Re: the cult of personality

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&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; The short answer to your question is that in the case
of the majority of books, technical papers, and essays I read, I know absolutely
nothing the author personally, yet I read them with profit. Sure, I can
pick up a book on probability theory and see a dedication to a family member
or friend of the authors, but it does not affect the technical content
one iota. His proofs are good or bad, regardless well or badly he may treat
his spouse. The fact that Claude Shannon died a month or so ago of Alzheimer's
disease may well be a tragedy in and of itself, but it has nothing to do
with the theory of which he is the undisputed founder. It has nothing to
do with any of the papers he published during his long illustrious career.
<br>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; In the case of poetry, I will admit
that knowing something of the poet's life can at time inform ones reading
of the poet's work. Georg Trakl is a good example of this. However, I fail
to see how knowing that Robert Frost threw fits of rage over nothing, and
almost killed his wife once, enhances ones appreciation of "Stopping by
Woods on a Snowy Evening."
<br>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; The long answer is that I am not saying that,
as a general principle, it is not helpful to use details of an author's
personal life as a basis for assessing the quality or merit of his work:
I am saying that it is <i>dangerous</i> to do so--- dangerous to the advancement
of science, to academic freedom, and an impediment to ones own intellectual
advancement. The simple reason for this is that in doing such, one ventures
outside the realm of science, theory, and intellectual discourse and into
the realm of superstition, bias, and prejudice. As such, the merit of scientific
claims is then judged on the basis of bias and prejudice. It is precisely
on the basis of this kind of thinking that Galileo was persecuted by the
Catholic Church, and Giordano Bruno was burned alive by that same honorable
institution in 1600 for maintaining that the universe was infinite. It
is also the kind of thinking that led to the Salem witch burnings in this
country, the slaughter of a Million Vietnamese people in the name of "freedom"
by the US government, with overwhelming support of its citizenry, and the
persecution of thousands of intellectuals and artists in the old Soviet
Union and the Cultural Revolution in China in more recent decades.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;
<br>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; If what you suggest were ever to become accepted
as a general principle, book publishers would have the right to know everything
about the personal life of a book's author, just as students would have
a right to know everything about the personal lives of their professors.
There would be no such thing as "privacy" for anyone involved in academic
or intellectual life. Such would be a dark world indeed, one I hope I never
live to see.
<p>"Patrick M. Krueger" wrote:
<blockquote TYPE=CITE>On Tue, 3 Jul 2001, Patrick Crosby wrote:
<br>> Come on dude, this is all a bunch of bullcrap and you know it. Plato's
<br>> texts, like all texts, stand on their own. Your claim "to have known
<br>> Plato the person" is laughable.
<p>i believe that we can read texts "as if" they stand on their own, but
<br>then they come with baggage. such as our own cultural context, our
<br>interests, our own training. otherwise, a literate 6th grader could
<br>foucault or kant or debeauvoir and get the same thing from it as a
<br>who studies philosophy for a living.
<p>reading is interpretive.
<br>interpretation takes place in a context.
<p>maybe knowing more about the context of gay politics in the u.s. and
<br>france, of aids, of sadomasochism, or the stigma, of the pride, etc
<br>help one understand why foucault was so interested in truth/power.
<br>when one feels constrained by "truths" (ie. it's morally wrong to be
<br>it's a reason to be persecuted, it is/was a psychiatric disorder, etc)
<br>has to ask why they have so much power, what makes that possible. how
<br>power circulates in society. and then one applies that thought more
<br>generally. say, to sexuality, to prisons, etc.
<p>hell, why did franz fanon write about "the wretched of the earth"?
<br>"black skins, white masks"?maybe his personal experiences informed
<br>method, thought, tactics, in some way? perhaps?
<p>i don't understand how a person could think that knowing a person's
<br>biographical experiences wouldn't inform a reading of their work. it
<br>not provide "The One True" reading, but it would inform that reading.

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