September 16th, 2009 / 1:25 pm
Power Quote

Power Quote 2: Herzog

“It does not bespeak great wisdom to call the film The Bad Lieutenant, and I only agreed to make the film after William (Billy) Finkelstein, the screenwriter, who had seen a film of the same name from the early nineties, had given me a solemn oath that this was not a remake at all. But the film industry has its own rationale, which in this case was the speculation of some sort of franchise. I have no problem with this. Nevertheless, the pedantic branch of academia, the so called ‘film-studies,’ in its attempt to do damage to cinema, will be ecstatic to find a small reference to that earlier film here and there, though it will fail to do the same damage that academia — in the name of literary theory — has done to poetry, which it has pushed to the brink of extinction. Cinema, so far, is more robust. I call upon the theoreticians of cinema to go after this one. Go for it, losers.”

-more via The Awl

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65 Comments

  1. Drew Toal

      Awesome.

  2. Drew Toal

      Also, I’m going to just start saying “Go for it, losers” at every opportunity.

  3. Ogawa

      Easily the very best person on the planet.

  4. Ogawa

      Easily the very best person on the planet.

  5. Matthew Simmons

      Go for it, Margaret Atwood.

  6. Matthew Simmons

      Go for it, Margaret Atwood.

  7. Ken Baumann
  8. Ken Baumann
  9. Ken Baumann

      *High five!

  10. Ken Baumann

      *High five!

  11. Justin Taylor

      Joy, joy, joy

  12. Justin Taylor

      Joy, joy, joy

  13. Ken Baumann

      I want to hear expanded thoughts on: ‘though it will fail to do the same damage that academia — in the name of literary theory — has done to poetry, which it has pushed to the brink of extinction.’ from everyone. Pwetty pwease.

  14. david erlewine

      ha! I am going to say that today at the train station as people push past me to race to their cars.

  15. Ken Baumann

      I want to hear expanded thoughts on: ‘though it will fail to do the same damage that academia — in the name of literary theory — has done to poetry, which it has pushed to the brink of extinction.’ from everyone. Pwetty pwease.

  16. david erlewine

      ha! I am going to say that today at the train station as people push past me to race to their cars.

  17. Kyle Minor

      I don’t know for sure how to answer to this very well, but it certainly seems that a character such as Herzog might have bemoaned the rise of poets like John Ashbery at the expense of poets like Delmore Schwarz, and the dates line up, I think.

  18. Kyle Minor

      I don’t know for sure how to answer to this very well, but it certainly seems that a character such as Herzog might have bemoaned the rise of poets like John Ashbery at the expense of poets like Delmore Schwarz, and the dates line up, I think.

  19. reynard seifert

      i don’t know much about poetry, but i do know that billy collins was poet laureate, not once but twice.

  20. reynard seifert

      i don’t know much about poetry, but i do know that billy collins was poet laureate, not once but twice.

  21. Ken Baumann

      I’m curious about everyone’s reaction to the idea that academia and literary theory have harmed the arts.

  22. Ken Baumann

      I’m curious about everyone’s reaction to the idea that academia and literary theory have harmed the arts.

  23. adam

      too simplistic

  24. adam

      too simplistic

  25. Kyle Minor

      Anecdotally, I think theory has made people crappier experiences of literature, even as they’re maybe more sophisticated sociological observers. When I teach literature surveys, I notice that English majors seem less able than people from other majors to talk about the pleasures of a work or to describe how a work makes meaning on its own grounds. They tend to want to jump into a prescriptive critical mode, be it Marxist or feminist or poststructuralist or whatever, before dealing with such intermediate matters as story, character, point of view, voice, style, structure, etc., and the analyses sometimes seem as though they have less to do with the book than they do with an ideological debate from the world outside the book. I’m not advocating some kind of New Critical blinders-on approach to literature. But it seems like one way theory is deployed is cart-before-the-horse.

      On the other hand, I think literature is generally improved by the insights these various critical approaches have brought to those who have taken the time to wrangle with them and their implications.

  26. Kyle Minor

      Anecdotally, I think theory has made people crappier experiences of literature, even as they’re maybe more sophisticated sociological observers. When I teach literature surveys, I notice that English majors seem less able than people from other majors to talk about the pleasures of a work or to describe how a work makes meaning on its own grounds. They tend to want to jump into a prescriptive critical mode, be it Marxist or feminist or poststructuralist or whatever, before dealing with such intermediate matters as story, character, point of view, voice, style, structure, etc., and the analyses sometimes seem as though they have less to do with the book than they do with an ideological debate from the world outside the book. I’m not advocating some kind of New Critical blinders-on approach to literature. But it seems like one way theory is deployed is cart-before-the-horse.

