Posts Tagged ‘smugness’

I was going to sleep, but I’m still all smug about having written 25 pages today. 25 pages, guys(1).

Anyway, somewhere between page 16 and page 16 1/2 I took a break and read “Itineraries and travellers in the Middle Assyrian Period” by Betina Faist, from SAAB XV/2006, where I found the following edifying(2) quotes.

1) Having summed up various peculiarities of travel during the MA (Middle Assyrian) period, BF states:

“Finally, a brief mention is owed to aspects unattested so far. In the religious realm, we do not have any indications referring to pilgrimages to the important shrines.”

Tsk, tsk, Betina. Something obvious and self-evident in your culture doesn’t have to be obvious, self-evident, expected or even present at all in others. Take Introduction to Anthropology or something, plz.

2) Trying to tie-up things cutely — something I’m absolutely in favour of — Betina(3) quotes a 1755 letter of a Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, to his sister, Wilhelmine, who was very enthusiastic about her journey to Italy:

“…I have a very high regard of the beauty of Italy, her wonderful climate, her monuments, her past greatness as well as her modern buildings. …But I also believe the Italians to be great braggarts; they exaggerate the beauty and the value of their paintings, their statues, and a thousand things more. Everything is uno spavento, una maraviglia; big words that do not stir my ear more than would the noise of a turnspit [a kind of dog -Sendai]. …I believe if I saw Italy I should not always agree with the ciceroni, which would console me for my fatherland’s barrenness; otherwise, the comparison would be too humiliating for poor Germany…”

Aww, poor Germany.

(Done commiserating yet? Hurr hurr)

Anyway, what we have here is a typically occidental assumption that people actually mean what they say. The assumption is naturally based on the firm yet quaint conviction that people always do what they should do.

(Incidentally, this conviction also allows us to date the letter as having been written sometime before the French Revolution derp)

Anyway, it is perhaps useful to suggest to puzzled Frederick a better approach to understanding the confusingly enthusiastic Italian guides. Or, even, two approaches:

A) The guides are lying. They don’t in fact think that the Italian landscape is anything like anything they imagine a wonder to be; but they have to sell it somehow, hence the unscrupulous use of more florid turn of phrase. They do not in fact intend to communicate their honest opinion about anything at all, but rather say what they think a customer might want to hear.

B) From a pragmatic standpoint, calling something “a wonder” might mean much less to a native speaker of Italian than it would mean to a native speaker of German.

Both approaches would need testing, of  course.

This is all nerd jokes and useless pedantry, as  Frederick the Great’s couldn’t have possibly known anything about the 20th century developments in linguistics.

Betina, however, could have. Alas, directly following the Frederick the Great quote:

“Sources of that nature, relevant to the cultural aspect of travel, are completely absent from our material. Nevertheless, I can imagine Tukulti-Ninurta I reclined (sic) on his throne and musing in a similar way after having received the Egyptian delegation.”

Tsk, tsk, Betina. I recommend taking Introduction to Modern Linguistics.

Also: ah, the subtle difference between absolutism and enlightened absolutism hurr hurr de hurr(5).

Nonetheless, it was a very interesting read, not only because I immediately visualised Tukulti-Ninurta musing about his Vaterland.

Aw, it’s 3 am already, I can sleep n_n

(1) There are no words in any language I know for how smug I am. The smugness; it fills my entire room, oozes through windows, and gently slinks down onto the street; then rushes to left – towards the cathedral – or right – towards the Rhine, but then it gets worse still, but I can’t see anything, once it disappears behind the corner.

No words, srsly.

(2) I feel more edified than the cathedral today.

And the big one in Mainz, too.

(3) I’m terribly sorry (not), but the name “Betina” makes my wretched black little heart warm and gives me fuzzy feelings of malicious glee. I can’t not use the name. It is imperative that I use the name.

Betina, Betina, Betina~~~~~~~

I will not be stopped.

(5) For those of you who might be confused, a journey:

– in enlightened absolutism means going abroad and making a couple of sketches, preferably of ruins,

– in Tukulti-Ninurta’s “absolutism” would mean going abroad with an army and making a couple of conquests, preferably leaving behind only ruins.


