Deadwood

Deadwood, Season 2, episode 19 “E.B. was left out.”

Al Swearengen: “Stand it like a man and give some back.”


Pitfalls of Publishing

There’s a fairly constant rumble of discontent among scientists toward journalists, or journalism, or the media in general mucking up and dumbing down science reporting.

I’m in a unique though not uncommon position as a researcher and writer–constantly getting chalk on my shoes by walking the line that divides accuracy in science reporting and the need to engage and entertain the public. Perhaps I’ve created in my head a false dichotomy here that has me staring at my shoelaces.

Nothing like a real world example to complicate the matter: a depressing story of the realities of getting published, compromised journalistic standards, and the collateral damage of scientific accuracy for the sake of expediency. I wish I could say there is a happy ending, but most of the time, journalism is not an idealist 4th estate pursuit.

As we all know my day job is in genetics research. One of my first real writing assignments was an article on zebrafish regenerating hair cells. I also interviewed the author of the study discussed, and he corrected me when I asked if the inner ear in humans is similar to a fish’s lateral line. When I submitted the article, just shy of the 800 words I was asked to write, the editor said that the published piece had to be shortened a little. A few weeks later I checked the publication and found my article reduced to 360 words. I wasn’t happy, of course, but every journalist has dealt with this. However, when I began to read the piece I didn’t recognize it as anything I had written. I became worried so I did a sentence by sentence comparison. To my complete horror, out of 360 words there was only one sentence in the published piece and 3 or 4 fragments of sentences I had actually written; and the article was published with my name on it! I cannot in good faith use this article in my portfolio. Even more distressing, there in the published piece was the incorrect statement about likening the inner ear in humans to the lateral line in fish. The editor wrote it in without checking with me. Removed was any mention of neuromasts. The researcher I interviewed and I are colleagues, so what will he think when he reads this piece? I’m new at this, so whatever credibility I might have had is now lost. I don’t want to burn bridges with the editor since this is all I have going for me, but I need my name removed from that article. The entire thing should be withdrawn. It’s inaccurate and unethical.

I wrote that before I recieved feedback from many editors and other journalists. My instructor at Johns Hopkins, a journalist, advised that I not remove my name from the piece. It was also said the editor was well within her rights to rewrite my article. There was the pesky little matter of inaccuracy that should be changed in the online version of the publication, but besides that, no harm, no foul.

PZ Myers, who runs the most evil and popular science blog in the multiverse, was kind enough to share his audience horde with me by publishing my story on his website. I’ve seined a few insightful comments and present them here.

7 Unfortunately, this doesn’t just happen in science journalism. This was one of my biggest complaints about the editors of the newspaper I wrote for. They would bug me endlessly to fact check things that were obvious (”What instruments do the members of the acappella band play?”) and then change things in articles to make them completely different from what I actually wrote to me *me* look like I couldn’t do my own damn fact checking (10 figures based on popular game X, plus 7 new figures designed to look like actress starring in movie based on popular game X became 17 figures based on actress). Sadly, you either have to put up with this sort of thing, speak directly to the editor about your concerns, or find a paper to write for with editors who don’t pull this sort of bullshit (sadly few and far between).

10 The editor has time to do this? What then did he hire you for?

11 This probably doesn’t rise to the level of awfulness this journalist experienced, but among my first experiences upon graduating with a journalism degree was similarly disillusioning. I had worked very hard on an article for a conservation journal covering the impact of clear-cutting northern Minnesota forests to plant ash tree farms. To this day it remains one of the pieces of which I’m most proud. But the editor, because my name was not known to anyone, decided to give an ecologist the byline even though he was only one of my sources for the information in the article, and had nothing to do with actually writing it. I suppose I should feel flattered that my writing was considered expert enough to be attributed to an actual expert, but what I actually felt was really pissed off and used. Valuable lesson for a young journalist, though.

13 it most certainly does happen in journalism in the UK. I did a science communication course with a freelance journalist who nearly had his entire science credibility destroyed when almost exactly this happened (in his case, sloppy editing in paring the story down meant that a key statement was changed to have the opposite meaning). His source sent out emails to everyone he knew warning them not to be interviewed by him. Luckily, he managed to smooth everything out eventually. As someone else commented, the only thing you can really do in that situation is get in contact with your source and explain your position.

