Thursday, April 27, 2006


Somewhat late in the day, there's been a minor dust-up in the Spivak event over the concept of a "higher eclecticism." See Scott Kaufman's post at the Valve, "Arguments about Higher Eclecticism, as Illustrated by Two Paintings with One Name".

Sketch for Sgt Pepper album cover(Oh, and let me say that I have never liked Mark Tansey's work. I remember seeing him speak once, and asking a question suggesting he was just a highbrow Peter Blake.)

I felt myself rather misrepresented in that post (as I try to clarify in the subsequent comments). But the fact that my name was invoked arises in part from my suggestions at various times that it'd be worth formulating some kind of defence of eclecticism, if not necessarily a "higher eclecticism."

As a place-holder for such a defence, let me rescue and elaborate slightly upon a comment I made elsewhere, in the discussion that originally led up to the Spivak symposium...

I have no real idea what John Holbo means by "higher eclecticism," but in many ways I'd happily admit that my own work is concerned with, and operates though, a form of (perhaps lowdown and dirty) eclecticism.

Put it this way: I enjoy and find productive the activity of bringing together apparently divergent traditions of thought and cultural enquiry, and seeing what emerges from the ensuing collision.

I do that both with theorists (Deleuze and Bourdieu, for instance, who are certainly unlikely bedmates), but also more generally with Area Studies and Theory, and/or with Latin American reflections on culture and Anglo-American approaches to culture.

I wouldn't want to argue that there's some natural affinity between these traditions, nor that their contradictions or differences can be resolved. It's not an attempt to totalize or homogenize. Far from it, in fact; I'd rather preserve their heterogeneity. But I do think that the sparks that fly off in the encounters or clashes between divergent series is indeed illuminating. I'm thinking here in part of Deleuze's reflections on the series, and the "strange attractor" that communicates between them like a lightning flash.

Anyhow, I'm not necessarily advocating this as some kind of transferable master plan. (There might after all be some self-contradiction were I to do so...) But it works well enough for me.

And if that's "higher eclecticism," then so be it.

Though if I were to be suitably self-regarding and self-conscious, I'd probably turn to concepts within the traditions I work with--such as "mestizaje" or "transculturation" or "hybridity," say--as my own personal descriptors. After all, these terms (hybridity and so on) are crucial to the way in which we've understood Latin American (and more generally, postcolonial) culture. Why not work with them? Even if we have to differentiate between different modes of eclecticism (higher vs. lower, dirty vs. clean, I don't know), just as Alberto Moreiras distinguishes a "savage" hybridity.

But if the alternative to eclecticism is disciplinarity, purity, respect for lineage... then I'll choose eclecticism every time.

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