The Hysterical Style in the American Humanities

Joseph Keegin:

The subsequent controversy, however, had little to do with Janega’s assessment; rather, it centered on the fact that her review appeared in the first place. Mary Rambaran-Olm, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, took to Twitter to denounce LARB for “torpedoing” a review of the book she had written for the publication some weeks before — one that chastised Gabriele and Perry for their “white-centrism” and “Christocentrism” and for “rely[ing] on their whiteness for authority.” Rambaram-Olm asserted that because the LARB editors are friendly with the book’s authors, they wanted to “whitewash” her negative assessment (pun, I suspect, intended). Denunciations, angry tweet threads, and Twitter account deletions followed while leagues of outsiders, like rubberneckers passing a flaming car crash, looked on and thought: What in the world is going on here?

This wasn’t the first time a political controversy launched the otherwise sleepy world of medieval studies into the public eye. In 2017 the University of Chicago historian Rachel Fulton Brown incurred the ire of her colleagues in medieval studies by writing a blog post called “3 Cheers For White Men” and promoting the alt-right media personality Milo Yiannopoulos and his extravagant contrarian junket through America’s universities, the “Dangerous Faggot” tour. The Brandeis medievalist Dorothy Kim penned a few lengthy blog posts about Fulton Brown’s “problematic” opinions, Fulton Brown responded on her own blog, and Kim followed with an article for Inside Higher Ed accusing her adversary of “intimidation,” “harassment,” “manipulat[ing] the concept of free speech to operate as a dog whistle,” and leaving “her open to deadly violence” akin to the murder of Heather Heyer at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally.

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