Pale Wire (Popscene)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Smart Talk


Today I finished Quick Studies, a collection of the "best" articles from the now defunct magazine Lingua Franca. From its ambitious opening 15 years ago until its sudden disapperance in 2001, the New York based pub chronicled the lives, times, and minds of the 1990s' sexiest beat ... academe.

Okay, so maybe not the sexiest. But more interesting than you might think.

Attacking the culture wars, affirmative action, and the occasional turf war with brio, thoroughness, and literary skill, LF brings to mind some strange crosspollination between The New Yorker and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

And their roster of writers lives up to that billing. Media Elite regulars like Larissa MacFarquahar, Robert Boynton, Jack Hitt, Ruth Shalit, and Laura Secor pitch in to offer compelling pieces that manage to make the ivory tower look downright swinging. What can the manic mating of Bonobo apes tell you about your life? Who the hell is that Zizek guy I heard about on BBC4? Did the Romanian secret police really gun down a professor in the men's room? All that, the latest word on the evolutionary origins of laughter, a philosopher who doesn't believe in philosophy, and Milan Kundera acting crabby.

And, of course, LF's greatest claim to fame, its role in physicist Alan Sokol 's elaborate hoax on the post-modern journal Social Text. Revisiting that wooly beast—and the sniping, taunting, hashing and rehashing that followed its romp—unearthes its share of pleasant nostalgia for news-gone-by, but it's also a helpful refresher on political and philosophical positions (Is there any difference?) that remain entrenched.

It's a really good book; the sort of thing no graduate student should miss, especially the ones most likely to read this blog.

Now if you'd allow me the license, I'd like to break from the banal reviewery, put on my thinking cap, and Do the Derrida by critiquing LF's "narrative" with one of literary theory's favorite questions: What's been omitted?

I welcome gripping stories about Grand Old Men, Insouciant Young Turks, and Wild Sexy Chicks no matter their profession. A good story is a good story—especially when it's about a sex-obsessed feminist with an open taste for graduate students and a hardened interest in the "long phallic tradition of desire." But I can't help wondering if maybe they elbow out other demographics, especially the Serious Journalist's perennial source of guilt, that old chestnut, the Boring But Important.

And there's nothing about Asian people. Nothing.