Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pierre Mourier: (S)call(ion)s of (D)is(se)nt

Long ago I promised a forthcoming post on theorist Pierre Mourier. Here it (finally) is. Don't worry, this is fun stuff, not boring theory talk.

When I was in graduate school, we had a listserv for the graduate students. The intention of the list was, so far as I could tell, to make general announcements for all grad students -- such as "I need someone to share a hotel room at the MLA" or "the committee meeting regarding the freshman comp classes has decided such-and-such." Pretty pedestrian stuff.

About once per semester, however, the list would turn into a theory shouting-match. The participants were mostly working on their MAs, and I think they were under the misunderstanding that they could get attention from the professors if they showed their theoretical acumen on the list (a false assumption since the only professor on the list was the graduate director, who may not have actually read the comments). This happened fairly regularly, and was annoying in the way that it clogged up our e-mailboxes with posturing crap.

One day I was sitting around the office with my friend (and fellow PhD candidate) Mike, and we were grousing about the theory flamewar currently going on. What we found especially annoying was that it was clear to anyone who had actually studied the theorists that the participants did not know what they were talking about, and were simply throwing around the names of the Theorists of the Week Club as buzzwords. That's when we came up with the idea for a prank.

We invented a fake theorist by the name of Pierre Mourier, and started a flamewar between the two of us regarding his work. We would make up fake texts and long quotes that he supposedly said, and argue aggressively about them. We thought that after a week or so, some enterprising MA student would try to look up Mourier and discover the joke.

But, no ... instead, they started arguing with us! People who were not in on the joke would write things like: "Well, my reading of Mourier is..." implying that they had read these non-existent texts. When the other PhD students saw what we were up to, they began to create (and quote extensively from) their own fake theorists, such as Gillaume de Slopard, Simone Mourier (his wife), and Jorge Jesus Castillo. The works by and about these theorists included "The Rational Irrational," "Language and Determined History: Some Thoughts on the Book of Job," "Baudelaire's Blue Lobster: The Genesis of the Psychocultural Image and the Return to Hermeticism," "The Syphlitic Eye," "Murmurs in the Cabaret: Finding Language through Noise," and "The Suffering of Memory" (which, in a brilliant post, one of my colleagues argued should be better translated as "The Ache of Memory").

This went on and on. We tried to become more and more absurd to see if anyone would call us on it, but no one ever caught on. Finally, after weeks of this fake flamewar, one of the MA students wrote in the first intellectually honest post of the thread in which he confessed total ignorance of Mourier, said plainly that he had never heard of him, and asked if we could refer him to any particular works of significance.

This had gone on for some time, so we were uncertain how to proceed. Finally, I called the fellow on the phone and let him in on the joke. He thought it was hilarious and asked to join in. So, I sent him (via the list) a very, very nasty reply about his ignorance of Mourier, and he replied (via the list) that all the books by Mourier were always checked out of the library, and that the local bookstores could not even keep his books in stock. The fun continued.

Eventually, the hoax was revealed by one of our professors who outed us in a class filled with MAs. We stopped the flamewar, and one of my colleagues put together as many of the e-mails as she could cull out of the database into a samizdat volume entitled, "(S)call(ion)s of (D)is(se)nt: (S)Talking Rational(ity)." I still have it on my shelf, and pull it off for a laugh every so often.

People will occasionally ask me why I don't talk about "High Theory" in specifics here much. The reason, I suppose, is that often when I get into discussions of particular theorists, I can tell that the other person doesn't really know what they are talking about and are instead tossing about fetishized names ("Well, Kristeva completely explodes that argument, you know..."). All I hear are people arguing that their readings of Pierre Mourier are superior to mine.

If there is enough interest, I might occasionally some of the e-mails from the flamewar for your amusement. I'd have to re-type them from scratch, though, so I won't bother if no one asks.

9 comments:

  1. You bring a smile to my face. Good ol' Mourier. You wouldn't have to retype them - i'm sure they're still in the archives for the list - you could point people there or copy/paste pretty easily. I'm too lazy to find them myself right now.

    You make me nostalgic, and I'm still here.

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  2. Richard, you may think that all of these theorists do not exist, but I have found each one of them by Googling the Library of Babel.

    Their existence is also supported by David Lewis's Many-worlds Modal Realism.

    By the way . . . hilarious stuff. I wish that I'd been there.

    You should have been a NoZe Brother.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

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  3. I have to say that this is a wonderful use of iconoclasm agaisnt iconized iconoclasts.

    Or as Baudrillard's more astute student Francois Monde wrote, in his brilliant Las Vegas: Intentional Simulacra or Homogenized False Consciousness?, "the pretext of a maximal 'image' of a scholarly 'gordian knot' can be 'severed' only when one understands the infinite abyss of contextualizing the non-contextual."

    This of course ignores the proto-Straussian Thorstein Keller, but that is another conversation.

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  4. Oh, yes, please post them. Which would mean that I would have to post the collected ravings of the University of Nottingham Juche Studies Collective (UNJSC).

    Jordan Hall

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  5. I eagerly await the Juche Studies series.

    In an alternative universe of discourse, Juche works perfectly as each nation exists in splendid isolation of every other nation, absolute cultural relativism is universally true, and I have a tenured job.

    More here:

    http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/2005/10/if-you-love-to-hate.html

    Pierre Mourier has written extensively on all these points.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

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  6. Now that's funny. Especially number one's comment. Of course, number one has Baudrillard all wrong, and "False Consciousness" is really better translated as "the imitation of thought."

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  7. The first Pierre Mourier comment on the Wayne State Listserv:

    http://lists.wayne.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0103&L=englishgrads&P=R2797&D=0

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  8. Cute, I'm glad I followed the link here.

    BTW, at Chaosium when doing the CoC books (which are works of fiction) editors often attempted to create bits and snips of this sort of thing. It was great fun. Once in a while I have to explain why the articles that show up under my name from that source aren't on my vitae ...

    ;)

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  9. My name is Pierre Mourier and I approve this message.

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