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May 15, 2006

BABELpast Addendum I

Betsy M. and Karl S. sing "Careless Whispers" (Kalamazoo 2008)

A brief word regarding IDEOLOGY: at the 41st International Congress on Medieval Studies, held on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan from May 4-7, 2006, the question was raised by one of our “humanisms” round-table participants whether or not he was really “arguing against us,” and why, therefore, did we want him as part of our group? It has to be stated unequivocally that BABEL has NO coherent ideology, only a passion for certain questions–as in, what is the future of the humanities, and what is at stake in either having or not having a humanities in the future? If we have one philosophy at all it is to devote ourselves endlessly to proposing all the possible answers without ever exhausting the political energy of the questions. Indeed, we seek to keep our primary terms–“human,” “humanism,” “the humanities”–perpetually open as sites of investigation and analysis. But even beyond that, to keep asking, insistently, and to never want to stop asking the question of “being-together” togetherthat is our chief raison d’etre, our philosophy, our ideology, our mission. And that brings us, also, to why we chose the name “BABEL”–because we embrace the idea of a multi-perspectivist, multi-voiced, babble-icious scholarship. BABEL roams and stalks as a multiplicity, a pack, looking for other roaming packs and multiplicities with which to cohabit. In this sense, we seek to build desiring-machines for which no “join” that can be thought is withheld from our embrace. This does not mean, however, that we advocate an “anything goes” morally vacuous pluralism (although “pluralists” we most decidedly are), so:

In addition to all of the serious ideas and objectives narrated above, part of BABEL’s mission is also to try and insert the ideas of humaneness and playfulness into our profession [which partly follows from Betsy’s continual question: why aren’t the humanities more humane?]. We want BABEL to be a space within which the cultivation of the person and affective amity matter more than purely academic questions or status, and to that end, we refuse negation, arrogance, posturing, snobbery, false modesty, and every other tried-and-true technique for the inducement of academic anxiety, intellectual homicide, and self-loathing. Further, BABEL is interested in exploring what the political theorist Jane Bennett has called “two images circulating in political and social theory. The first is the image of modernity as disenchanted, that is to say, as a place of dearth and alienation (when compared to a golden age of community and cosmological coherency) or a place of reason, freedom, and control (when compared to a dark and confused premodernity” (The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics, p. 3). For Bennett, it is important to investigate the history of these two images and also to locate in modernity “sites of enchantment” because “affective attachments” to the world and “the mood of enchantment may be valuable for ethical life” (p. 3). According to Bennett, “Enchantment is something that we can encounter, that hits us, but it is also a comportment that can be fostered through deliberate strategies. One of those strategies might be to give greater expression to the sense of play, another to hone sensory receptivity to the marvelous specificity of things” (p. 4). Following Bennett, BABEL seeks to deliberately formulate and practice strategies for an “enamored” and affectively engaged scholarship and also to cultivate, with and for each other, sites of enchantment. And on this note, see also:

“Here Now Is one Who Will Increase Our Loves: On the Virtues (and Loves) of Beautiful Singularities” (yet another BABEL manifesto)

As to another reason why we are attracted to the Tower of Babel as a source of inspiration, we begin with the image of the Tower in ruins. As historians, we are the sifters of the fragments of this site, but we are not its rebuilders. We are collecting these disjointed fragments and we are bearing them to the present, not as artifacts of the past, but as tablets on which new possibilities can be written, read, and even lived.

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