Saturday, September 10, 2005

What's in a shrug?

A couple of blog entries ago, I wrote: "Wendy, by the way, dismisses Edward Said with a shrug."

An anonymous commenter posted this response:

That shrug bothers me. is it Moibian too? are we supposed to imagine a supplicant East Coast literary critic dismissed from the regal presence of the West Coast scientist's daughter? such a gesture would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action dislodged Berkeley's theory of perception.


I reponded with this:


Anonymous, it sounds as though you haven't read Wendy's paper. If you had, you likely wouldn't characterize her gesture in the way that you have.

Moreover, I don't see anything "regal" about a shrug. It seems to me to transcend class, cultures, and even civilizations.

So, why label the shrug orientalizing?

If Said's theory greatly oversimplifies a complex range of interpretations crossing the borders of neighboring, interpenetrating civilizations -- and, arguably, it does -- then Said's view deserves a shrug.


Upon reflection, I'm not sure that shrug was the right term to describe Wendy's mention of Said. Here is what she wrote:

Western Orientalism was not nearly as unified and homogeneous as Edward Said originally suggested, but rather imagined the Orient in contradictory ways depending on the circumstances.

This remark comes at the beginning of paragraph six, and she doesn't again mention Said although she says quite a bit about Orientalisms and Occidentalisms. So, I took it as a shrug. Judge for yourselves.

My anonymous commenter chose to take it as a shrug, but perhaps only on my say-so and without (it seems) having read Wendy's paper.

In re-reading the comment critical of Wendy's 'shrug,' however, I noticed a stylistic bump:

such a gesture (i.e., the 'shrug') would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action dislodged Berkeley's theory of perception.

Did my commenter really mean "dislodged"? Seriously? That would be odd, for this would seem to imply that Wendy's shrug had successfully refuted Said's premise.

Parallelism of clauses, however, would suggest that not "dislodged" but rather "confirmed" was intended. As in:

such a gesture (i.e., the 'shrug') would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action confirmed Berkeley's theory of perception.

Or perhaps:

such a gesture (i.e., the 'shrug') would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action confirmed rather than dislodged Berkeley's theory of perception.

The parallelism works now, but I'm not fully sure if the commenter meant this. Let's assume, however, that this meaning was intended. Since "dislodged" alone was used, could it have therefore been used ironically? This is possible, but the style suffers from bumpiness.

Whether my commenter meant to type an earnest "confirmed," an ironic "dislodged," or some longer expression, the meaning misfires through the parallelism anyway because Johnson's kick neither confirmed nor refuted Berkeley's idealism.

As every schoolchild knows.

At any rate . . . . Affirm. Refute. Dislodge. Confirm. What's in a word? In the case of "shrug," no one -- etymologically speaking -- is sure:

c.1400, schurgyng, of uncertain origin. Perhaps connected to Dan. skrugge "to stoop, crouch." The noun is first recorded 1594. To shrug (something) off "dismiss" is recorded from 1909.

If shrug does stem from the Danish word skrugge, then its etymological connection to anything regal would reflect the supplicant's posture rather than the monarch's.

Not that etymology proves anything . . .

3 Comments:

At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there, Dr. H. I've written something you might find a bit interesting here, as it touches on theodicy. http://hifromseoul.blogspot.com/2005/09/heracles.html

 
At 5:04 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Said deserves little more than a shrug. I read Orientalism, and saw its basic hypocrisy pretty quickly: in accusing "the West" of having created a concept called "the Orient" (an entity assumed to be monolithic), Said created a concept called "the West" and assumed it to be monolithic.

Bernard Lewis's Islam and the West deals with Said fairly effectively.

Said was factually wrong in his assessment of "the West" (which is by no means monolithic) and methodologically wrong in the way he approached "Orientalism" (largely through hypocrisy, victimology, and polemic rather than through actual scholarship).


Kevin

 
At 6:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nathan, thanks for the link. I'll take a look when I get back from Daegu, where I have come with my family for the weekend and where I share computer privileges with three kids who max out on computer games.

Kevin, that pretty much sums up my view of Said's theory. I don't mean to imply that I've learned nothing from reading Said. I haven't read all of his Orientalism, and I intend to finish it one day though I consider much of it a well-written screed. Everything is grist for the mill.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home