Harvard Educational Review
  1. Fall 1997 Issue »

    Further Comment

    Haithe Anderson, Patti Lather

    Merely Academic? Some Notes on Lather

    Independent Scholar

    Can accessible and clear writing styles unlock the power of feminist theory? Can clearly articulated ideas change the world? Some academic feminists think so. They feel that feminist theory should be measured against its ability to contribute to social change. Anything less and their work would look merely academic. Patti Lather's work, judging by her recent article, "Troubling Clarity: The Politics of Accessible Language" (Fall 1996), has been criticized by other feminists precisely because her desire to appeal to intramural readers appears to overshadow her commitment to extramural change. Gaby Weiner (1993), for example, implies that Lather's use of dense prose denies equal access to the interesting ideas that her complicated style of writing contains. Weiner assumes, as do other feminists, that feminist theory in education should be written in a clear and accessible way so that it can reach beyond the classroom to edify the world. Lather responds to this call for clarity by defending her complex writing style and her desire "to be heard," as she writes, "in the halls of High Theory." She justifies her position by pointing out that academic feminists "can't do everything and that the struggle demands contestation on every front" (p. 526).

    The call for clarity, and Lather's response, makes sense if one is willing to assume that feminist theoretic practices have, or should have, real consequences for social practices outside of academia. Indeed, both terms of criticism are meaningful only if one believes that theory should be grounded in something more stable than mere belief — that theory's claims can be measured against a fixed point of reference outside itself. The idea that academic theory has a foundation, which lies half-examined at the heart of Lather's work, seems strangely at odds with the poststructuralist beliefs that she otherwise professes. My goal is to coax this foundational idea out of its poststructuralist hiding place by challenging the connection between academic feminist theory and extramural social change. To do so, I focus on the words "academic" and "theory," and conclude that extramural theoretical impact is rare, while the rhetorical effects of feminist discourse are more widespread. Then I comment on how Lather, in "Troubling Clarity," shies away from the implications of my interpretation and why she may have good reasons for doing so.

    No Vocabulary Unlocks Another

    The idea that theory unlocks practice, or that practice informs theory, is a comforting belief for those who play in the field of education. Nowhere else in academia is there greater pressure for researchers and theorists to turn their convictions into recipes, to turn their beliefs into methods and rules to be followed by others. And I think it is safe to say that the narrative of transformation, associated with theoretic conversions, has been intensely powerful and productive for many educational theorists. As a cover story for the work of feminists in education, the idea that theoretical language can transform social practices has been infinitely serviceable. I do not wish to rob anyone of this story. However, this kind of story belongs to foundationalist heroines, to those feminists who believe they have uncovered an essential truth that, if others convert to its presumptions, will be freeing. Foundationalists, or, as Richard Rorty (1989) calls them, metaphysicians, prefer metaphors of "finding" to those of "making." They believe that theories are the result of diligent inquiry and that "correct" theories offer academics vocabularies that can unlock other vocabularies.1

    This kind of story cannot, without contradiction, be the story of the anti- or non-foundationalist, of the person who is drawn to irony and contingency. The ironist notes that there is no space of freedom, that we are always already tethered to interpretative communities whose norms and standards enable their rational acts. Theories, for the ironist, are poetic accomplishments that enable us to continually redescribe ourselves, our situations, our pasts. Vocabularies, for the ironist, are never "right" in the sense that they grasp and unlock a truth; rather, they appear "right" because they are, as Rorty (1989) says, "suitable for those who speak as we do" (p. 76). From this perspective no vocabulary unlocks another, and this is true whether we emphasize the academic part of "academic feminist theory" or whether we hear the accent on the word theory.