You’ve got to understand the time pressure on editors to make the story fit into the physical space that a paper has. There simply isn’t time to be to-ing and fro-ing and umm-ing and ahh-ing about it. And if a journalist tried to assert that kind of protectiveness over their writing (from the editors point of view: being a dick about it) they’d very quickly find their stories weren’t welcome at all. And my impression (again, from talking to science journalists) is that journalism is all about who you know - if word gets out that you’re being a prima donna with your work (threatening to sue your boss for fraud? Are you serious?) you will probably find it hard to get work as a journalist at all.

It’s an issue with how papers are put together. And with both sales and advertising revenues falling, expect the problem to get worse and worse. This sounds like an extreme case, but a long way from unusual.

14 I understand completely. I wrote a piece in 1981 for a magazine that was an evenhanded comparison between two programming languages in an educational setting. The editor change the title, changed the story to have a particular slant, reduced the piece in size, and rendered it unrecognizable. I wrote to the editor to complain. My letter was hacked up, published in the letters to the editor section (making me look like a grumpy fool), and the editor’s response was trite and condescending.

I was so disgusted with the process that I didn’t publish for many years.

The only thing I can suggest is that it is a war of attrition. Start a blog where YOU are the editor. Keep submitting things for publication. Accept that in this war you will have battles lost and battles won. For those really interested in the WHOLE story they can find your blog, unedited and unmangled. As with so many things, the best disinfectant is sunshine. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people saw you as thoughtful and knowledgeable in your blog and were forced to ask, “what happened in this magazine piece?” Many (enlightened) readers will deduce the work of a bad editor.

Good luck. I look forward to seeing your work.

15 My publisher is the secular equivalent of a saint. He’s never hacked up anything I’ve written, and usually his criticisms have a lot of merit. The one time where we had a serious disagreement about content, time proved me right, and he’s admitted it, so now he’s even more likely to trust my editorial judgement.

Newspapers, though — I’ve never been so badly misquoted, and if I ever meet the guy who did that to me, I’m going to give him a cosmetic malocclusion.

17 This is one of those things that will probably change over the next few years. Online media are not constrained for space, but the writing style needs to be a bit different and the online versions of various news papers are only just starting to realise this. For example, a full length article of several thousand words will still need a ~200 word summary that both accurately reflects the article without giving away so much that no one reads the rest.

I personally love the writing process and the editors I work with do a great job. I have only had one experience that was annoying: the title of the piece ended up not reflecting the content.

21 I’ve been a journalist for ten years. Being rewritten is part of the job sometimes. Most great pieces of journalism (name your favorite New Yorker article) went through the editing gauntlet. And sometimes stories are made better over the writer’s protests.

What does surprise me is that the editor in this tale didn’t show the shortened article to the author, if only to catch factual errors. But journalists get edited, and the world is probably a better place for it.

Best,
Matt Herper
Forbes

24 As an ex-editor, I frequently had to chop and change articles and reviews due to concerns of available space or simple coherence. It should be a given that, no matter the extent of the excision, the import and intent of the original is preserved. (Unless one works for the Murdoch press.) It’s as close to an ethical sine qua non as the profession possesses.

Writers should feel able to raise these issues with the editorial staff. I never canned anybody for questioning my treatment of their work. Just swore at them a lot.

If you should require a template for complaints re: the butchering of your prose, might I suggest Giles Coren of the Times:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jul/23/mediamonkey

37 As a newspaper reporter for nearly a decade, I can tell you that such hatchet jobs do happen to experienced writers as well – but less often, because they’ve generally risen to a spot where they’ve got good editors, or at least know which editors to watch out for.

I’ve had an editor frankly fabricate a definition for a word she didn’t recognize (a very common word, by the way), and insert the bogus definition in a story without bothering to actually look it up or ask anyone else. There’s little remedy for it, other than building enough of a personal reputation with sources and frequent readers that they will accept your explanation, and to be unafraid to ask to review your copy prior to publication.

In my estimation, a good editor will check with the writer about any substantive change. In technical pieces, that includes even minor wording changes, except in sentences that don’t directly convey technical facts. An editor who gets offended at an additional check for accuracy is an editor to avoid.

41 I’m an editor and I chop authors all the time. One thing many scientists do is that they do not write for the audience of the publication. I get massive manuscripts when I ask for short concise articles for lay readers. Then, the scientists complain when I edit it down to the specifications I provided (I am aware you were not informed of article final specs). But, one thing we do not do is go to press without the article contributor approving the final text. Rewriting is common, but that is wrong. Of course, sometimes I send things to scientists and then never hear from them again. PZ,I’m looking at you.

