literature. "Turkey has never been colonized," he pointed out to Gayatri Spivak in Istanbul in 2009, and reminds everyone of the history of the Ottoman Empire, whose demise modern Turkey still mourns. All this is tailor-made for the new world literature studies, which focuses on global prizes, distribution, and translation, as well as a deep history of empires, including non-Western ones.
Although Pamuk had to leave Istanbul for a number of years because right-wing thugs were threatening to kill him for defaming Turkishness, he has since returned to his home city with a vengeance. As if to make an indelible mark here, he has just opened a museum near his office apartment in a bourgeois-bohemian part of Istanbul. "The Museum of Innocence is not an Orhan Pamuk museum," he tells the summer school participants during a dialogue with David Damrosch, the school’s founder and my Harvard colleague. Instead, he explains that it is an extension of the fictional universe created in his last novel by the same title, in which an obsessive lover collects objects belonging to or associated with his beloved and exhibits them to the reader as if giving a tour of an imaginary museum.
We are taken on a tour of the actual Museum of Innocence by Pelin Kivrak, one of the many artists, artisans, and assistants who have helped Pamuk realize this museum over the course of many years. Some of the objects came from his own collection of '50s memorabilia, others had to be bought at antique shops. Made-up brands had to be manufactured especially for the museum. The objects are displayed in removable wooden cases that are artfully stacked, reminiscent perhaps of Joseph Cornell boxes. Except that here, you are wandering amidst objects and scenes animated by a novel, which in turn is animated by the idea of a museum. In fact Pamuk conceived of both, the museum and the novel, simultaneously; the museum just took much longer to complete. “Writing a novel is difficult,” Pamuk observes in a conversation with me, “but it is nothing compared to creating a museum.”
Now that it is finally finished, the museum is reshaping the city. The most visible sign of this are the six or seven street signs placed across Istanbul pointing to the museum, in both Turkish and English. The museum is hidden away in a maze of small streets, without a large banner on the outside. The signs actually don’t help much in finding it, but they announce its presence elsewhere in the city. In addition, the museum radiates outwards to the fancy neighborhood in which the novel begins and where Pamuk grew up. Kirvak, the assistant who helped finish the museum, has started to offer tours in which events from this and other novels by Pamuk are explained. The museum, the signs, and the city tours are ways for Pamuk to take back the city that he had been forced to leave, imposing on it his own type of world literature.
Pamuk plays a significant role in the summer school, but the best seminar session focuses on Goethe. To say that Goethe coined the term "world literature" is perhaps an exaggeration: he dropped it casually in conversation late in his life. By that time he had been doing world literature as a reader, translator and writer for decades. One of the Chinese students had studied his engagement with Chinese novels and his translation of a poem embedded in one of them: “an active re-creation,” she called it. A professor of German was interested in the ways in which Goethe used older literary forms, culled from world literature including the classical Sanskrit play Shakuntala by Kalidasa, the framing encounter between God and the devil from Job, and Greek tragedy. We talk about his “West-Eastern Divan,” the poetry collection that Goethe considered his literary response to his “brother” Hafez.
The most important ingredient of Goethe’s practice of world literature, however, was travel. In his late thirties, he undertook his two-year long trip through Italy, which culminated in Sicily. Goethe was drawn to the remnants of the classical past, but he also studied rock formations, the river system, and soil conditions. Traveling to Sicily, he noted in his travelogue, was the best commentary on Homer.
World literature needs to be studied on location, Goethe is telling us, and this is what we are doing here, in Istanbul, the city that keeps haunting world literature to this day. If traveling to Sicily is the best commentary on Homer, then traveling to Istanbul is the best commentary on world literature. Thanks to Pamuk, the museum, and the city tours, as well as the international participants, Goethe was right.
Most volumes by Jürgen Habermas appearing in English over the past decade have consisted of papers and lectures building on the theory of communicative action and social change in his earlier work, or tightening the bolts on the system. Some are technical works only a Habermasian could love. But a few of the books have juxtaposed philosophical writings with political journalism and the occasional interview with him in his role as public intellectual of global stature.
The latest such roundup, The Crisis of the European Union: A Response -- published in Germany late last year and in translation from Polity this summer – is probably the most exasperated of them as well. Very few contemporary thinkers have laid out such a comprehensive argument for the potential of liberal-democratic societies to reform and revitalize themselves in a way that would benefit their citizens while also realizing the conditions of possibility for human flourishing everywhere else.
The operative term here being, of course, “potential.” When you consider that his recent collections The Divided West (2006) and Europe: The Faltering Project (2009), also both from Polity, are now joined by one with “crisis” in the title, it’s clear that unbridled optimism is not a distorting element in Habermas’s world view. But the sobriety has turned into something closer to frustration in his latest interventions.
