Essays for the left hand

kris_r | January 14th, 2007

According to the psychologist Jerome Bruner, there are two ways of looking at the world: logico-scientific on the one hand and narrarive on the other hand. These two modes of thought provide “distincitve ways of ordering experience, of constructing reality”. In Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986) he explains how this idea is strongly linked to a personal crisis he experienced during the years he was a student of psychology:

“Twenty-odd years ago, engaged in the research on the psychological nature and development of thought, I had one of those mild crises so endemic for students of mind. The Apollonian and the Dionysian, the logical and the intuitive, were at war. Gustave Theodor Fechner, the founder of modern experimental psychology, had called them the Tagesansicht and Nachtansicht. My own research had taken me more and more deeply into the study of logical inference, the strategies by which ordinary people penetrate to the logical structure of the regularities they encounter in a world that they create through the very exercise of mind that they use for exploring it.
I also read novels, went to films, let myself fall under the spell of Camus, Conrad, Robbe-Grillet, Sartre, Burgess, Bergman, Joyce, Antonioni. From time to time, almost as if to keep some balance between night and day, I wrote essays about Freud, the modern novel, metaphor, mythology, painting. They were informal and “literary” rather than “systematic” in form, however psychologically motivated they may have been.
Eventually, I published these “fugitive” essay as a book: “On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand”. It was a relief to get the book out, though I do not think its publication changed my way of working much. By day, the Tagesansicht prevailed: my psychological research continued. At night there were novels and poems and plays. The crisis had passed.” (Bruner 1986:8)

Foucault vs. Chomsky

kris_r | December 13th, 2006

Thanks to the Cultural Studies mailing list (CultStud-l), I found this televised debate between Foucault and Chomsky on the relation between justice and power, on the “situatedness” of human nature.

Justice Vs. Power – Chomsky Vs. Foucault, Part 1

Justice Vs. Power – Chomsky Vs. Foucault, Part 2


kris_r | December 12th, 2006

Interesting quote by Edwards coming from his Rhetoric and Educational Discourse, he starts by quoting Derrida:

A Standard act depends as much upon the possibility of being repeated, and thus potentially of being mimed, cited, played, simulated, or in general ‘parasited’, since all these possibilities depend upon the possibility said to be opposed to it.
(Derrida 1988: 91-2)

“This implies that there is no substantial difference between, for example, promising on stage and promising in ‘real life’. Both are performances that the speaker/actor has witnessed and internalized as the ways other speakers/actors have of saying/doing a thing (promising), but which are realized as acts only in the performing or iterating of them. To put this simply, we are always acting, in both senses of the word, regardless of whether we have memorized our lines from a specific script for a specific play or, more generally, from ‘life’, from previous speech encounters. Our acting always relies on that script, the iterable or ‘always already’, a socially regulated pattern for our behaviour that is nonetheless located in situated and dynamically contingent contexts. Furthermore, speech acts embodied in figurative or metaphorical language are just as much speech acts with performative force as are those embodied in ‘serious’ or non-figurative language, even if they make work in different ways for different purposes and audiences.”


kris_r | December 12th, 2006

Some nice quotes on academic literacy coming from the novel Boetekleed by Ian McEwan:

“Want daar ging het natuurlijk om: hij zou een betere arts zijn omdat hij letteren had gestu­deerd. Wat een diepzinnige uitleg zou zijn gescherpte gevoeligheid van het menselijk lijden kunnen geven, van de zelfverwoestende dwaasheid of pure pech die mensen tot een slechte gezondheid drijven! Geboorte, dood en gekwakkel ertussenin. Opkomst en ondergang – daar hield de dokter zich mee bezig, maar ook de lite­ratuur. Hij dacht aan de negentiende-eeuwse roman. Een grote verdraagzaamheid en langetermijnvisie; een onopvallend warm hart en koel oordeel; zijn soort arts zou ontvankelijk zijn voor de monsterlijke patronen van het lot en voor de ijdele en grappige ontkenning van het onvermijdelijke; hij zou de verzwakte pols voe­len, de laatste ademtocht horen, de koortsige hand voe­len afkoelen en zich bezinnen, op de wijze die alleen literatuur en godsdienst leren, op de nietigheid en edel­heid van de mens…”
(Ian McEwan, Boetekleed, p.131)