45 Something similar happened to me on one of my first stories as a science journalist. I interviewed the subject in person, got background detail from the public information officer of the institution involved in the story, and wrote up my article. What appeared in print was a far cry from what I had submitted to my editor. Upon inquiry, I was told that my story had been “flat” and needed more “atmosphere,” so the editor had undertaken a rewrite that added some color to the subject’s environment. That’s understandable, especially since I was a brand-new writer — except that all of the added details were spurious. The editor just made them up. The next time I saw the public info officer, she told me that my story “wasn’t very accurate.” I apologized and told her it had been changed in rewrite. She was not entirely mollified.

52 I’ve left websites for doing that same thing to my pieces. Editing for punctuation or usage is one thing, or length, though context is important, but making it more sensational is another thing altogether and very smarmy for science, particularly medicine and controversial topics. I’ve also fought with editors over my pieces not being dumbed down enough for a general audience, which is who they make their money from. It’s sad - it’s not really possible to write for intelligent people any more, not within the established structure. That’s why blogs are surpassing journalism sites.

53 I feel sorry for this young writer. I am a journalist, and yes, I have experienced this. It gets worse when you get someone who has no science and technology background ‘rearranging’ your piece.

My advice to the young journalist: be courageous. Tell the editor what you’re not happy with. But be polite. Best to iron this out at an early stage. Sure it feels awkward but your story must be accurate. I am sure one day you will be able to write a piece that is technical but yet so easy to understand that any editor will find it a pleasure to edit. Maybe the editor was a bit too coy to admit that he didn’t understand your story.

61 Helped edit a pair of books for the late Gary Gygax. Gary told me, regarding one tome, that as an editor I was entirely within my rights to mangle deathless prose. :)

Those editors who alter prose out of ignorance are bad enough. Much worse are those who alter prose out of malice. Political reporting appears to be particularly bad in this regard. Along with others above I recommend your correspondent establish his own blog and publish his original work there. I also recommend dropping the periodical in question, because that editor will ruin his work again and again. Just because it means a paycheck is no reason to tolerate the abuse. You have to flip burgers to put food on the table, you flip burgers; but never compromise on quality in your reporting.

66 This young science writer is in a terrible position if he has an editor who can mangle his work without running changes past him. This simply is not done at respectable publications. If he maintains this relationship he will be continually disappointed. He needs to have a talk with him, and if the editorial policy isn’t fixed, he should move on.

69 Having worked for a newspaper most of my adult life, I am aware that reporters and editors often either get things wrong or deliberately misrepresent the people they interview. While inaccuracy is many times the result of overworked reporters trying to make a deadline on a subject that they know next to nothing about, there is no excuse for intentionally altering facts or misleading readers.

I have always considered it a privilege and an honor to be able to serve the public interest in the unique way that journalists can, and I have tried since the beginning to maintain the highest ethical standards I am capable of. It is difficult in the face of people that I dislike intensely or extremely unpleasant situations, but I managed for over 20 years without getting sued for libel, and only received one death threat. I have always written about and photographed people as if I were going to see them the next day, and that turned out to be the case a fair number of times.

Journalists are often maligned for blatant sensationalism, erroneous facts, garbled quotes, and embarrassing photos and video, but think about where we would be without them. With major newspapers vanishing rapidly and the vapidity of modern television newscasting, I can only wonder where we will get our actual news in the near future. And the lowest-paid major of any college grad? Journalism.

70 Okay, here is some advice from a copy editor / very occasional journalist, because this happens in all fields of journalism:

Find out who the copy editor was, and shit on them from a dizzying height. Point out that the article that went through is wrong, and demand a correction.

This is not something that will annoy your editor, editors has been around long enough to have had it happen to them. That you care about your work is actually a plus - and shows integrity, which is a sought after trait in journalists.

Recognise that the copy editor was supposed to consult with you on the article for any major changes. The copy editor by not doing this didn’t do his or her job.

And don’t let them snow you under claiming that they are “too busy for this”, it is part of the job, it generally takes a quick phone call to the journalist at hand, and if it is print, they had the damn time.

71 I’ve been a science journalist for more than a decade now, and have run into this problem a number of times–not just editors who change things, but editors who argue about correcting errors they have introduced into my copy. There are one or two scientists out there who are unlikely to talk to me ever again thanks to editorial cock-ups (including headline writing) that had absolutely nothing to do with me.