      On the other hand, I think literature is generally improved by the insights these various critical approaches have brought to those who have taken the time to wrangle with them and their implications.

  27. reynard seifert

      “They tend to want to jump into a prescriptive critical mode, be it Marxist or feminist or poststructuralist or whatever, before dealing with such intermediate matters as story, character, point of view, voice, style, structure, etc.”

      yes, and english majors think about work in those contexts because they learn all about them when they become english majors. the information is basically presented to them and they’re like, okay, i guess these are my tools. it’s like dropping someone in the forest with a samurai blade and expecting them to make a bow and arrow so they can hunt the deer.

      so i don’t think it’s a problem with those theories. it’s that students aren’t taught how to use them properly, aren’t even encouraged to use them properly. instead, they’re awarded for being narrow-minded.

  28. reynard seifert

      “They tend to want to jump into a prescriptive critical mode, be it Marxist or feminist or poststructuralist or whatever, before dealing with such intermediate matters as story, character, point of view, voice, style, structure, etc.”

      yes, and english majors think about work in those contexts because they learn all about them when they become english majors. the information is basically presented to them and they’re like, okay, i guess these are my tools. it’s like dropping someone in the forest with a samurai blade and expecting them to make a bow and arrow so they can hunt the deer.

      so i don’t think it’s a problem with those theories. it’s that students aren’t taught how to use them properly, aren’t even encouraged to use them properly. instead, they’re awarded for being narrow-minded.

  29. matthewsavoca

      oh man, werner herzog has so many better quotes though….

      ‘I believe that the common denominator of the universe is chaos, hostility and murder’

  30. matthewsavoca

      oh man, werner herzog has so many better quotes though….

      ‘I believe that the common denominator of the universe is chaos, hostility and murder’

  31. Justin Taylor

      It’s not that all theory is bad all the time. I had a great time learning Deleuze, Baudrillard, &c. in undergrad, and using literary texts as the source for testing those theories makes at least as much sense as using a hewspaper, or whatever. My best English teacher in undergrad was fascinated by Lacan, a love he enthusiastically communicated. Well why not? Lacan wrote many books… But here’s what he taught to us: Housekeeping, JG Ballard, The Codex Seraphinianus, etc… Of course I’m talking about Dr. Terry Harpold, about whom I’ve blogged many times before here, but the point is this- the fact that he’s about as academic-y an academic as you could dream up, never prevented him from instilling in us a sense of the aesthetic value of the texts we read, and the pleasure of the text itself. In fact, isn’t THE PLEASURE OF THE TEXT the name of a book by Roland Barthes? Oh shit, it is. Who made me read that book…. Oh that’s right- Dr. Harpold did.

      Another great undergrad class with a strong theoretical component was about Modernism. It’s totally impossible to understand the Modernist project as a world-historical event without a decent grounding in certain philosophies, and even contemporary Marxist lit-crit makes a decent lens through which to view literature that is largely concerned with social upheaval, dissolving class boundaries, the industrialization of the world, etc. In that Modernism class we only read three authors- Joyce (Portrait + Ulysses), Woolf (A Room of One’s Own + To the Lighthouse + The Waves) and Conrad (Lord Jim + Nostromo).

      Why those books? I assume we read them because they are objects of aesthetic immanence, and possessed of still-resonant cultural value, because if they aren’t–then why read them at the expense of things that are? The great virtue of lit-crit is that it is applicable to damn well **anything**. Too many professors make this into an excuse for teaching worthless texts, because they can still be ‘read’ as sources for a theory driven argument. But that’s not teaching people to love literature. That’s teaching them social anthropology.

      At the end of Nostromo, basically what happens is all the unrest in this South American country is put to a stop by the arrival of an American war ship in the harbor. The ship doesn’t fire or intervene–it doesn’t DO anything. It just shows up, and it’s GAME OVER. Obviously Conrad–who published the book in 19 oh fucking 4–was making a comment about what he saw as the emergence of the US as a neo-colonial military power. A century and change later this vision has the full force of prophecy–because he was proven right. So you can write a paper or a PhD thesis on that, no question, and more power to you if you do. But there’s not enough Theory in the world–Marxist, Deconstructionist or otherwise–to justify reading the book in the first place, if the only merit it has is as the source-text for that particular ‘reading’ of it.