    When we say that something is "academic" we are, in effect, saying that it has a recognizable, even obligatory, form. To gain academic status, in other words, feminist theorists have had to accept a tangled web of received practices and accommodate the venerable beliefs and partial judgments that constitute the field of academic work. Although feminists have challenged previous gatekeeping activities and stretched common academic adages, the membership rules, stretched, bent, and differently directed, are still membership rules. Feminist work, therefore, is governed by normative constraints, principles, and preferences that allow it to be accepted as "academic." This does not mean that academic feminists cannot do extramural work — that they cannot protest against social injustices, build community alliances, or help the weak against the strong. However, when they engage in such work, they are simply exchanging the horizon-bound condition of academia for some other horizon-bound condition. Which is not to say that there are no exchanges between intramural and extramural practices, no metaphorical re-tropings, no re-describing. Nor am I suggesting that what constitutes being an academic is stable. Indeed, as Stanley Fish (1994) suggests, instability may be the source of academic identity. Nonetheless, one must follow the normative constraints imposed by academia at any given time to be recognized as a contributing and responsible member of that community.2

    To claim that "theory" is a special kind of practice, one that in its own right transcends local practices in order to inform them, is to assume that a higher birds-eye view is possible. But if one rejects the idea of transcendence, as an ironist is inclined to do, the idea of theory as a higher kind of practice seems empty. We can, as Fish says, distinguish theory "as a discourse that stands apart from all practices," from "theory talk" (p. 14). But "theory talk" is just a different kind of social practice, not a higher kind of practice. Each interpretative and deliberative activity within a given circle of theory talk is guided by a set of normative obligations that responsible members accept and follow. These obligations seem intelligible and doable only by virtue of the fact that they are grounded in a collective set of clearly articulated and enabling principles that guide the theoretic paradigm. Different interpretative communities will be grounded by different sets of principles and different ideas about what is doable and about what does or does not look intelligible.

    Does this mean that "academic feminist theory" can't have extramural consequences? Not exactly. As Fish has suggested:

    When theory has consequences, they will be rhetorical, not theoretical; a point of theory successfully (i.e., persuasively) urged will never have the effect of altering or revolutionizing the basic structure of thought, making it more firmly centered or more determinedly decentered (the dreams of the right and left, respectively), but it can have the effect of altering the resources with which thought pursues its contingent (but orderly) course. (p. 14)

    For the ironist, in other words, feminist theory talk gains influence when it is rhetorically powerful, that is, to the extent that its vocabulary is persuasive. As Kenneth Burke (1984) once said, "One does not hypnotize a man by raising a problem — one hypnotizes him by ringing the bells of his response" (p. 52). We know that we have rung the bells of response when our vocabularies take hold, when our ways of elaborating the world become increasingly normative. Have feminist vocabularies in education, or elsewhere, taken hold? The answer would be yes by some standards and not enough by other standards. It is increasingly difficult, for example, to substitute, as Burke did in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the word "man" for "person." But this change of wording did not come about through the force of theory; it happened because a newer feminist vocabulary has gradually chipped away at an older masculinist one. What feminists have had to say has, in short, become more persuasive.

    Rhetoric is a key word in the vocabulary of an ironist and offers a different way to understand Lather's article and the debate over the politics of accessible language. If, as Fish says, all "matters are intelligible and debatable only within the precincts of the context or situations or paradigms or communities that give them their local and changeable shape" (1989, p. 344), then it should be clear that Lather, in "Troubling Clarity," is offering a picture of an interpretative community where the rules of belonging are being challenged. Weiner shares Lather's commitment to academic feminism and poststructuralism, but she is setting out a rule of belonging that requires members to pass a test of accessible language. She wants feminists to abandon the vocabulary of high-wire theory and to write in ways that are accessible for more women (if not all women). This presupposes that there is a way of reading that transcends the limitations interpretative communities impose. Lather, from Weiner's perspective, has failed the test of women's common way of reading. Rather than dismiss Weiner's rule of belonging, Lather chooses to pester it, to hobble and embarrass it. Her hope is to stretch the meaning of this rule, to allow for different ways of writing the world.

    That the rules of belonging to an interpretative community are contestable is part and parcel of the game. Nowhere is this more true than in academia. "A living tradition," as Alasdair MacIntyre (1981) once observed, "is an historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition" (p. 206). The vocabularies through which one appeals, through which one seeks to replace one set of goods with another, are always loaded in one direction or another. Our words, as Lather rightly insists, are invested with our hopes, our desires, our sense of ourselves. But rather than carry this insight to its ironic conclusion, Lather assumes, as her critics do, that "plain speaking," or "common parlance," is a meaningful category. To invoke the idea of something plain or common is to assert that local contexts of reference have been transcended, and that a foundation common to all women has been secured. As Clifford Geertz (1983) stated years ago: "Religion rests its case on revelation, science on method, ideology on moral passion; but common sense rests . . . on the assertion that it is not a case at all, just life in a nutshell" (p. 75).