I don’t think scientists realize how little power writers have. A writer will normally have to sign a contact with a publisher stating that the publisher has the right to edit copy as it sees fit. No contract, no writing commission. You can argue, but the editor’s decision is final. So if you, a scientist, are unhappy with a story about your work, do complain. But try to find out where the errors occurred before you castigate the journalist who interviewed you.

Having said all that, my overall experience with editors has been good. I write for reputable publications that care about getting things right. Most journalists and editors do. It would be a shame if scientists got scared away from talking to journalists–a paper in the journal Science last year indicated that the majority of researchers were satisfied with their interactions with the media : http://www.sciencecentric.com/news/article.php?q=08071053

Big Toys

Amazing how far the technology has advanced since the way back when. Before you is a fairly lengthy interview where we walk through Venter’s sequencing facility, watch him gesticulate about scientific progress and how he wants to replace humans with robots arms and metabolize coal with methane flatulent bacteria, all the while assuring whoever needs assuring in these matters he is not trying to play god–”I don’t play mythological characters.” Instead, he will use his knowledge to improve mankind. Also, Venter and Dawkins predict alien life will be Darwinian. Typical dorks.

Collins finally nominated for NIH Director

Obama has finally nominated Francis Collins for the NIH director. Rumors have been circulating for a long time that he was the prime candidate, and indeed he’s the most obvious, politically connected, pious option. The question remains, what took so long. Collins was involved with the Obama transition team and has been in the spotlight for quite some time, so presumably his vetting didn’t require too much effort.

Maybe he just needed more time to finish his book. According to the press release he’s already done with it. I keep hoping he’ll write and expose on the race to sequence the human genome that names names (as if we don’t know them already) and dishes dirt, but I highly doubt it. It’s just not his style.

This probably means a continued push for “personalized medicine,” continued funding for genome sequencing, and a continuation of Zerhouni’s push for ‘Roadmap’ style large cross-disciplinary collaborative projects. I have no idea what specific kinds of research outside of genomics he’ll find most appealing. Collins obviously has more experience with genetic disease than infectious disease.

I know that Francis Collins inspires great loyalty and affection in the people who have worked for him. He seems to have done a good job managing the human genome project and has kept reasonably good relations with some pretty bristly personalities. He definitely has the political chops and connections to fight for NIH funding on the hill, so overall I think it’s probably a good choice for people who look to NIH for funding.

How much of your fiction is autobiographical?

In a correspondence between Menachem Kaiser and Aleksandar Hemon, author of Love and Obstacles, the obvious answer to a tired and annoying question asked of novelists.

The narratives in “Love and Obstacles” follow the life of a Bosnian writer who moves to Chicago, a trajectory similar to your own. How autobiographical are the stories themselves?

Here’s how it works: Last night, on my way to give a reading, I hurt a ligament in my right hand while putting my shoe on. As I was driving this morning and talking on the phone with my sister in London, I lost my grip and sideswept my neighbor’s car. Being honest, I went to their house to tell them what I had done. When I rang the bell nobody answered. I knocked and went in anyway, thinking they might be in the backyard. The house was empty, and as I walked through I noticed a vase in the shape of a monkey head. The light angle made it somehow seem that the monkey was winking at me, so I picked the head up to examine it, but then, dropped it, what with the weak hand ligament, and it shattered in a thousand pieces. For a moment, I considered cleaning up or waiting for my neighbors to show up, but then decided to sneak out. Now I dread hearing the door bell.

I could go on and turn this into a story. I did hurt my hand last night and I did get into the car this morning, but I did not cause any damage, nor did I trespass. I did not talk to my sister yesterday, but she does live in London. And I’ve never seen a monkey head like that. So, how much of this putative story is autobiographical?

Similarly, I did spend a few weeks in Africa some time in the eighties, just like the narrator in the story “Stairway to Heaven.” But my father was not a diplomat, there was no Spinelli, no Natalie, and most of the things that happened in the story did not happen to me. For some reason or another, I compulsively imagine scenarios alternative to what happens to me. To my mind, my stories are not autobiographical; they are antibiographical, they are the antimatter to the matter of my life. They contain what did not happen to me.

Wonderous Mac BibTex Goodness

So, I’m writing my doctoral dissertation using LaTeX, and I’m completely enamored of the CiteULike + BibDesk combo for managing my BibTeX reference database. It’s such a big improvement over my old EndNote / Microsoft Word workflow. I just came across this great blog post on Academic Productivity about how to connect BibDesk to CiteULike.