The earliest text in the new book first appeared in November 2008 – a time when the initial impact of the financial crisis made many people assume that the retooling of major institutions was so urgent as to be imminent. Habermas was more circumspect about it than, say, folks in the United States who imagined Obama as FDR redivivus. But although he has long been the most moderate sort of mildly left-of-center reformist, the philosopher did permit himself to hope.
Might not the U.S. “as it has done so often in the past,” he said, “pull itself together and, before it is too late, try to bind the competing major powers of today – the global powers of tomorrow – into an international order which no longer needs a superpower?” If so, “the United States would need the friendly support of a loyal yet self-confident ally in order to undertake such a radical change in direction.”
That would require the European Union to learn “to speak with one voice in foreign policy and, indeed, to use its internationally accumulated capital of trust to act in a farsighted manner itself.” A common EU foreign policy would only be possible if it had a more coherent economic policy. “And neither could be conducted any longer through backroom deals,” he wrote, “behind the backs of the populations.”
Habermas suffered no illusions about how likely such changes might be. But he treated late ’08 as a moment when “a somewhat broader perspective may be more needful than that offered by mainstream advice and the petty maneuvering of politics as usual.” (Fatalism, too, is an illusion, and one that paralyzes.)
The appendix to Crisis reprints some newspaper commentaries that Habermas published in 2010 and ’11, as the crisis of the Euro exposed the shakiness of “an economic zone of continental proportions with a huge population but without institutions being established at the European level capable of effectively coordinating the economic policies of the member states.” This gets him riled up. He is particularly sharp on the role of the German Federal Constitutional Court’s “solipsistic and normatively depleted mindset.”
He also complains about “the cheerful moderators of the innumerable talk shows, with their never-changing line-ups of guests,” which kill the viewer’s “hope that reasons could still count in political questions.”
A seemingly more placid tone prevails in his two scholarly texts on the juridification (i.e., codifying and legal enforcement) of democratic and humanitarian values. But there is a much tighter connection between Habermas’s fulminations and his conceptual architecture than it first appears.
Another recent volume, Shivdeep Singh Grewal’s Habermas and European Integration: Social and Cultural Modernity Beyond the Nation-State (Manchester University Press), starts with a review of Habermas’s changing attitudes towards European unification over the past 30 years. Then Grewal -- an independent scholar who has taught at Brunel University and University College London -- reconstructs pertinent aspects of Habermas’s scholarly work over roughly the same period, surveying it in the context of the philosopher’s developing political concerns.
Using the political journalism as a way to frame his thinking about modernity is an unusual approach, but illuminating, and it avoids the familiar tendency in overviews of Habermas’s work to treat his books as if they spawned one another in turn.
To summarize things to a fault: From the U.S. and French revolutions onward, the nation-state was best able to secure its legitimacy through constitutional democracy. However limited in scope or restricted in mandate it was at the start, constitutional democracy opened up the possibility for public challenges to authority grounded on nothing more than tradition or inertia, which could in turn make for greater political inclusiveness. It could even try to protect its more vulnerable citizens and mitigate some kinds of inequality and economic dislocation.
Thus public life would expand and grow more various and complex, since more people would have access to more possibilities for decision-making. And that, in turn, demands a political structure both firm and flexible. Which brings us back to constitutional-democratic governance. A virtuous circle!
Actual constitutional democracies were another matter, but at least it was a normative model, something to shoot for. But the problems faced by nation-states cut across borders; and the more complex they become, the less power over them the separate states have. The point of creating a united Europe, from Habermas’s perspective, was, Grewal writes, “the urgent task of preserving the democratic and welfarist achievements of the nation state ‘beyond its own limits.’ ”
Habermas makes the point somewhere that institutions making decisions about transnational issues are going to exist in any case. Whether they will be accountable is another matter. Establishing a constitutional form of governance that goes beyond the nation-state would involve no end of difficulty in principle, let alone in practice, but it is essential.
“Habermas acknowledges the 'laborious' and incremental learning learning process of the German government,” Grewal told me, “whilst bemoaning the lack of sufficiently bold and courageous politicians to take the European project forward.…The alternative to the transnationalization of democracy is, Habermas continues to suggest, a sort of post-democratic 'executive federalism', with shades of the opinion poll-watching, media-manipulating approach of figures such as Berlusconi and Putin.”
He acknowledges that there are people who don’t see this as an either-or option. It’s possible have both continent-spanning constitutional democracy and a political system in which media manipulation and pandering ensure that decision-making continues behind closed doors. Is it ever....
But even aside from that, why does Habermas count on bold and courageous politicians for the kind of change he wants? Part of his frustration, no doubt, is that he’s counting on the actions of people who don’t exist, or get sidelined quickly if they do. Democracy doesn’t come from on high. I respect the man's intentions and persistence, but wish he would come up with a better strategy.