(Inspired by this post over at Camels With Hammers <3)

Many years ago, Alan Sokal epically owned stupid pomos* by submitting a ridiculous parody article* to their prized journal, Social Text. The article was titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”. Its most characteristic features was that it was stupid, ridiculous and also completely idiotic as long as taken seriously.

When it was finally revealed that the article was a parody of pomo “thought”, all hell broke loose in the pomo virtual reality, and Sokal was  criticised by the numerous disgruntled pomos, who were, naturally, wounded to the core***.

Among the vapid and spurious criticisms of Sokal the stupidest was that “wah wah wah HE IS SO SMUUUUG“.

(By the way: I read Sokal’s Beyond the Hoax, but not his first book — yet. I too, thought he was rather full of himself. However:)

Allow me to enlighten you: he pwned the pomos* epically. It was a one-in-a-hundred-years, Iliad-scale epic pwnage. Probably no one will get to pwn anybody like that for years, if ever.  It was awesome. It was spectacular. It was effective.

Therefore, Sokal has a right to be smug.

As a matter of fact, I think that fake modesty, and the emphasis on not being smug or even a little bit proud of one’s accomplishments has a lot to do with that sort of Christianity that was pervasive in Europe and beyond for a long long time, and in which one is never allowed to feel good about oneself, basically.

(A somewhat traumatising**** exchange between Sendai A and her grandmother, when Sendai A was a little kidlet, and her grandmother was still alive:

Sendai A: Look! Look! Look what a pretty princess I sculpted in clay, getting the whole room dirty and clayey in the process! Even the curtains! And so what if it doesn’t look like a humanoid, least of all a princess, I SCULPTED IT YAY! SHINY!*****

Grandmother: Yes, it’s pretty.

Sendai A: IT IS ISN’T IT!

Grandmother: But don’t be so full of yourself. If it weren’t for the talent given to you by God****** you wouldn’t be able to sculpt princesses, or maybe even move your hands and legs or speak. You should pray and say thanks more often.

Sendai A: Whaaaa???

Suffice it to say, the relations became somewhat strained between me and the grandmother since then, until she realised she can’t stop neither me from, um, being me, nor my parents from “worshipping the devil and bowing to the idols”******.)

But I digress.

The thing is, when you do something as epic as Sokal, you are entitled to feeling smug. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  We’re  entitled to feel good about ourselves when we do something well. We’re entitled to feel good about our accomplishments.

The ridiculous emphasis on always playing down anything you do in western culture is intrinsically bound to the concept of always being grateful for imaginary help to an imaginary bearded sky-fairy. We don’t need that, guys. This might be also why, at least in my experience, the accusations of  smugness usually come from the Xian, right-wing side of an argument*******.

Not to mention that if you consider the accusation of smugness in your opponent a valid argument, interesting things are bound to come up, like here:

They’re really charming, aren’t they? It is as if everything arrogant about the academy and everything sneering about cable news culture is combined into one big snarky smugfest.

And a few lines later:

Maybe they will remind people that between these atheist bigots and these fundamentalist bigots, the appeal of the Christianity of the Gospels shines like the sun (emphasis mine)

Or not, really.

(Naturally, swiftly followed by a nonapology. Classy, Andrew Sullivan, really classy. But then, I guess you’re just a smug theist engaging in a typical smug theist snarkfest, huh?)

(Also: not agreeing with Andrew Sullivan is bigotry now? Good one. Almost had me there. Awesome trolling!)

* postmodernists.

** OMD I read it, so I know. It makes you head all achey when you realise that at least 20 people must have thought it was a brilliant idea to publish it. Ow! (I do realise Social Text had no peer review policy at that time. Yet, somebody had to read and approve, so.)

*** Fortunately, confirmation bias and complete ignorance saved them from the uncomfortable necessity of revising their views in such a way that they conform to reality or any such nonsense.

**** For both participants, not the reader.

***** Obviously, I haven’t changed at all since then.

****** She might have said “the Holy Spirit”. Batshit Catholic theology is not my area of expertise.

****** My parents are Buddhists.

******* Apart from the pomos*. They’re a separate wing all on their own.