In the spirit of #tbt, which I’ve never observed, but no matter…
I know Bruce Andrews as coeditor of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, which ended a year before my birth but continues to fuel debates about the role and intent of poetry. I know him as an innovative poet with publications and influence nearly beyond measure.
But in 2006, the same year I attended his Mills College Contemporary Writers Series reading, he appeared on Fox News—on The #$%& O’Reilly Factor!—wearing a different hat, that of Fordham University political science professor:
Six years later, poet and critic Robert Archambeau wrote this of the exchange.
It’s worth reading all four pages in their entirety, in which Archambeau argues that for all of O’Reilly’s campy outrage about Andrews’s undergraduate curriculum being far left and not “fair and balanced” (Fox’s perplexing tag line), O’Reilly’s view of the nature of knowledge actually draws from the legacy of far-left ’60s counterculture. Archambeau sees Andrews, on the other hand, as embracing an ideal of objective disinterest, a view with “deeper historical origins, in the classical liberalism of people like Matthew Arnold and, behind such figures, the Enlightenment.”
New Left skepticism about disinterest entered the academy over the course of
the 70s and 80s, becoming quite commonplace in certain departments, especially English and Comparative Literature… At some point in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many on the right wing adopted the New Left’s distrust of disinterest, taking the idea that no form of knowledge was free of bias and distorting it into the belief that opposing views must be presented on all issues, and are to be treated as if equal. Hence the phenomenon of talk shows on which a scientist, presenting what he or she sincerely believes to be the truth, is forced to debate a propagandist, often funded by giant corporations or their think tanks, who only wants to present facts, or pseudofacts, that advance the interests of his paymaster.
Of course, this reminds me of my recent Twitter exchange with The Heartland Institute (probably Communications Director Jim Lakely), in which they/he argued that the sources of funding for research refuting climate change are irrelevant—and attempted to elevate Heartland’s own interest-based articles, a tiny fraction of the overall studies on climate change, to the same level as the 99.8% of scientific research in the past 21 years that confirms human-induced global warming.
This connection, in turn, brings to mind the U.S. government shutdown of not-so-many months ago, and a piece by Dan Froomkin in Al Jazeera, criticizing the U.S. mainstream media’s coverage of the dispute.
Again, worth reading the whole article. Froomkin writes:
The political press should be the public’s first line of defense when it comes to assessing who is deviating from historic norms and practices, who is risking serious damage to the nation, whose positions are based in irrational phobias and ignorance rather than data and reason.
Instead journalists have been suckered into embracing “balance” and “neutrality” at all costs, and the consequences of their choice in an era of political extremism will only get worse and worse…
The Atlantic’s James Fallows, one of the most consistent chroniclers and decriers of false equivalence, describes it as the “strong tendency to give equal time and credence to varying ‘sides’ of a story, even if one of the sides is objectively true and the other is just made up.”…
But making a political judgment through triangulation—trying to stake out a safe middle ground between the two political parties—is still making a political judgment. It is often just not a very good one. And in this case, as in many others, it is doing the country a grave disservice.
All this brings me back to my fledgling project of late—if it is not too soon for me to call poems & fragments of poems trickling out so fragile & new in the post-book wake a “project”—and my appreciation for Jonathan Skinner’s 2001 call to action in his introductory note to the first issue of ecopoetics, which he said
takes on the “eco” frame, in recognition that human impact on the earth and its other species, is without a doubt the historical watershed of our generation, a generation born in the second half of the twentieth century. The avant-gardes of the last decades of that century, noted for linguistically sophisticated approaches to difficult issues, stand to be criticized for their overall silence on a comparable approach to environmental questions.
The first poet in Skinner’s first issue was Bruce Andrews.
So yeah, throwback. Thanks, Bruce.
(c) Teresa K. Miller, 2014
* Photo taken from Jacket2