by Dish Staff
Ivan Kreilkamp entertainingly tears down the practice of titling polemics “Against [X]“:
The crankily oppositional intellectual journal N+1 has made a regular diet of “Against [X]” in the past decade: “Against Exercise,” “Against the Rage Machine,” “Against Reviews.” The formula’s quality of brashly counterintuitive overstatement is well suited to twenty-first-century online publishing. When someone throws down the gauntlet against something as seemingly benign, necessary, or positively good as interpretation, happiness, exercise, or young-adult literature, who can resist taking a peek? Here lies a problem with “Against [X].” Its contrariness can seem contrived or ginned up for effect, aiming, with an excess of self-congratulation, for a outraged or scandalized response: Yes, folks, I’m dismissing happiness itself in a two-word title. Can you handle it?
But the contemporary manifestations of the form can appear weakly liberal when considered within the longer history of this genre. For the early “Against [X]” polemics by the likes of Augustine, Athanasius, or Tertullian (“Adversus Marcionem”), nothing less than the fate of the Church was at stake; their scorching blasts were designed to shore up correct orthodoxy against a heretical enemy whom they aimed to drive into exile. The contemporary, post-Sontagian polemics adopt a posture of provocation in faintly echoing such forebears, but they are, in their hearts, pluralistic, and in fact suggest only a slight revision in perspective. Lawrence Lessig isn’t really against transparency, of course: rather, his claim is that “we are not thinking critically enough about where and when transparency works, and where and when it may lead to confusion,” and so on.