      Here’s the rule: Prove to me first that the thing is valuable because it is Wonderful, Beautiful, Awesome, Original, or Disturbing. If you can do that, I will happily sit and listen to you prattle about epistemology all day. Hell, I’ll prattle back with you, because that’s the kind of swingbothwayser I am. But if you don’t respect the field of Literature sufficiently to contribute first and foremost to its health and vitality, then you’re part of the fifth column, and you can go burn.

      We want Bloom, yes! But Deleuze too!

  32. Justin Taylor

      It’s not that all theory is bad all the time. I had a great time learning Deleuze, Baudrillard, &c. in undergrad, and using literary texts as the source for testing those theories makes at least as much sense as using a hewspaper, or whatever. My best English teacher in undergrad was fascinated by Lacan, a love he enthusiastically communicated. Well why not? Lacan wrote many books… But here’s what he taught to us: Housekeeping, JG Ballard, The Codex Seraphinianus, etc… Of course I’m talking about Dr. Terry Harpold, about whom I’ve blogged many times before here, but the point is this- the fact that he’s about as academic-y an academic as you could dream up, never prevented him from instilling in us a sense of the aesthetic value of the texts we read, and the pleasure of the text itself. In fact, isn’t THE PLEASURE OF THE TEXT the name of a book by Roland Barthes? Oh shit, it is. Who made me read that book…. Oh that’s right- Dr. Harpold did.

      Another great undergrad class with a strong theoretical component was about Modernism. It’s totally impossible to understand the Modernist project as a world-historical event without a decent grounding in certain philosophies, and even contemporary Marxist lit-crit makes a decent lens through which to view literature that is largely concerned with social upheaval, dissolving class boundaries, the industrialization of the world, etc. In that Modernism class we only read three authors- Joyce (Portrait + Ulysses), Woolf (A Room of One’s Own + To the Lighthouse + The Waves) and Conrad (Lord Jim + Nostromo).

      Why those books? I assume we read them because they are objects of aesthetic immanence, and possessed of still-resonant cultural value, because if they aren’t–then why read them at the expense of things that are? The great virtue of lit-crit is that it is applicable to damn well **anything**. Too many professors make this into an excuse for teaching worthless texts, because they can still be ‘read’ as sources for a theory driven argument. But that’s not teaching people to love literature. That’s teaching them social anthropology.

      At the end of Nostromo, basically what happens is all the unrest in this South American country is put to a stop by the arrival of an American war ship in the harbor. The ship doesn’t fire or intervene–it doesn’t DO anything. It just shows up, and it’s GAME OVER. Obviously Conrad–who published the book in 19 oh fucking 4–was making a comment about what he saw as the emergence of the US as a neo-colonial military power. A century and change later this vision has the full force of prophecy–because he was proven right. So you can write a paper or a PhD thesis on that, no question, and more power to you if you do. But there’s not enough Theory in the world–Marxist, Deconstructionist or otherwise–to justify reading the book in the first place, if the only merit it has is as the source-text for that particular ‘reading’ of it.

      Here’s the rule: Prove to me first that the thing is valuable because it is Wonderful, Beautiful, Awesome, Original, or Disturbing. If you can do that, I will happily sit and listen to you prattle about epistemology all day. Hell, I’ll prattle back with you, because that’s the kind of swingbothwayser I am. But if you don’t respect the field of Literature sufficiently to contribute first and foremost to its health and vitality, then you’re part of the fifth column, and you can go burn.

      We want Bloom, yes! But Deleuze too!

  33. Kyle Minor

      Dumbass that I am, I didn’t even look at the picture and think it was Werner Herzog.

  34. Kyle Minor

      Dumbass that I am, I didn’t even look at the picture and think it was Werner Herzog.

  35. Kyle Minor

      It sounds like you had a good teacher. I think good teaching can bridge all those chasms. Lucky, lucky.

  36. Kyle Minor

      It sounds like you had a good teacher. I think good teaching can bridge all those chasms. Lucky, lucky.

  37. drew kalbach

      “But that’s not teaching people to love literature. That’s teaching them social anthropology.”

      exactly how i’ve felt about every survey lit class i’ve had to take, be it american or british.

      social anthro through the lens of literature all.

  38. drew kalbach

      “But that’s not teaching people to love literature. That’s teaching them social anthropology.”

      exactly how i’ve felt about every survey lit class i’ve had to take, be it american or british.

      social anthro through the lens of literature all.

  39. drew kalbach

      oh, and also:

      my current survey of american lit 2 professor is primarily, you guessed it, a sociology teacher. couldn’t tell you what he’s doing teaching a lit survey.

      but damn he has a great lecturing voice.

