Survival of the fit enough

by Carl Dyke

In my perusings I just came across this interesting item:

Michael Vick says new Eagles coach Chip Kelly “taught” him how to properly hold the football while running. The 10-year veteran was apparently being serious. “The other day, I broke out in the pocket, and the first thing Chip told me was to tuck the football,” Vick said. “So I showed him how I was running with it, and he looked at it and he knocked the ball right out of my hands. And he was like, ‘Hold it like this.’ And what he told me felt comfortable. I had a tighter grip on the football. That should secure that problem as long as I work on it.” It’s beyond belief that Vick is implying that he not only didn’t know how to properly hold the football, but had never been taught by Dan Reeves, Jim Mora Jr. or Andy Reid, but here we are. Vick has lost 12 fumbles over his past 35 games, which is far too many.

How do four people – Vick, Reeves, Mora, Reid – who do a thing at the very highest level, who have pretty much done it all day every day for their whole lives, not notice there’s a basic, outcome-changing problem and take easy steps to fix it? Is that surprising?

In the book discussion over at The Long Eighteenth I’ve been trying to both discuss and, predictably, demonstrate this effect. Gikandi looks at the slavery / culture of taste complex; sees the one is both enabling and constraining the other; and apparently can’t think of any way that could make sense other than grand psychic defense mechanisms like repression and libidinal sublimation. Big effects must have big causes. Has Vick been repressing a desire to lose this whole time? Or did he just carry the ball a way, mostly not drop the thing, and therefore never think or feel much about it? After all, fumbling’s part of the game.

Do analyses like Gikandi’s repress a dark terror of the mindless operations of unreflective habit? We all get to have our favorite theories, but jobs go smoother if you use the right tools. In a book in large part about the history of the judgment of taste, with a 30-page bibliography, Gikandi mentions “French anthropologist” Pierre Bourdieu just one time, as having called “a set of socially acquired dispositions and predispositions” habitus once (218). Habitus, a concept more pertinently developed in Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, is the new grip that would have fixed some of Gikandi’s fumbling; but like Vick, Reeves, Mora, and Reid; Hume and Jefferson and the Beckfords; teachers, students and administrators, he’s been getting along well enough without it.


3 Comments to “Survival of the fit enough”

  1. I was sort of baffled, too, about the absence of Bourdieu in a book about “taste” that devoted at least part of its argument to the historical process of “distinction” that leads to the division of culture into high and low strata. One of the dangers of this kind of use of high theory as running pastiche/commentary of primary sources is the risk of not really attending to the ways in which your sources (and their initial arguments and purposes) deeply conflict with one another: e.g., if you’re relying on Foucault’s History of Sexuality, pt I, could you at least explain why “repression” can be used as an unreflective category of explanation? Can post-structuralism really be used as a theory to explain consciousness and agency? Etc. Etc. This may be more of a problem in a certain kind of literary studies than for other fields.

    The conclusion that I’m moving towards is that the repression narrative offered in Gikandi is a kitsch meta-narrative that is not at all important to the book, whatever the author believes. Books have a way of doing that, sometimes.

    Having said that, it looks like I’m the one who will have to articulate what exactly the value is, or might be, of a scholarly work that seems to embody all the difficulties of conceptualizing the relations of these two disparate yet entangled fields. I have a feeling that people in 18c studies will be tackling similar problems, or perhaps rewriting portions of the book, for some time to come.

  2. Yeah, I think ‘kitsch meta-narrative’ nails it. And for me at least, the problem is pretty important, in that I was really looking forward to the book but then within ten pages wanted to put it down, and would have if not for my promise to say something about it. There are masses of great information, but every time Gikandi gets a data-set worked around to where he could use it to conceptualize these two disparate and entangled fields, in swoops the villainous subconscious of the polluted modern psyche as a kind of diabolus ex machina to rescue the analysis from the hard work of sorting it all out. Which is a funny thing to bitch about given the book’s staggering erudition, but here we are.

    I could actually see the book being a really great project for an advanced historiography seminar, both because it’s stuff educated people need to know and because it so richly offers the opportunity to rethink it, as you say.

  3. Repression? Or just habit? Coaches exist to notice and change bad habits and try to instill better ones.

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