    Weiner seems to think that there is a commonsense way of reading. Lather, on the other hand, is bullied by the essentialist appeal this idea has, yet she cannot turn the other cheek. She tells us that she is "not uninterested in how [feminist] work can enter common parlance and contribute to the struggle for social justice," yet she wants to explore the possibility that "the theory/practice relationship . . . is always both urgent and unanswerable in any context-free way" (p. 526). Lather, in short, walks a tightrope. To keep her balance she must lean toward the idea that feminist words can enter "common parlance," that a plain way of speaking can unlock complex mysteries in ways that will be freeing. If she discarded this idea she would run the risk of falling off the feminist high-wire. Her goal, therefore, is not to undermine the idea of "plain speaking," only to shake its foundations, to stretch it in new directions. In particular, she wants her auditors to know that her style of writing, which she calls "Nietzschean textuality," not only has a history but also has a conscious purpose that is sharply at odds with that of "plain speaking" (p. 531). And, of course, she is right. Her way of speaking is not plain; it is academic. Moreover, it is academic in a Nietzschean way. When writing is not academic, that does not make it plain — that only makes it something else, something bounded by the particular conditions of its production.3

    Foundationalist ideas like "common parlance" creep back into anti-foundational arguments, as Lather's article illustrates, because they are rhetorically productive — because they aid in persuasion. To put Lather's rhetorical strategy in more general terms we could say that she has secured the place of the common (clarity) so that the claim to be honoring the extra-common (complex writing) can be coherently asserted. The goal is, perhaps ironically, to normalize her extra-ordinary claims. This is a time-honored writing strategy, at least in academia; this is how academics are taught to write. The conventions that govern our writing push us into oppositional thinking and encourage us to use binaries to clarify our points of view. That is, of course, precisely what Lather does. She attempts to reverse the accessibility/inaccessibility binary, which has a tendency, she feels, to privilege the term "accessible." Working this binary is how she makes her ideas academically accessible. So if Weiner is accusing Lather of being inaccessible because she is too academic, we could note that Weiner's writing is no less academic. The way Weiner marshals and presents her evidence, the form and the content of her arguments, the audience she seeks to please, the traditions that provide the context for receiving and understanding her written work, are merely academic.

    Perhaps what Lather and Weiner both mean to do is proclaim the common ground of those whose views they oppose — not the ground of "common parlance." The goal these antagonists share is to stake out (to make more common) the ground that they each represent. What Lather is conveying to her readers is that she shares her writing style with a line of writers that stretches from Frederick Nietzsche to Gayatri Spivak. Lather is saying quite clearly (even to those readers who can't access her argument) that her interpretative community is composed of writers like Walter Benjamin, Diane Elam, Jacques Derrida, Toril Moi, Hortense Spillers, Babette Babich (not that the reverse would be true, which is one of the ironies of academic writing). So, to sum up, Weiner maintains, in effect, that the problem with Lather's writing is that she can't transcend the social practices that this community of thinkers represents. I am saying that Weiner is right; Lather can't transcend her chosen community of thinkers and it is a good thing too. The intelligibility of Lather's writing is generated by, indeed radically dependent upon, the fact that she belongs to a particular interpretative community, that she shares common ground with some thinkers as opposed to others (she could, of course, take up membership in a different interpretative community, but it would be precisely that — different, not higher).
    Comic Correctives
    I wish to conclude by suggesting that Lather's choices in "Troubling Clarity" are the right ones — that is to say that they will appeal to feminists in education. By showing us that the boundaries of her intelligibility, found in a region she calls "High Theory," are secured solely by the local peculiarities of that kind of theory talk, she has also scored some points for those of us who are drawn to non-foundationalist ideas in education. What makes her move recognizably feminist, however, is the fact that she backs off the otherwise ironic conclusion this position entails — that academic feminism is also a horizon-bound condition, one that cannot reach beyond the sphere of its academic conformity without becoming something else. Her rhetorical strategy is recognizably academic — she circumvents the either/or position that her critics offer by taking their terms of criticism, turning them upside down, and filling them with the content of her desire. Against the feminist writer as accessible she poses the feminist writer as inaccessible and applauds her own complexity.

