Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Center

Do not hold to that center, Jack, it is the a pusillanimous sludge of liberal and conservative bankruptcies, a pus of old jargons which will whip into no militant history, but may be analyzed eventually by the chemists as the ingredient which smudges the ink on such mothers of the center as the N.Y. Post.

Norman Mailer's open letter to JFK
(The Presidential Papers, p. 78)

There's an interesting discussion at about alleged "intellectual inefficiency" of mainstream journals. In this case, I agree with Brayden and Omar and disagree with Norman Mailer. It's a good example of a distinction that I think must be maintained: we cannot straightforwardly transfer literary sensibilities into academic contexts.

In fact, my point may be almost Weberian. We cannot express our political support for "marginal positions", and general boredom with "the center", in our scientific work. I'm not saying we can't engage in oddball projects, or that we have no right to be bored with the pace of intellectual change (i.e., the slowness with which our brilliant ideas are acknowledged in our academic community). I'm just saying that we can't make our marginality a mark of our legitimacy.

In science, there is only mainstream legitimacy. The legitimacy of a marginal position is a contradiction in terms.

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