To start BibDesk is pretty amazing for organizing and maintaining a BibTeX files. Searching is lightning fast and easy, and I love the links to the right that just allow you to doubleclick your way to the text of the paper.  CiteULike provides a great (and easy) way to generate references with a handy bookmarklet and tagging. Now instead of printing out piles of papers that I’ll feel guilty about and probably never read I just post papers I come across to CiteULike and tag them appropriately. That way when I start thinking about a new project or start writing I can quickly find all the relevant papers, even ones I tagged, but haven’t read.

To be honest, I don’t use the connector between BibDesk and CiteULike (though I may change), instead I just copy the BibTeX entry directly from the CiteULike page and use BibDesk’s quick and easy “New Publication from Clipboard” to add the publication. Fast, easy, and pretty cool. No more Word crashes, no more clunky, slow, EndNote search interface.

If only writing was as easy as managing references I’d be done by now.

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A Philosopher on Species

John Wilkins is one of my favorite living philosophers, which is saying a lot because I think philosophers are weirdos and sometimes kooky (I’m looking at you Plantinga!). It doesn’t hurt that he’s a philosopher of science with a blog entitled Evolving Thoughts. You know I read it. He has a new book out called Species: History of the idea. It belongs to a series called Species and Systematics. Now it is a well-known fact that philosophy books are read by virtually none, and yet they’re priced like textbooks. One would think, to sell more readers publishing houses would price books more reasonably. Poetry books have this same problem…something about niche markets and limited vendors. In any event, life isn’t fair when a 320 page book on philosophy is twice the price of a 1000 page book about a boy magician.

From the University of California website:

The complex idea of “species” has evolved over time, yet its meaning is far from resolved. This comprehensive work takes a fresh look at an idea central to the field of biology by tracing its history from antiquity to today. John S. Wilkins explores the essentialist view, a staple of logic from Plato and Aristotle through the Middle Ages to fairly recent times, and considers the idea of species in natural history—a concept often connected to reproduction. Tracing “generative conceptions” of species back through Darwin to Epicurus, Wilkins provides a new perspective on the relationship between philosophical and biological approaches to this concept. He also reviews the array of current definitions. Species is a benchmark exploration and clarification of a concept fundamental to the past, present, and future of the natural sciences.

The TV Show Through Time

National Post critic Robert Fulford applies the four stages of an art movement to TV shows: Primitive, Classical, Baroque, and Decadent. Nifty, but does everyshow follow this arc or can its progress be defined by these criteria? Fulford uses L.A. Law, Numbe3s, Without a Trace, Flashpoint, House, and some Canadian show as examples. These are all dramas, and with the exception of House, crime dramas. Also, I haven’t watched a single episode of a single one of these shows, so I  have no idea.

Do comedies such as the The Office, a show I do watch, apply? As a huge sucess and just about to start it’s…what 5th season, it can’t be primitive. I think seasons 2 can be classified as the beginning of the classical era for The Office. Now that Pam and Jim are married the cast has expanded, we must be well within the Boroque years of The Office.

Simpsons: Decadent Accept for the Halloween espisodes, Homer is a parody of himself.

Lost: Decadent by the 3rd season. I could handle a polar bear in the jungle, but the CG mist was the beginning of the end. Admittedly, I stopped watching, so maybe it’s reinvented itself.

South Park: Classical/Baroque Its topicality saves it. However, Cartmen is this show’s Homer. The good Cartman from another dimension really pushed it into Jump the Shark territory)

Top Chef: Classical/Baroque They saved themselves from Decadence by firing that irritating Simon Cowell-wannabe, British judge near the end of the season.)

Shows that are no more:

X-Files: Decadent. And the spin-off movies only confirmed this

Millennium: Baroque/Decadent Maligned with the X-Files plot entanglement syndrome (a new writer almost every season), a plot that promised resolution and was instead abandoned, completely unresolved by the end of the fourth and final season.

The Wire: Classical with a small reservation. I’m calling shenanigans on the fourth season’s plot. A plagarising reporter in collusion with multiple detectives from the homocide deptartment was too far-fetched, a needless duex-ex machina for dramatizing a metro paper’s daily pulse. A little too Murder She Wrote for my taste. However, further character development from the already solid roles in seasons past coupled with a beat-goes-on finale and just four seasons, unlike most series crime dramas, kept this one solidly in the Classical era.