    If Lather's work is recognizably academic, it also embodies an attitude that all comedians will appreciate. Her comic frame of reference allows her to transcend the limitations her feminist critics pose while maintaining the integrity of the feminist community to which she and her critics are tethered. There is no tragedy in Lather's work, no sacrifices are required; she is making room for everyone and especially for herself. This is why she seeks to reverse the accessibility/inaccessibility binary, rather than to undo it. Undoing it, as an ironist might, would challenge the assumption that academic feminist theory can have direct extramural consequences. The feminist frame of acceptance, as Lather has surmised, would not be able to assimilate this kind of unexpected assault. Indeed, the suggestion that feminist theory, as theory, has no extramural consequences may be so far out of bounds that those within a feminist frame may be incapable of recognizing it as intelligible. The only form of salvation, therefore, for someone in Lather's position is to stretch the feminist frame of acceptance by coaching new attitudes toward what it means to write as an academic feminist. Lather, in my opinion, has made excellent use of this efficient salvation device. She maintains the fiction of "common parlance," while moving beyond the limitations this kind of story imposes on academic feminist theory. In short, she has supplied us with some ambiguities that enable us to widen the gaps between the intolerable either/or oppositions her critics offer feminism. It remains to be seen whether Lather's coaching will be persuasive. We can only note that her strategy, of reversing the binary versus undoing it, works by introducing shades of gray without undermining the integrity of the feminist community.4

    "To characterize someone as writing with world-making intent is," as Geertz (1988) has observed, "not to accuse [her]; it is to situate [her]" (p. 27). Academic feminists who justify their words by claiming the ability to change the world are using a time-honored and serviceable strategy. I am simply pointing out that when we provide this kind of cover story for academic work, our terms of motivation are loaded in the direction of foundationalism; not, as both Lather and Weiner seem to hope, in the direction of non-foundationalism. Lather's article, as a consequence, has provided us with an excellent opportunity to think about how foundationalism creeps back into non-foundationalist arguments, how foundationalist ideas can be rhetorically profitable, and how they may be inescapable, given the set of preferences that hold together the feminist frame of acceptance that Lather inhabits.


    Brodhead, R. (1993). Cultures of letters: Scenes of reading and writing in nineteenth-century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Burke, K. (1959). Attitudes toward history. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Original work published 1937)

    Burke, K. (1984). Permanence and change: An anatomy of purpose. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Fish, S. (1980). Is there a text in this class?: The authority of interpretive communities. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Fish, S. (1989). Doing what comes naturally: Change, rhetoric, and the practice of theory in literary and legal studies. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Fish, S. (1994). There's no such thing as free speech and it's a good thing too. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Fish, S. (1995). Professional correctness: Literary studies and political change. Oxford, Eng.: Clarendon Press.

    Geertz, C. (1983). Local knowledge: Further essays in interpretive anthropology. New York: Basic Books.

    Geertz, C. (1988). Works and lives: The anthropologist as author. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Lather, P. (1996). Troubling clarity: The politics of accessible language. Harvard Educational Review, 66, 525–545.

    MacIntyre, A. (1981). After virtue: A study in moral theory. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame.

    Rorty, R. (1989). Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press.

    Weiner, G. (1993). Feminisms in education: An introduction. Buckingham, Eng.: Open University Press.

    Correspondence can be addressed to Haithe Anderson, 230 Imperial Pointe, Nicholasville, KY 40356.


    1 The argument that I make here is similar to the one that Rorty (1989) makes when he contrasts metaphysicians with ironists in chapter four of his book.

    2 See Fish, 1995, p. 131. In order for academic work "to impact directly on the world beyond the academy," as Fish has observed, "it must be performed for extra-academic reasons . . . but work done for those reasons would not be recognizably academic." Reference to academic authority is from Fish, 1994; see also Fish, 1980. The argument I make here is similar to the ones that Fish offers throughout his work. Fish taught me how to say, "and it's a good thing too."

    3 Lather, 1996, p. 531. As Richard Brodhead eloquently puts it, all writing practices are bounded by "cultures of letters"; see Brodhead, 1993.

