I moseyed over to the playground with my daughter a few years back, she was wanting to play T-Ball and for reasons lost in misty memory, I had the key to the equipment box. Fatal error, I got stuck with being the coach. I usually played Seth in the infield because unlike the others he seemed to have an idea of what was supposed to be going on. Now he’s an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Morgan State University. I’ve seen pictures. He stands out in a crowd.

He’s written Chuck Klosterman and Philosophy: The Real and the Cereal

OK if I’ve got this right, you’ve written some essays and edited such from other commentators – a collective of elites that lionize this guy Chuck Klosterman, who have their own inside lingo (e.g. HYPERthetical), and hope to bridge the philosophical gap between Aristotle and Honey Boo Boo. Isn’t that pretty much it?

You’re pretty close. Your description of bridging the gap between philosophy (construed as high culture) and [ENTER POP CULTURE ICON HERE] is the goal of the series of books published by Open Court, their popular culture and philosophy series. However, if you visit their website at http://www.opencourtbooks.com/categories/pcp.htm, you will notice that the pop culture icon X in the title X and Philosophy is supposed by the publisher to contain the philosophical in its music, television series, movies, etc… So you’ll notice that Honey Boo and Philosophy does NOT appear, nor is their a pressing call for editors for that volume, although I won’t be so presumptuous to state that there never will be, and I should probably familiarize myself with the show before I predict that there never will be. Never mind that: there never will be and should never be such a volume.

My particular volume is somewhat different in that it’s Chuck who reflects on the meaning of various low culture fodder, from Saved by the Bell to Paradise City, a Guns ‘N Roses cover band, and so the bridge we build is more complex. Chuck writes on pop culture. We write on Chuck writing on pop culture. Then, Chuck writes an epilogue, where he writes on us writing on him writing on pop culture.

Now, as to whether or not we lionize Chuck, more authors lionize him than those who do not. However, one outstanding chapter, written by Benjamin D. Lisle, an OKC native with a jump shot almost as wet as KD’s***, is highly critical of Chuck’s reading of the cultural meaning of American (gridiron) football and soccer. So there are fewer chapters critical of Klosterman than those that praise his ability to see philosophical concepts in low culture. This was also the case because I interpreted it to have been bad form to rip on ol’ Chuck, when he was the sine qua non of the book’s publication.

[*** also on my T-Ball roster. Ben Lisle, not KD. I practically raised these kids my own self. Learned them most of what they know.  DM]

And you got Klosterman to write an epilogue. How did that come about?

My first attempt to pitch the book to Open Court did not succeed. In my reply to their rejection I made my case, that those who read Klosterman, (and he’s sold a lot of books), are the very people who would read this series. On top of that I promised them that Klosterman himself would write an epilogue. They agreed to publish the volume, if and only if, Chuck agreed to write for it.

I then emailed Chuck’s agent and pitched the idea. Chuck actually emailed me back in a couple of hours agreeing to it, “as long as I did not put his face on the cover.” Now, he might have interpreted my email as being written by a representative of the publisher. In fact, I’m almost certain he did. Was this true, that I represented the publisher? Well, once he agreed, it became true, so it was conditionally necessary, a Kantian idea, and not just dissemblance on my part. Not complete dissemblance, at least.

I get the idea that in terms of “labor of love” this work is sort of like me fixing the toilet seat last weekend. You didn’t really do all that much heavy lifting. Defend yourself.

First of all, I cannot fix a toilet seat, so the analogy cannot apply to me as you intend it to. But if it were easy for me to fix a toilet seat, then I would have to respond in two distinct ways, once as an author and once as an editor.