“Maar Cecilia, die in Cambridge moderne vormen van snobisme had geleerd, beschouwde een man die schei­kunde had gestudeerd als mens incompleet. Letterlijk haar woorden. Ze had drie jaar op Girton rondgelummeld met het soort boeken dat ze evengoed thuis had kunnen lezen — Jane Austen, Dickens, Conrad, alle­maal in de bibliotheek beneden, de complete werken. Hoe had die bezigheid, het lezen van de boeken die an­deren als vrijetijdsbesteding zagen, haar in de waan ge­bracht dat ze boven iedereen verheven was? Ook een scheikundige had zijn nut. En deze had een manier ge­vonden om chocola te maken uit suiker, chemicaliën, bruine kleurstof en plantenolie. En geen cacaoboter.”
(Ian McEwan, Boetekleed, p.210)

“Hij lachte beleefd, al moet hij me oliedom hebben gevonden. Het is tegenwoordig volstrekt onmogelijk om iets over het onderwijspeil van mensen te veronder­stellen op grond van hun spraak of hun kleding of hun muzieksmaak. Het veiligste is om iedereen die je tegen­komt als een vooraanstaand intellectueel te behande­len.”
(Ian McEwan, Boetekleed, p494)

Blogging Issue

kris_r | November 25th, 2006

Blogging Issue Publication Announcement
Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture

In the latest issue of the on-line journal Reconstruction several aspects of weblogs are being discussed. Craig Saper wrote an interesting article on ‘Blogademia’, where he discusses the phenomenon of academic bloggers (sic). There is an interesting passage on the relation between blogs and academic writing:

“Catherine Liu notes that although the blog is “a supplement to my own activities as a writer […], I hope there is a sense of risk and outrage that I don’t allow into my academic work.” Michael Benton concurs and also worries that if academia accepts it as legitimate then it will become much more “formalized, regulated and restricted.” Jeff Rice, in an email correspondence with me, puts a slightly different twist on the personal when he argues that “Blogs take the academic out of the single minded masturbatory feeling of working onto one’s self. They enact the conversational nature of rhetoric – the give and take – the parlor sense of rhetorical discussion that Burke noted – the antagonism Lyotard highlights, the intertextuality literary studies loves.” Although it does not seem academia has caught up, Rice calls for patience: “Word processing is a great example. It took time before folks realized how important word processing is to writing (most dismissed it in the early ’80s). If weblogs become influential and change our practices, it will take a lot more time.” He concludes by returning to the complaints discussed here (i.e., that narcissistic anonymous exhibitionism seem key components to blogs including those by academics).”

Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture,Vol. 6, No. 4
(2006) themed issue, “Theories/Practices of Blogging,”
can be found at

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kris_r | November 22nd, 2006

From November 17th till November 18th the HSN-conference took place at our department. HSN (Het Schoolvak Nederlands) is a two-day meeting for teachers of mother tongue (Dutch) and literature who have the opportunity to exchange good practices. At this conference the essay ‘De Cultuur van het Lezen’ by Ronald Soetaert was presented and one of the strands was organised around this essay. The essay offers several perspectives on the functions of reading and literature. It doesn’t want to take a stance pro or contra reading in general or a certain type of literature in particular but wants to look at the continuum on which the debates about these issues are taking place. The essay and the presentation of this essay during the plenary session were filled with citations of novels and quotes from movies. I tried to do the same.

In his novel ‘De Plaag’ David van Reybroeck describes the frustration of the scientist Darts who doesn’t get any acknowledgement for his scientific research in South-Afrika during colonialism (my apologies for the Dutch quote):

“Ik geloof niet dat Darts’ gebrek aan erkenning een uitzonder¬lijk voorbeeld van wetenschappelijke verblinding betrof. Inte¬gendeel, die episode zegt iets over de scheve verhouding tussen gevestigde geleerden in de metropool en gedreven onderzoekers in de kolonie. Deze laatsten ontbeerden vaak de noodzakelijke geloofsbrieven – iets waar Marais ook mee te kampen had. Wetenschappelijke inzichten veranderen lang niet alleen door ontdekkingen of argumenten, maar minstens zozeer door de sociale netwerken waarin onderzoekers werkzaam zijn. Het zijn die netwerken die bepalen wie geloofwaardig is en wie niet, welke gegevens als betrouwbaar gelden en welke theorieën plausibel zijn. […] De vondst klopte niet, de man klopte niet, de plek klopte niet.”