    4 Lather, 1996, p. 526. Kenneth Burke coined the idea of "comic corrective," "salvation devices," and "frame of acceptance"; his work has offered me miles of inspiration. See Burke, 1937/1959.

    Lather Responds to Anderson — A Shorter Letter: Coreadings, Misreadings, and Rereadings

    Ohio State University

    While there is no guarantee of the arrival of a message, a sending out of possibilities is the condition of possibility of a different kind of thinking about representation. The non-arrival and misreading of such messages is part of the play of the network. (Lather, 1996, p. 539)

    As Haithe Anderson's doctoral thesis advisor, I appreciate her response in the sense of a friendly critique that finds me too friendly with my critics. I contemplated writing this as a letter, to use that friendly form to let her know that in some supportive way I feel misread. But convinced by a long line of thinkers from Harold Bloom to Jacques Derrida that all readings are misreadings at some level, my primary goal in this response is to not over-master the project of being read. This eliminates a strategy of point-by-point refutation. It also eliminates any charges of a Bloomian sort of "kill the [mother/]father" misreading conducted in order to make room for the next generation's intervention.

    Instead of an Oedipal scene of misreading, Kate McCoy (in press) offers alternative practices of coreading, misreading, and rereading that work against the "whose sword is sharper" form of critique more typical of the academy. Instead of "more adequate" correct(ive) readings that "discipline/master/mistress" those we read, McCoy posits a politics of reading "that produces rather than protects" (McCoy quoting Spivak, 1976, p. lxxv). Such readings refuse murder/mastery and instead mobilize the work under review by putting the reader's own projections at risk. I hope for this here, as I read and reread Anderson for what her reading practice produces.

    Perhaps a bit protective, Anderson characterizes me as "pushed" and "bullied" into oppositional thinking by my "antagonists" (specifically my lovely friend, Gaby Weiner). "Leaving room for everyone . . . no sacrifices required," the failure on my part is "merely reversing" binaries rather than "undoing" them. By foregrounding the rhetorical strategies of my "Troubling Clarity" piece, Anderson argues that the tightrope I insist on walking is effective in its persuasiveness, but that a repressed foundational longing finds its way back so as to "normalize [my] extra-ordinary claims." And, borrowing from Stanley Fish (1994), "it is a good thing, too."

    I have no problem with the inevitability of foundations, although I am more interested in "contingent" than repressed foundations (Butler, 1992). But in her focus on reversing versus undoing binaries, Anderson somehow misses the heart of my work: a Deleuzean "becoming space," the third space opened up by Derrida's concept of deconstruction (Leach, 1996).1 This leads to conclusions on Anderson's part, such as "against the feminist writer as accessible, she [Lather] poses the feminist writer as inaccessible and applauds her complexity." My own sense of my project entails reversing, undoing, and complicating the accessible/inaccessible binary through the production of a book upon which the article is based, a book that both aims at a general public horizon and yet denies the comfort text that maps easily onto taken-for-granted ways of making sense (Lather & Smithies, 1997). Anderson's critique advocates a dose of Rortian irony to undo the "mere reversal" of the feminist (metaphysician) unable to let go of the idea that "feminist theoretic practices have, or should have, real consequences for social practices outside academia." This leaves me wanting a rereading of my article, particularly its second half, in terms of Anderson's argument regarding the "merely academic" dimensions of feminist praxis.

    Some of Anderson's points I quite agree with, particularly "the tangled web of received practices" that feminist work has had to take up in order to gain legitimacy in the academy. I lean, however, much more toward the position of within/against the "normative constraints" of the intelligible and the doable than the "insider/outsider" binary that she gets from Fish with his strong argument that academic work suffers from delusions of effectivity outside of insular interpretive communities. As already noted, I agree, too, with her argument regarding the foundationalisms of poststructuralism. Rather than looking at Richard Rorty's irony as some way out, however, I lean toward Bruno Latour's (1993) argument that "we have never been modern" as he rethinks time away from modernist progression and toward polytemporalities of the premodern, modern, and postmodern (p. 135). In a similar vein, we are all of us humanists, William Spanos (1993) argues; we can't not be, even in our determined efforts toward post-humanism.