As an author, the challenge, the heavy lifting, is learning how to write for an non-academic audience. As academics with PhDs, we are habituated to write in a way that is not universally appealing or entertaining. You know it. We all learned it school. Say what you will say, say it, then say what you said. Introduction-body-conclusion. This does nothing to capture your average Barnes and Noble shopper. So as an author you have to start in the middle of things and back your way into a philosophical argument, allowing the high culture stuff to sneak in the back door while you take the reader down a path that they’re comfortable on, Chuck’s path. Furthermore, you cannot use academic phrasing as I just did, such as employing “throat-clearing” phrases like “furthermore.” We should never, in these chapters, “flesh out” ideas or “tease out” conceptual meanings. We save those academic phrasings for our conference papers. Third, you can’t hide behind technical philosophical vocabulary. The phrase, “transcendental apperception” cannot appear in your chapter. And as academics we have a distorted understanding of what is commonly understood by our audience. So it is a heavy lifting of sorts to unlearn our academic training.

As an editor, I have the “heavy” burden of communicating this to the other authors. Nearly 70% of first drafts come in an academized voice and structure, and you have to force the authors out of their habits. Then, whether or not creating an index and doing the line by line editing, which is much less fun than writing, is heavy lifting, I’ll leave to the readers of this to decide. If you’ve done it, you can tell me it’s light weight. If not, withhold judgement.

I think it is light weight compared to getting a journal article accepted through the front door of double-blind peer review at a top tier academic journal or compared with getting a book manuscript published at a top tier university press. I’ve lifted the former and am still pushing on the weight of the latter.

(1) They say that the infighting in academia is so mean because the stakes are so low. (2) You got the most cruel, ferocious, malicious, rancorous and unpleasant review at Amazon I’ve ever seen. Can you bridge that philosophical divide for my readers? What would Chuck do?

(2) I think one of the responses to that “review” was “nice rant.” The author of that review responded, “It’s not a rant. It’s a review.” I would compromise and say, “it’s a ranting CUSTOMER review.” To say that it is a “review” and not a “rant” is to suggest that a journal on culture studies would consider publishing that “review.” No self-respecting academic journal would ever publish that rant. I have written many book reviews, and I always balance a charitable reading with a critical lens and voice. The author of that review makes several good points, however. He felt there was too much “lionizing,” too many North Dakota authors, and too many chapters by the editor. The first two points are related: Chuck’s fans from home love Chuck, too much in fact. The last point would be strengthened if he actually knew how many submissions I got, which he did not. And it would be a stronger point if he went out of his way to criticize my chapters, which he did not. This is not a blind reviewed volume and there is no conflict of interest in publishing my own essays. I asked the publisher for permission to do so, and they said, “go for it.” The tone of the review in general, I think, is the product of Chuck’s writing voice being both the cause of his fame and audience appeal and the cause of a whole lot of Chuck-haters. One Chuck-hater wrote online that Chuck was an “ass-face.” This is childish name-calling, not academic rancor. This reviewer seemed to be a Chuck hater of sorts. And I think it colored his review of the chapters. The hateful review actually praised Lisle’s chapter, which was the one most critical of Chuck’s writing. His claim that there was no philosophy in the volume is entirely unwarranted. He is either unfamiliar with the series and how it presents philosophy very indirectly or he does not know how to recognize philosophy when it stares him in the face. The WWCD chapter, to his credit, did not contain much, if any, philosophy. But the publisher liked it the best and almost made me put it first. This we disagreed upon, and I got my way and put it dead last.

Please note, there is another, much more favorable review on the site now. Skip down, read it, then purchase the book.

(1) Is this infighting as common in academia as you imply? I have presented over thirty academic papers, and I have only been “attacked” in a cruel, ferocious, malicious, rancorous manner once. I was told that one of my terms, conservatism, was “meaningless, a mere sound, an utterance.” This is as bad as I have gotten it. And that’s not bad. I once rode from San Fransisco to St. Louis on a plane on the way back from an APA conference, and a husband and wife academic pair was recounting the disaster that was her paper. She had been torn apart by some pretentious jerk and was devastated. It happens, but in my experience, the audience is critical but reasonably charitable and fair. We try to balance passion and dispassion all at once, and sometimes it gets tough, but I do not know if this is because the stakes are low or not. I do not even know if the stakes are low or not.

