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Archive for September 2012

“in california, one has only a first name”

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I’m sure most of you are already familiar with this, but thought I’d pass along my favourite paragraph from Marjorie Perloff’s indignant response to Mary Beard in the LRB just after 9/11.

I have been a subscriber to LRB since the journal’s inception some twenty-five years ago. But I hereby cancel my subscription and shall urge my Stanford students and colleagues to boycott the journal. Let me end, however, on an upbeat note that speaks to Beard’s ‘of course’. The man who takes care of our garden in Pacific Palisades, Ruben Vargas, was here the other day. A Latino who came to California from Mexico not all that long ago, Vargas has a daughter who is a freshman at UCLA. Some of us like to think that such upward mobility is what makes the US unique. I asked Ruben what he thought of the attack. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘at least now we’re all in it together.’ I responded: ‘But Ruben, many of my friends think it’s all America’s fault.’ He smiled and said: ‘Excuse me, Marjorie’ – yes, in California, one has only a first name – ‘but isn’t that a minuscule part of the population?’ Of course!

LOLZ. God bless America, a land where we hardly ever beat our gardeners for addressing us by the first name! You can find both the Beard and the whole Perloff here. What is interesting to me now, looking back at this piece after so many years, is the way that Perloff, in constructing her trumping concluding paragraph, so perfectly takes up the Clintonian * trope that goes something like “I met an ordinary woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she shared her story with me, I hugged her, and I felt her pain.” You know, the old argumentum ex I know ordinary folks, this sort of thing (wish I had time to find a better example). These are sorts of performative utterances: they signify by being said or being able to be said as much as by what they actually say. It’s funny that Perloff, in the heights of anger, decided to construct her argument according to this extremely liberal “I might not be of the people, but I’ve met some of them… especially those in my employ” structure.

Anyway, was quite a moment. If I recall correctly, both Beard and Perloff had visiting appointments at Princeton in 2002 – people were anxious / excited at the prospect of seeing them take it off the letters pages and onto the quad.

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September 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Posted in america