Deadwood: Classical: I’m halfway through season two; though it definitely hit its stride. The writing, already florid in the first season, has been described in the second season as almost Shakespearean.

Seinfeld: Decadent

Arrested Development: Classical

Kingdom: Primitive. Obviously, since it never made it past its first season.

Dragon Ball Z: Baroque. But only technically. The follow-up Dragon Ball GT was referential, uninspired and Decadent.

Nothing’s Changed


The Way of the Academic

If an academic pens writes something that winds-up on the internet, what are we to do with it? Aren’t we used to them chirping in some half-recognizable dialect in another dimension? What brings these theory-generators, these gurus of the referential out from the shadows? That Spring is in the air, is no excuse for lines like this:

“World history tends to abstractions that art can flesh.”

That sentence is meant to be read, not comprehended. How about “History is made tangible through art.”

Now, intelligibly written, we see what a pate, unremarkable–and quite possibly false–assertion we find ourselves confronted with.

An English Professor at the Univesity of Wisconsin, Milwaukee worries over the state of literary theory and what it all means in the grand scheme of everything all over the place and forever. Bombastity never looked so impermeable.

Fortunately, there are glimpses of what appear to be attempts by the author, Ihab Hassan, at clarity.

Admittedly, our perplexity nowadays is partially due to the radically disjunctive legacy of modernism, postmodernism, and assorted avant-gardes in the last hundred years. But haven’t we inured ourselves to the various avant-gardes by now? Haven’t we absorbed their shock? We actually live their scandal, or, rather, we let the media, if not our servants, live it for us. In any case, the arts continue to create their audiences somehow–with the possible exception of contemporary music.

I like that. The media as buffering reagent against the harsh oxidants and bitter ascorbics of the avant-gardes, the technicolor porn of Takashi Murakami or Tom McCarthy and his International Necronaughtical Society. It’s subversive and fresh and probably false.

Like the figures in Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, which he references, Hassan looks, thrashing this way and that, for a spit of land for his literary theories to gain purchase. The world is flat, which really means it’s round, which means globalization begets glib diversity, which leaves us with the human body as final refuge, as a template, “a choreography of blood and bones.”

Hassan asks, “Can the death-heavy body serve not only art but also theory in an age of diaspora and division?” Who’s to say when metaphors are mixed, cliches ressurected and words change meaning without notice?

I’m pretty sure he’s referring to the human body, but wait! Body can also be a stand-in for an abstraction, and for an entity which contains an abstraction, a spirit. Not a spirit in the literal sense, that would be dogmatic and pedestiran, but a spirit in the Wittgensteinian sense, as “everything we mean when we talk about it.”

Had enough? Well Hassan has plans to pack even more meaning into this seemingly simple word we thought we all knew and understood.

body not only as a political or aesthetic entity, the refuge of exiles who sew their lips and artists who mutilate their genitals, but also as the locus of experience, an epistemological ground, waiting to be worked, waiting to be known, leaking away its life.

What Hassan finally gets around to saying, possibly maybe, is that this is the age of “me,” the reign of the “epistemological concept of experience.” And in this age theory falls under ego’s boot. We have to learn or relearn (he isn’t quite clear on that) the “epistemic compact,” known to the rest of us as trust. Keep in mind that evil Globalization has scoured trust from the very surface of the earth.

Trust is a quality of attention to others, to the created world, to something not in ourselves. “All mean egotism vanishes … I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing, I see all.” That’s the vision of the Man at Concord, perhaps the vision of us all when we profoundly trust.

Without trust, Hassan forebodes, critics will fall silent, the artist will put down her brush and picks up a camera, pig plague will run amok, and the heavens will cleave. But trust in what. . . certainly not one another? We are to trust in Nothingness, which means “giving oneself to the void,” or something.

So far so good? Anyway, Hassan, sensing he’ll eventually have to bring his mind-scatterings together, says recursively,

But I know that literary theory in a time of contested globalization will not find legitimacy in sectarian politics or fundamentalist dogma, not in cultural identity or transcendental philosophy. In what, then, beside pragmatic trust?

I don’t know Hassan; that seems a pretty random thing to conclude, considering how you failed to mention why you think sectearin politics or fundamentalist dogma are necessarily hostile to theory. But trust and plurality are nice and obvious concepts to think up when it comes theory, if theory is defined as something we generally agree with.

Whatever Hassan, whatever.