What would Chuck do? He’d probably ask the reviewer to send him a copy of his book so he could review it online. Then, when Chuck learned that the reviewer had produced no books, he’d reply, “Oh, I see,” and move on, not sweating the malicious rant. Chuck would realize that only NL pitchers have the right to drill someone. They, after all, have to go to bat.

What books would you give your nieces and nephews if they were stranded on a desert island?

The Human Comedy by William Soroyan, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For my oldest niece, those are age-appropriate and gems in my opinion, and I cannot recall what the younger ones would find appealing. Assuming they would need a lot of time to read, The Phenomenology of Spirit by G.W.F. Hegel and Process and Reality by Alfred North Whitehead. They’d be saved before they’d decoded the latter of those philosophical tomes.

Why are you writing? It can’t be just the “publish or perish” thing. And don’t say “I write because I must” because I will just edit that crap out.

“The publish or perish” thing is a good motivator but it can’t be the real horse that pulls the cart. I suppose I write for different reasons for different projects. For the two pop culture volumes, I think I enjoy bringing philosophy to fans of intelligent popular culture and making that stuff even more intellectually enjoyable.

Most inquiry, begins with some sort of pervasive doubt or uncertainty, with a seminal problem. So most academic writing I do I consider an inquiry, an intellectual response to a problem. My current project, on the intersections in normative methodology in Conservatism and Pragmatism, is a response to a discursive, rhetorical problem, (something in classical conservatism has been lost in contemporary political discourse), and a response to an academic problem, that the literature on these two methodologies suggests more distance between them, where I see all kinds of fruitful overlap. So the hope is that amending the second problem could be a part of a communal solution to the first, albeit a very small part. Are those low stakes? Decide for yourself.

What the low down on the publisher? I’m unfamiliar with the name.

Open Court is a subsidiary of Carus publishing. I believe Paul Carus was a significant academic in his own right. Formerly, Open Court published mostly academic books, but it found a niche in this pop culture and philosophy series. I believe the publisher also publishes children’s books.

The cover art and title are groovy. Comments you can share?

I wish I could take responsibility for the art. That was perfect. Chuck’s most popular book is Sex, Drugs, an Cocoa Puffs, whose cover art contained an image of a cereal bowl with illicit pills floating in milk. So the cereal image was perfect and helped connect with Klosterman fans. The Real and the Cereal subtitle, which we nailed, was the product of a back and forth brainstorm between an editor for the series, George Reisch, and I. I pushed the cereal trope and after a lot of back and forth, George coined it as is. Our other ideas paled in comparison. “Being John Cusack,” for instance, just did not cut it.

Tell us something about the book you have coming out in June.

The Wire and Philosophy, (subtitle to follow), is another in Open Court’s series. The HBO series, if you have not seen it, is as good as TV has ever been. We ask questions about the relationship between individuals and the institutions they serve, about the moral dimensions to lying, about the roles race, gender, sexual identity, and criminality play in the show and in society. We write about tragedy, from Ancient Greece to contemporary Baltimore, and we, as the show’s creator, David Simon, did for us, undo easy to swallow myths about the American dream, and the dismissive and uncritical “get-a-job” response to our postmodern, postindustrial urban reality.

Predictions on the Super Bowl?

The Ravens will win. Joe Flacco will forever be called “elite,” and Ray Lewis, with tears streaming down his face, will ascend directly into heaven as the confetti falls. Thanks SNL, for that Ray Lewis line.

Buy the book here, paperback of Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0812697626/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0812697626&linkCode=as2&tag=maleybooks-20

If you haven’t had enough of Seth already, see; http://www.facebook.com/#!/seth.vannatta?fref=ts

Hit the “like” button on your way out the door…


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