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Monday, June 02, 2008

Call for award nominations

Now that June is underway, and my exams are almost all graded, it is time to solicit nominations for prizes. Specifically, I am looking for nominees for the following awards:

(1) The Hegel Award: Given to the author whose books' citations in conversation or footnotes most greatly exceed the number of people who have actually read the author's books.

(2) The Derrida Award: Given to the author whose IQ most greatly exceeds that of his or her followers.

(3) The Judith Butler Award: Given to the author whose works require effort to comprehend most greatly in excess of the payoff from comprehending them.

A single author is, of course, eligible to be nominated for all three awards.

Posted by Rick Hills on June 2, 2008 at 08:25 AM | Permalink


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Know-nothing anti-intellectualism from laypeople is bad enough. It's particularly sad to see it come from a legal scholar. The fact that you get little "payoff" from Judith Butler's scholarship, I imagine, says far more about you than it does about her. Yes, her work is difficult -- sometimes excruciatingly so. But there is a reason why she is one of the most important figures in feminist theory, political philosophy, queer theory, and ethics. Instead of dismissing her work, why don't you try re-reading it? Who knows, maybe you will learn something.

Is there a Prawfsblawg award for the most ignorant and condescending post of 2008? If so, I think we have a new nominee.

Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Jun 2, 2008 10:02:34 AM

To put it feebly, especially after Kevin's comments, I'm not too fond of this sort of thing either. It certainly risks being a species of sour grapes. And I'm not as familiar with Judith Butler's work as Kevin, but I have read at least one book that clearly demonstrates the benefits of a sustained and sophisticated engagement with her work, namely, Saba Mahmood's Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005). Indeed, that book made me think I should better acquaint myself with Butler's writings.

If one improperly cites or quotes Hegel there are plenty of philosophers and academics out there qualified to call one to task for it; in any case, there will always be scholars who abuse the work of others, egregiously name-drop, and so forth. And while I'm no fan of Derrida, the same holds in his case.

Perhaps it's more productive in the long run to hold up models of the kinds of scholarship we might emulate rather than revel in the foibles and follies of others, if only because, as Kevin notes, it's exasperating enough that we have to contend with the "know-nothing anti-intellectualism from laypeople."

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 2, 2008 10:31:15 AM

My worry about this is a bit different: why do you think Derrida is smarter than his acolytes? (I also didn't follow the Hegel award.) Judith Butler is a pernicious and obscurantist charlatan--on the perniciousness, Martha Nussbaum's essay on her from a few years back is quite instructive.

Posted by: Brian | Jun 2, 2008 11:24:35 AM

Thank god Brian has spoken.

In light of the first two comments, I suggest a new category:

The PrawfsBlawg award: Given to the author whose acolytes are least likely to have a sense of humor, proportion, or tolerance for critics of their hero.

The Derrida award has to go to Nietzsche, hands down.

Posted by: lawprof | Jun 2, 2008 12:21:51 PM

At least Brian speaks for himself. You, on the other hand, are gutless.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 2, 2008 12:37:22 PM

I confess I'm not sure I even follow what our gutless colleague is saying. Is the PrawfsBlawg award meant to insult O'Donnell and Heller for objecting to the derisive comments about Butler? And giving the Derrida Award to Nietzsche is supposed to insult who--me?

Anyway, I hope our gutless friend feels better now.

Posted by: Brian | Jun 2, 2008 3:31:35 PM

The nomination of Nietzsche is rejected out of hand: Admirers -- if not "followers" -- include the likes of H.L. Mencken, Albert Camus, Karl Jaspers, and Georg Simmel. (I should note that Brian has observed that "the field [of Nietzsche studies] is populated with mediocrities and incompetents, who can't perform in ordinary scholarly and philosophical contexts." (http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2004/07/the_state_of_ni.html) So the nomination is not entirely implausible, I guess).

Brian asks what I mean by naming an award for unread but oft-cited writers after Hegel. I may have screwed up in choosing Hegel's name to designate the award. It is true that Hegel is not much read outside of professional Philosophy circles. But perhaps he also is not much cited, either -- not lately, anyway. My basis for the decision was that educated people generally can associate the dialectic between thesis and antithesis with Hegel -- but I've yet to come across a non-philosopher who admits to have made it through even the Preface to The Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807).

Nevertheless, in response to Brian's query, I am now soliciting nominations for names for an award to be given to "much cited but proportionately unread authors." Candidates, please?

Posted by: Rick Hills | Jun 2, 2008 5:20:26 PM

The Hegel award just has to go to Clausewitz. The ratio of people in strategic studies and international relations who cite him to those who have read him has to be on the order of 100 to 1. I'd say Machiavelli but most political scientists ended up reading him for a class at one time or another.

Posted by: Jeffrey Dixon | Jun 2, 2008 7:33:18 PM

Elaborating on Kevin Heller's comment, I propose the Hills Award, for the blogger whose Peck's Bad Boy shtick has most quickly worn thin.

Posted by: Untenured and gutless | Jun 2, 2008 8:12:54 PM

Ok, it's time for me to step into my sandbox-owner role: can we please all remember that the goal of this site is (a bunch of friends trying) to get the arguments right, so let's step back from the inclination to label and make swipes at people that are unsubstantiated, and the same probably goes for valorizations of people that are similarly unsubstantiated. (The latter crime is a petty misdemeanor, the former is a felony.) As I see it, it was a mistake for Rick to pick on Butler in the absence of the link to Nussbaum's essay; it was wrong, though less wrong, for Kevin to rush to her defense with unsupported and unargued accolades. (You can see how these principles apply to the rest of the thread.) Of course, it's especially wrong (indeed a capital offense) to make any swipes under the cover of anonymity--especially at the writers here; if you don't agree with something but can't be bothered to articulate your disagreement in a menschy manner, move along please. And be forewarned: I will sometimes delete comments that even the original posters don't mind having up. Don't be surprised if your comments disappear if they're not supportive of the overall mission. Lecture over.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jun 2, 2008 8:38:23 PM

"Feminist theory?" "Queer theory?" And these people expect to be taken seriously...

Posted by: ginsocal | Jun 4, 2008 6:42:39 PM

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