Van Reybroeck uses the personage of Darts to make clear that the value of science is not only dependent on the research findings and the arguments but is just as much depending on this social network in which the research (so the arguments) are taking place. The value of science is “situated” in the context where it is taking place, depending on “the finding, “the man” and “the place” (translation of the last sentence of the quote).

In my presentation during the strand ‘De Cultuur van het Lezen’ I tried to make a similar point about the science of literature in general and literary criticism in particular, starting from the movie Educating Rita. This film represents very clearly how the (academic) evaluation of literature is based on a few conventions and codes and that being able to talk about literature in an “appropriate” manner comes down to knowing and being able to use these codes.

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Surprising Powers

kris_r | November 10th, 2006

Richard Powers’ scientific humanism.
By Stephen Burt

If the term “science fiction” had no prior meaning, it would describe all the novels of Richard Powers. The MacArthur “genius”-grant winner, whose ninth novel, The Echo Maker, comes out this fall (and is nominated for a National Book Award), does not just write about scientists, programmers, and engineers, though such professions populate most of his books.


After reading Powers, C.P. Snow’s once-famous complaint about the “two cultures”—scientists and humanists, each unable to listen to the other—melts away. The novelist trained as a physicist himself. No wonder he gets celebrated as a cerebral novelist, as an explainer, as the smartest writer on the block. Yet the interest in Powers as a man of science misses what keeps his characters alive. All his information-rich protagonists—teachers, programmers, professors, singers, accompanists, homemakers, hostages—have to master a vast array of data: All of them make, from that data, refuges, new spaces, kinds of art. All of them (Powers argues) need both the arts and the sciences in order to share a household, a nation, or a world.


Powers’ insistence that we make one another up, that our personalities coalesce from clouds of floating information, practically requires reviewers to call him “Postmodern”; some would link him to Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, even William Gibson. Yet Powers is less these Postmodernistas’ companion than he is their opposite: warm where they are cold, lyrical where they are clinical or satirical, most involved where they would be most distant. Powers wants to know not how and why we fall apart, amid paranoid systems, but how (with the help of the arts and the sciences) we might put one another together.

Read the rest of the review…

The subculture of science

kris_r | October 24th, 2006

On the other hand, border crossings can be problematic. For instance, the border crossing between humanistic and scientific subcultures has been a concern to science educators ever since C.P. Snow (1964) wrote The Two Cultures. Moreover, research into the difficulties of non-Western students learning Western science has identified obstacles experienced by students who have an indigenous “traditional” background and attempt to learn a subject matter grounded in Western culture (Baker and Taylor, 1995; Dart, 1972; Jegede, 1994; Jegede and Okebukola, 1990, 1991; Knamiller, 1984; MacIvor, 1995; Ogawa, 1986, 1995; Pomeroy, 1994; Swift, 1992). This research on students in non-Western countries can help Western science educators understand how their own students need to cross borders; for instance, from a humanities oriented life-world to the science-world of school science.

Science education: border crossing into the subculture of science

To do science

kris_r | October 24th, 2006

The Firm as a Nexus of Relationships: Toward a New Story of Corporate Purpose

language + other stuff

kris_r | October 10th, 2006


Picture taken in Geneva at the ‘Place Bourg du Four’

Like Bourdieu and Fanon before him, James Gee uses Discourse (but with a capital D) theory and analysis techniques to investigate and explain how language works both to scaffold human activities and affiliations and to maintain social identities within social groups (1999, p. 1). Also, like Fanon and Bourdieu, Gee recognises that there is more to language than oral and written words. For Gee language is made up of what he refers to as “other stuff’ which includes body language, gestures, actions, symbols, tools, technologies, values, attitudes, beliefs and emotions (Gee, 1999, p. 7). These ways of communicating and of acting are often, according to Gee, supported by a range of props, which can include such material and non-material identifiers as accents, writing styles, dress standards, building designs or an assortment of possessions that can be used to signal the values and beliefs of an individual or group. All these props go towards creating an image that signals membership of a particular group and which can be recognised both by members of the groups and those outside it.

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