  40. drew kalbach

      oh, and also:

      my current survey of american lit 2 professor is primarily, you guessed it, a sociology teacher. couldn’t tell you what he’s doing teaching a lit survey.

      but damn he has a great lecturing voice.

  41. Justin Taylor

      I should clarify just two things- (1) the Modernism class wasn’t Harpold’s; it was a different course taught by a guy named Dr. Phil Wegner, who has published some interesting stuff on sci-fi–they both have, actually. And also, that I wasn’t quoting verbatim either man’s words, sentiments, etc., but relating the lessons I took from their courses.

      Also, Kyle- I agree with all the things you said in the comments you wrote. I was thinking about what you said when I was writing.

  42. Justin Taylor

      I should clarify just two things- (1) the Modernism class wasn’t Harpold’s; it was a different course taught by a guy named Dr. Phil Wegner, who has published some interesting stuff on sci-fi–they both have, actually. And also, that I wasn’t quoting verbatim either man’s words, sentiments, etc., but relating the lessons I took from their courses.

      Also, Kyle- I agree with all the things you said in the comments you wrote. I was thinking about what you said when I was writing.

  43. Janey Smith

      I am trying to understand why my comment: “Murder: always aesthetically wonderful.” was removed? There is a long history both within literature and the arts that considers MURDER A FINE ART as well the subject of WONDER.

      Does everything at the GIANT now have to be nice? Remember BB, this murderess knows where you live–and she thinks you’re really cute (so watch out)!

  44. Janey Smith

      I am trying to understand why my comment: “Murder: always aesthetically wonderful.” was removed? There is a long history both within literature and the arts that considers MURDER A FINE ART as well the subject of WONDER.

      Does everything at the GIANT now have to be nice? Remember BB, this murderess knows where you live–and she thinks you’re really cute (so watch out)!

  45. Michael Schaub

      I second Ken’s high five.

  46. Michael Schaub

      I second Ken’s high five.

  47. Janey Smith

      Justin Taylor? I think we read mostly the same books.

  48. Janey Smith

      Justin Taylor? I think we read mostly the same books.

  49. Justin Taylor

      I doubt BB did that. He’s on the road. Maybe you irked Ken somehow? Or maybe you got spam-filtered by accident? Anywa, don’t worry- we’re all still a bunch of salty-mouthed ingrates, more or less.

  50. Justin Taylor

      I doubt BB did that. He’s on the road. Maybe you irked Ken somehow? Or maybe you got spam-filtered by accident? Anywa, don’t worry- we’re all still a bunch of salty-mouthed ingrates, more or less.

  51. Janey Smith

      Spam.

  52. Janey Smith

      Spam.

  53. KevinS

      I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Harvey Keitel masturbating. WHERE IS ALL THE HARVEY KEITEL MASTURBATION JOKES!

  54. KevinS

      Go for it, Janey Smith.

  55. KevinS

      I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Harvey Keitel masturbating. WHERE IS ALL THE HARVEY KEITEL MASTURBATION JOKES!

  56. KevinS

      Go for it, Janey Smith.

  57. reynard seifert
    • reynard seifert
    • reynard seifert
    • l.w.l.

        I think Nick Cage may do a little more damage to the film than any academic.

    • l.w.l.

        I think Nick Cage may do a little more damage to the film than any academic.

    • Corey Izod

        Oh Herzog, I dearly love thee, and yet in this cultivation of a public persona you speak such awful shit. Mr Taylor, I am with you down to the last sentence, and I too had wonderful, encouraging, passionate teachers. But this is a bad thing, this undermines good critical faculties. Is anyone out there interested in a Robin Hood figure of theory – steals from the poor (unknown artwork) gives to the rich (site of dialectics) as opposed to a Scrooge figure – (wealthy pariah of privilege haunted by ghosts of Christmas Herzog) without having had a good teacher? I refuse to believe we have to be brainwashed to enjoy theory and see that field of development constituted by a healthy relationship between art and its theory. Affective fallacy hits and everyone is polarised, I don’t imagine this was necessarily the intention. If we are to be good postmodernists and problematise any methodology, then shouldn’t we problematise any approach that does not consider the affective propensities of certain theories, certain theorists, certain readerships, certain Herzogs? And affect is not simply the most basic unit of response as it is for the romantic critics. I know I bubble with excitement when the intimate construction of a text finally makes itself available to me, or when I am lost, the work has displaced me, or when I have found a new method for reading asked of me by a text. And Ms Smith, WONDER, yes, what a pregnant term, is that not the affective, epistemological and ontological injunction par excellence? When neither term can be cleanly torn from the other? This is what academics and theory should do along with art: invoke and promote wonder. For the text, and for the critical field.

