Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Post-conference trauma (again)

Have just returned from a conference. One of those conferences where my humble and harmless ideas are greeted with baffled silence, theatrical eyerolling and straight-out spite. It is astounding how reliably the mere suggestion that some (a few) human attitudes and behaviours might be universal leads to the spontaneous collective performance of shaming rituals like avoiding eye-contact or denying verbal communication. An evolutionary psychologist would interpret all this as evidence of the old cheater-detection mechanism. Stupid, just-so story-telling evolutionary psychologist!

That is not so good. But on the positive side: I'm far less palpitatious in these situations than I used to be. What is more, these days I even manage to come up with halfway sensible ripostes (even when feeling under the weather!). In fact, I think that this time I managed to make points that are not dissimilar to those made by Terry Eagleton in a recent review of an academic study of John Cleland (of Fanny Hill fame) - only maybe not quite so eloquently.

So this is what I kind of said today:

In postmodern eyes, sexuality is at its best when deviant, since the normal and conventional are thought to be on the side of power. This is the reason words like 'normal' and 'natural' are nowadays swathed in scare quotes, as they are in this study. Yet crooked bankers and serial killers are deviant, while sunlight, death, panic and arthritis are natural. Whatever else they may be, human beings are natural material objects. Normality and convention can be on the side of enlightenment; if being allowed to go on strike isn't normal, it ought to be; convention dictates that you shouldn't kick vagrants who ask you for money. Postmodernists celebrate the marginal, while failing to note that neo-Nazis fall into that category. They also take the side of minorities, a group which includes tax evaders. In any case, those who prize the deviant should also cherish the normative, since there would be no deviancy without it.

Thank you Terry. I only wish I'd read your review before the conference.

No comments: