Monday, April 11, 2011

Words from Wahneema

A while back, I did a series on the Group of 88’s scholarship—or, in some cases, lack thereof—pointing out the usually-extreme, often-comical ways in which Group members interpreted events through the race/class/gender prism. At the time, I pointed out that the author of the Group’s statement, Wahneema Lubiano, had an . . . unusual . . . approach to publishing, in that she had received a tenured position on the Duke faculty without having produced a scholarly monograph. Instead, she listed two monographs as “forthcoming” (which means that a professor has completed the work and has a contract with a press). These manuscripts have now been “forthcoming” for a breathtaking 14 years, and still have yet to see the light of day.

Lubiano has published a handful of articles, though—in a great irony—her career’s most influential work probably is the Group of 88 statement itself. Nonetheless, while Duke appears to have bent its rules to give her tenure, even Lubiano had to produce a dissertation to receive a Ph.D. degree (from Stanford). A reader recently sent me a copy of the document. It’s short for a dissertation (a little over 200 pages of typewritten, double-spaced text, with generous margins), and ideologically exactly what you’d expect from Lubiano. The dissertation, prepared for the Department of English, analyzes a handful of African-American novels, the best-known of which include Ellison’s Invisible Man and Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

Lubiano’s dissertation advisor was an English professor named Sandra Drake. Remarkably, Drake obtained a position from Stanford’s English Department even though she doesn’t have a Ph.D.—her most advanced degree is an M.A. from San Francisco State University, an institution that few would consider a first-tier graduate school. (Drake's Stanford bio doesn't list a Ph.D. degree, though I have been told she received one after she began teaching at Stanford.*) Nor was she a publishing powerhouse—her first (and, according to her on-line bio, only) monograph appeared ten years after Stanford hired her, or after she would have received tenure. Drake specializes in literature of the Black Diaspora, with a particular focus on “women’s writing and comparative feminist studies.” In other words: race, class, and gender, all rolled into one.

Lubiano’s dissertation—“Messing with the Machine: Four Afro-American Novels and the Nexus of Vernacular, Historical Constraint, and Narrative Strategy”—features the combination of only-in-academia beliefs and impenetrable prose that would characterize the few publications she would pen over the next quarter century. Here’s an excerpt from the opening paragraph of the dissertation, with the run-on structure as in the original:

And it does seem easy to give into the temptation to think that one “knows” or understands already books about people who live, as the narrator in Invisible Man puts it, a “public life,” and in many ways anyone part of the Afro-American culture does lead a public life, is part of a group “known” (to the public’s gaze) more in the mass than in the particular, the idiosyncratic. Consideration of the “literariness” of these texts might seem, to some readers, almost superfluous because knowledge of the oppression imposed on the culture which forms the (con)text seems to make closer scrutiny of form, of structure, frivolous.

Yet, Lubiano maintains, her chosen texts of study “make a form of political weapon.” (Invisible Man as a politically-oriented text? Who knew?!) She criticizes the “dominant vision of reality” (which she asserts is “colored by racism,” and which leaves African-American culture “marginalized”). And she notes how her own views on reality have been informed by “post-structuralist theorizing,” although, she adds, she doesn’t intend to use post-structuralism in her own analysis, but instead would focus on her own preferred approach of “meta-realism.” That would allow her to expose how “the deconstructive potential of that vernacular lies in its use as textual strategy and in the attitude toward language that it embodies.”

For Lubiano, “altering reality within the sphere of influence of a dominant culture instead of simply representing it complicates the discourse.” But, of course, “altering reality” allows the scholar to read into the text whatever preconceptions (about the pervasiveness of racism, in the case of Lubiano’s dissertation) he or she brings. Who needs evidence when you can simply “alter[] reality”? Lubiano isn’t worried about such a problem, in any case, because her dissertation’s approach allows her to move beyond the great enemy of the contemporary academy: “assumptions that hide their dependence upon white, European and American, middle-class contexts.”

Much of the dissertation consists of the type of literary criticism that has come to dominate contemporary English Departments. But occasionally, Lubiano overtly and more clearly editorializes. She seems to chastise the black middle class for not doing enough to “talk [with] and understand” the black lower-class. And she excludes from her study “Afro-Americans who deliberately and self-consciously choose to live their lives totally within the cultural matrices or another or other group(s).” (Some people might call that “assimilation.”) Lubiano also praises the work of two of her future colleagues among the Group of 88—Houston Baker and Frank Lentricchia. The dissertation’s title, in fact, is taken from a Lentricchia essay that attacks liberals for their allegedly insufficient radicalism.

In her analysis of Song of Solomon, Lubiano writes that among the questions she will examine is, “What is going on?” What, indeed.



Anonymous said...

If I write a couple of book reports, can I get a Ph.D. from Stanford too?

Anonymous said...

Is Lubiano a Communist?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where one can purchase Gospel cd's and dvd's of Linwood Wilson.

We could help the poor lad to raise funds to pay a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

What, another faux scholar at Duke?

Surely, Duke's pres and admin would not allow such.

"What is going on?"
Are there 88 others like this?

Does dhead have any clue of the ludicrous antics of faculty?

Surely, he is embarrassed by lack of credentials.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, it does seem easy to give into the temptation to think that one 'knows' or understands already about people like Lubiano who live, as the narroator in Invisible Man puts it, a 'public life,' and in many ways anyone part of the Afro-American culture does lead a public life, is part of a group 'known' (to the public's gaze) more in the mass than in the particular, the idiosyncratic.


Anonymous said...

Stanford, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, NYU, Duke - seeing a pattern here.
Ideological conformity, anti-male/white, dubious credentials among the liberal arts faculty.
Yet...yet, the very groups these AA beneficiaries so brazenly despise continue to part with their despicable dollars, funding those whose aim is to bring them down.


Gary Packwood said...

If Wahneema Lubiano and her friends wanted to get into 'Messing with the Machine' at Duke they should have chosen the 'meta-realism' of the basketball team or a large fraternity rather than the invisible men of the lacrosse team.

Or perhaps she did and Crystal and her driver got confused with the date, time or place.

Taking out the basketball team or a large that would have been the Song of Solomon.

Suppose Crystal already possessed their DNA?

Jim in San Diego said...

As Peanuts would say, "Good Grief".

It is so depressing to observe that mumbo-jumbo and balderdash pass for scholarship.

The Administration does not bother to try to apologize or explain. No need, apparently, as there is no accountability anywhere.

Academic freedom? No, academic anarchy.

This quality of anti-intellectual nonsense would not have been accepted as a sophomore's first effort, once upon a time.

Jim Peterson

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor Johnson:

You must immediately cease and desist quoting Lubiano's prose.

Respectfully yours,

The English Language

Anonymous said...

Has anyone read this one? Might be entertaining if the title implies its content accurately.

R. Wiegman, W. Lubiano, and M. Hardt. "In the Afterlife of the Duke Case". Social Text 25.4 (2007) : 1-16.

Anonymous said...

The poster who signed "The English Language" gets my vote for "post of the year" on this site! Hilarious.......

William L. Anderson said...

So, Lubiano gets a publication in what really is nothing more than an in-house journal that is low-rated for scholarship, and once even published a piece that the author purposely had written as nonsense.

Now, today, ST is "peer-reviewed," which means that Wahneema's friends reviewed it for her.

A Duke Dad said...

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the class room
Teachers leave those kids alone
(yells) Hey, teachers! Leave those kids alone!

- - - Pink Floyd

A Duke Dad said...

Dr. Johnson:

Are you not being too demanding of the academics of the Junior College which issued Lubiano's PhD ?

It's official name is The Leland Stanford Junior University.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Lubiano uses quotation marks for emphasis - something one might expect from a 10th grader - rather than italics. The writing style appears to be seriously immature, inconsequential and extremely boring - (maybe insipid is the right word.)

This is a Professor of English?
No wonder they call PhD "Pile it higher Deeper."

Anonymous said...

I'll make sure to bookmark the passage; whenever I feel self-doubt about my writing skills, I can point to this Professor of English at Duke University and say:

"I can do a lot better work, even without a college degree."

Thanks, Wahneema! You made my day.

Anonymous said...

Taxpayers asked for this, when they succumbed to the unstated but implied notion that they were not smart enough to oversee the universities they paid for.

The old professors asked for it when they concluded or were bullied into agreeing into all manner of affirmative action.

Now huge parts of our universities are as irrelevant to real life as they are unproductive drains on our resources. They are safe sinecures for totally untalented people who aggressively insist on a cornucopia of conferences, salaries, pensions and whatnot.

Worse, they replicate aggressively, adding departments and subspecialities with the aid od cowardly administrators who have no intention of being the next Summers.

Federal aid provides a seemingly perpetual stream of naive or similarly foolish students into these departments each year.

What on earth can be done to choke off this educational weed?

Greg Toombs said...




Affirmative Inactivity.

Jim in Greensboro said...

O/T: Chapel Hill incident UNC Chancellor deems "hate crime" at proves to be false.

Anonymous said...

Greg the more common meaning of AI applies to her too: "Artificial" Intelligence

Anonymous said...

Re: 4/11 10:34PM
Stanford, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, NYU, Duke - seeing a pattern here.
Ideological conformity, anti-male/white, dubious credentials among the liberal arts faculty.
Who speaks out for the white male, supports him and nurtures his development?
1.The fundamentalist Christian schools
2.Bob Jones University

Can a pattern be identified?

Big Al

Anonymous said...

So Crystal finally killed someone. I just hope her non-thinking, enabling, group-think, P.C.-jihadi apologists will pause to wipe the blood from their hands before they rush to their keyboards to again scapegoat others for her crimes.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Northwestern parent, and frankly have not seen anything that I would consider "anti-male/white" at the school, unless you count their unreasonable expectation that students study before organic chemistry exams.

Deklan Singh said...

Good lord, a kid in my sophomore, HIGH SCHOOL English and composition class wrote a 50 page paper analyzing Invisible Man.

Anonymous said...

Here's the Abstract of the Stanford paper, which may help to give us the flavor of the opus:


Four Afro-American novels have advanced new visions of reality, language, and structure. These visions give rise, during the Harlem Renaissance, to the fantastical, shadowy, and dark reality of Cane and the lyricism and folklore of Their Eyes Were Watching God, to the surrealism of the nightmare vision of Invisible Man in the modern era; and, in the post-modern era, to the magical realism of Song of Solomon.
The intersection of Afro-American vernacular, as language or as attitude toward language, the historical moment and its varied constraints, and the narrative structures, form an intersection within these texts: a nexus. That nexus is the unmediated space for the construction of meta-realistic visions that undermine a dominant Anglo-American realism predicated on rationalism and linear historical constructs.
My study, to a great extent, is a translation of that nexus via an examination of the vernacular and the currents of contemporary literary discourse. Within that nexus, the borders of difference are foregrounded, and exploration of that difference is more productive for readers than a too easy and thoughtless identification with the content and themes of the texts.


Sorry, I think even my 4th-grade English teach would have made me diagram some of these sentences, to discover that one of them, unbrilliantly, states: "The intersection...form an intersection." And, I confess unfamiliarity with the verb "foregrounded."

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ.

I would be able to stomach that this type of poorly written nonsense could pass as scholarship if we were talking about a third tier university or community college. But, we're talking about Stanford and Duke.

Is it any wonder that college students can't write or think critically if this is what their professors are producing?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see someone diagram that sentence

Anonymous said...

Is mean ol' KC picking on Juan...whenee...winy...whornee, uh Jiffy Lubiano - AGAIN???

Hey she's tenured, KC, nothing y'all can do.

Shining the light of truth on this marxo-feminazi is a complete and utter waste of time.

Feel better now? Me neither!

Barbara Seville said...

How galling and demoralizing it must be for the Duke faculty's many genuinely brilliant mathematicians, physicists, geneticists,linguists, historians and other bona fide scholars in serious academic disciplines to be bracketed with -- and in practice to be subordinate to -- Ms. Lubiano and her fellow purveyors of this sort of vacuous rubbish.

Anonymous said...

As a double-duke grad, and someone who loved my experience as a student, this is one aspect of this fiasco that is particularly galling -- the complete lack of scholarship. And no one, including anyone at Duke in any position of authority is allowed to call this bunk what is it for fear of being labelled a racist. I am interested to see what Duke does now that money is tight. Will it continue to support Diversity Depts of 10 people and supposed professors who can't put together a cogent sentence?
And I have asked some of the higher-ups -- isn't this just truly ridiculous, and all I get is an eye roll and a shrug. No one wants to call it what it is.

M said...

You honestly have nothing better to do with your time than find ways to criticize a colleague at another institution? Why are you still fixated on whether or not certain Duke faculty are qualified? Why so obsessed, still, with the mote in thy brother's eye?

KC Johnson said...

To the 9.36:

Thanks for the taking the time to comment. I notice that you did not dispute the content of the post in any way.

Anonymous said...

Wow K.C Johnson you are a bitter dick....a small white one at that...