    • Corey Izod

        Oh Herzog, I dearly love thee, and yet in this cultivation of a public persona you speak such awful shit. Mr Taylor, I am with you down to the last sentence, and I too had wonderful, encouraging, passionate teachers. But this is a bad thing, this undermines good critical faculties. Is anyone out there interested in a Robin Hood figure of theory – steals from the poor (unknown artwork) gives to the rich (site of dialectics) as opposed to a Scrooge figure – (wealthy pariah of privilege haunted by ghosts of Christmas Herzog) without having had a good teacher? I refuse to believe we have to be brainwashed to enjoy theory and see that field of development constituted by a healthy relationship between art and its theory. Affective fallacy hits and everyone is polarised, I don’t imagine this was necessarily the intention. If we are to be good postmodernists and problematise any methodology, then shouldn’t we problematise any approach that does not consider the affective propensities of certain theories, certain theorists, certain readerships, certain Herzogs? And affect is not simply the most basic unit of response as it is for the romantic critics. I know I bubble with excitement when the intimate construction of a text finally makes itself available to me, or when I am lost, the work has displaced me, or when I have found a new method for reading asked of me by a text. And Ms Smith, WONDER, yes, what a pregnant term, is that not the affective, epistemological and ontological injunction par excellence? When neither term can be cleanly torn from the other? This is what academics and theory should do along with art: invoke and promote wonder. For the text, and for the critical field.

    • sasha fletcher

        i’m going to say this ken: that theory has added the whole thing about man’s search for meaning, especially in poetry. in the notion that books of theory are examples of man’s search for meaning. man being mankind. listen. sorry. and but so i am going to say that this notion that literary theory helps people to better understand complicated work like poetry, that this is not only partial bullshit [and also, let’s face it, sometimes not. there are several ways of writing that have sprung because and related to literary theory. if your work was something that could be understood, why would you need to write a manifesto explaining what you are doing and why you are doing it?] but that the notion of needing to be schooled in a thing has caused many of my friends, who went to art school and understand the notion of critical thought, will look at a poem and say ‘i can’t talk about that. i don’t understand poetry.’ and yes. i am going to blame theory for that. i am going to also blame it for people looking at a poem and talking about the hidden meaning in it. if an author is sitting there during a workshop where everyone keeps talking about how the poem is about pregnancy, an unwanted pregnancy, or probably a miscarriage, and the author is sitting there with their head in their hands, alternately looking up and mouthing what are you talking about, and everyone just keeps on going, stating later that ‘whether you know it or not, you wrote about a miscarriage’ listen, obviously at this point instead of an argument i’m just being cranky. my favorite course so far is easily the history of the avant garde and that’s in part a theory course. also a history course. also a poetry course. but yeah. i think more than theory, that man’s search for meaning has fucked a whole lot of shit to the verge of death.

    • sasha fletcher

        i’m going to say this ken: that theory has added the whole thing about man’s search for meaning, especially in poetry. in the notion that books of theory are examples of man’s search for meaning. man being mankind. listen. sorry. and but so i am going to say that this notion that literary theory helps people to better understand complicated work like poetry, that this is not only partial bullshit [and also, let’s face it, sometimes not. there are several ways of writing that have sprung because and related to literary theory. if your work was something that could be understood, why would you need to write a manifesto explaining what you are doing and why you are doing it?] but that the notion of needing to be schooled in a thing has caused many of my friends, who went to art school and understand the notion of critical thought, will look at a poem and say ‘i can’t talk about that. i don’t understand poetry.’ and yes. i am going to blame theory for that. i am going to also blame it for people looking at a poem and talking about the hidden meaning in it. if an author is sitting there during a workshop where everyone keeps talking about how the poem is about pregnancy, an unwanted pregnancy, or probably a miscarriage, and the author is sitting there with their head in their hands, alternately looking up and mouthing what are you talking about, and everyone just keeps on going, stating later that ‘whether you know it or not, you wrote about a miscarriage’ listen, obviously at this point instead of an argument i’m just being cranky. my favorite course so far is easily the history of the avant garde and that’s in part a theory course. also a history course. also a poetry course. but yeah. i think more than theory, that man’s search for meaning has fucked a whole lot of shit to the verge of death.