    But the things Anderson gets right are not the important things to address. What matters is reinscribing the parameters of responsible practices of academic writing in a way that troubles any easy notion of the reader willing to confront the challenges of philosophic thought and the taken-for-granted. Never a fan of either Rorty or Fish, discomfited by being read through their "vocabularies" and oppositions of inside/outside, theory/practice, and ironist/metaphysicist, my search is for a space not structured by such oppositions.

    This is not, however, the place to critique the work of Rorty and Fish.2 Nor is it the place to address how fundamental social change comes about, particularly how to measure theory's claims and consequences. The perennial problem of the chicken or egg dimensions of whether academic theories construct or reflect the lived experience of contemporary life is too big for me here, although I argue elsewhere that poststructuralism is more about the academy catching up with changes in the world than it is about some academic rescue mission or vanguardism (Lather, 1991).

    In searching for what is instructive in Anderson's reading, I could say I was much more about imagining possibilities than I was about "coaching new attitudes" toward some rescue operation. But the "salvation narrative" is never entirely escapable in feminist work. As Michel Foucault (1980) teaches, the point is not that everything is bad but that nothing is innocent. Also, the peculiar and difficult resources Derrida offers against Kantian and Hegelian foundationalism insist on their continued pertinence. We straddle contradictory positions, foundational and post-foundational; stable, seamless purity doesn't exist. Additionally, world-making claims are not necessarily foundationalist; Lyotardian pragmatics, for example, argues quite otherwise (Seidman, 1996). All of this renders Anderson's pursuit of hidden foundationalisms a "too easy" reading.

    And my "coaching" is as much against as within a rhetoric of persuasion. My move is Deleuzean: "from persuading to producing the unconscious as the work of the text" (Lather, 1996, p. 539). Putting into play the ambivalence of reception, my writing is a place where philosophy is less argued than enacted as a practice of not knowing. To focus on persuasion would be to assume an a priori audience of address. On the contrary, my interest is in provoking a reading that finds out something about itself via a writing at the limit of taking the reader into account. I am much more about confrontation with the object than with the audience. Here, the meaning of the object is its effect on our knowing, and writing is an affirmative experimentation that displaces skepticism and irony with respect for the object, its capacity to surprise us, and to exceed us. This is a writing that shows what it is to be seen and gathers an audience in a way that resists the ground of traditional persuasion. This is precisely the Nietzschean sense of audience that I address in "Troubling Clarity."

    As Nan Johnson (1997) points out, "traditional rhetorical theory has privileged persuasion and agreement as the goals of rhetorical practice," in effect erasing difference. In moving "toward the normative" where "authority" is based on "superior knowledge and appealing character," this "anticipatory stance" in regards to audience assumes how a general type of audience will respond. Instead, my work addresses Johnson's question: "How can feminist writers begin to re-imagine the goals of writing and subvert `persuasion' as an aim for political work?" Rather than persuasion, my interest is in what Kat Lenzo terms "more nuanced authorial constructions that call into question the construction of authority itself" (1995, p. 4).

    Art historian Steven Melville notes that "mere" used to mean pure, unmixed; now it carries derogatory implications. We cast postmodernism more deeply, Melville argues, when we acknowledge the futility of sorting the "mere" from the "pure" (1996, p. 174). Regardless of disciplinary location, the borders we draw around our work include its violations and excesses, that which is outside itself, defined by its discontinuity with itself. Here our work becomes open to us in new ways, newly readable, not as the duality between the mere and the pure, but both demystification and revalorization (p. 174). The work that matters is that which can accomplish the "complex shuttling" between history and convention and a given present by enacting the problematic of this relationship (p. 175). This was what I was attempting to approach in the second half of "Troubling Clarity," this third space of becoming that interrupts the purely/merely academic, and moves toward the hybrid text that undercuts distinctions between merely reversing and purely (ironically) undoing.

    Reading perhaps too much Deleuze these days in order to think my way into post-foundationalism, an audience, I posit, reads itself into becoming part of the assemblage that is the text. Ever interested in a reading of my work that produces rather than protects, I look to Anderson's reading practice for tools to connect my work to becomings and tease out tensions and the unconscious of the text. Instead, I find myself wishing she had kept company with the likes of Deleuze and Guattari (1987) with their intriguing ideas of rhizomatics as "a method for the people" (p. 8), instead of a limited and limiting Fish and Rorty.

