Monday, April 08, 2013

Why Scholarly Apparatus is Useful

This week had me rereading (for teaching) Deleuze's Cinema 2, or at least a chunk of it. It's a book that provokes new reflections every time I read it. Sometimes the thought-provoking parts are those that aren't even central to his core argument. The bit players are worthy in their own right.

And yet those throwaway claims can be frustrating. At one point he casually mentions that the Japanese don't have much use for science fiction. Which is an intriguing idea, but is it true and, if so, how? Is this something Deleuze himself concluded after watching a lot of Japanese films? A common view of area scholars of Japanese culture? A pet theory of a friend of his? A guess? We don't know, because there is no footnote.

I know Deleuze is not an applied scholar or a film historian and he's not going to have an apparatus of footnotes like I might expect those scholars to have. And I'm fine with that. Philosophy is a different kind of writing. And Deleuze's project is not ultimately about describing Japanese culture with veracity.

But this instance is a good reminder - useful particularly because cultural stereotypes are potentially at stake  - that the fussy apparatus of scholarship serves a useful purpose. In itself footnotes are no guarantee that scholars (or reviews) get it right. Deleuze could have cited a flawed or contestable study, or even if he cited a sound study then a given reader might not have the time or expertise to judge it. But it would be one check, a path for reexamination of the claim.

I know this is no earth-shattering stance. I just think there's a tough line to draw with evidentiary standards in theoretical work.

1 comment:

Jesse M said...

This is a frustration I have with quite a few critical authors -- pop-culture critics, philosophers, etc -- that seems to be getting worse every day. For some reason, there's a great impulse for writers to make broad, vaguely provocative claims with a kind of de facto uncritical chauvinism. It's an infection of editorial sensibilities within all analytical and critical writing, and I sense (totally subjective, mind you) that blogging culture is encouraging the tendency.