    Anderson's coreading with them does make possible my growing sense that a totalizing theory of rhetoric misses the mark. The "too easy to tell tale" (Britzman, in press) that turns everything into rhetoric is not exhaustive of our engagement with objects and how they happen. While knowledge projects are linguistically mediated and rhetorically staged, there is a being in excess of our knowing whether we know it or not. Facing the inadequacy of thought to its object, stuttering of and into language, the becoming something else than what our history has constructed us to be: this is the work of the third space that is the second half of "Troubling Clarity" that remains unaddressed in Anderson's reading.

    While useful in delineating the limits of "final vocabularies" in playing knowledge and power games in the academy, what Anderson's reading practice produces is the "absolute strangeness" of what I have attempted.3 I remain unsure as to whether her coreading with Fish and Rorty has provided a reductive misreading, incapable of seeing what I see as the heart of my work, or "a disjunctive space that expands rather than reduces the interpretive possibilities" (McCoy, in press). But I thank her for the opportunity to read and misread with her in a way that approaches the problematics of academic discursive practices and our efforts to twist them otherwise.

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    Melville, S. (1996). Notes on the reemergence of allegory, the forgetting of modernism, the necessity of rhetoric, and the conditions of publicity in art and criticism. In J. Gilbert-Rolfe (Ed.), Seams: Art as philosophical content (pp. 147–186). Amsterdam: G&B Arts.

    Spanos. W. (1993). The end of education: Toward posthumanism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Spivak, G. (1976). Preface. In J. Derrida, Of grammatology (pp. ix–lxxxvii). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Seidman, S. (1996). The political unconscious of the human sciences. Sociological Quarterly, 37, 699–719.

    Wolfe, C. (1991). Nature as critical concept: Kenneth Burke, the Frankfurt School, and "metabiology." Cultural Critique, Spring, 65–96.


    1 Deleuzean refers to the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and their theories of becoming and typology as interruptive of the more typical ontologically driven Western theories of being and typology (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). As theorists of knowledge, power, and desire, they shift philosophy in ways that use Nietzsche and Spinoza toward a nonsystematic system of concepts, a sort of "geophilosophy" that provides tools for thinking differently within and against dominant discourses. For an introduction to their ideas, see Goodchild (1996).

    2 Jim Merod, in The Political Responsibility of the Critic (1987), takes Fish on for his positing of an academy "shut off from the world" (p. 240) and, particularly, Fish's seeming attitude that "it's a good thing too." Nancy Fraser takes on Rorty in her chapter in The Consequences of Theory (1991). Anderson calls also on Kenneth Burke, with whom I was quite unfamiliar. Digging about a bit, my curiosity was whetted by Cary Wolfe's 1991 article that situates Burke in relation to the Frankfurt School. Of note is that Burke's ideas on the social function of the critic contradict Fish and, less directly, Rorty. Merod, for example, begins his book with a tribute to "Burke's call for radical critical intervention within bourgeois culture" (p. xi).

    3 Derrida, quoted in McCoy (in press). Derrida's argument is that Heidegger's "creative misreading" of Nietzsche ironically makes a space for Nietzsche that far exceeds Heidegger's efforts to "tame" him into a particular interpretive frame. McCoy makes this point in her reading of her reading of Spanos, which underwrites my efforts in this response, as have my conversations with Mary Leach and Nan Johnson.
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    Fall 1997 Issue


    Dual-Language Immersion Programs
    A Cautionary Note Concerning the Education of Language-Minority Students
    Guadalupe Valdes
    Language in Thinking and Learning
    Pedagogy and the New Whorfian Framework
    Penny Lee
    Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Which Is the Fairest Test of All?
    An Examination of the Equitability of Portfolio Assessment Relative to Standardized Tests
    Jonathan A. Supovitz, Robert T. Brennan
    Elite College Discrimination and the Limits of Conflict Theory
    Richard Farnum
    The More We Get Together
    Improving Collaboration Between Educators and Their Lawyers
    Jay P. Heubert
    Further Comment
    Haithe Anderson, Patti Lather

    Book Notes

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