Julian Dibbell on Sun, 8 Feb 1998 07:54:27 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> The Dead Anathema List

While we're on the topic of demonologies, I would like to announce the
creation, on the model of Bruce Sterling's fascinating Dead Media list, of
the official Dead Anathema list. 

This will be a regularly updated compendium of philosophical positions
whose very names once sufficed to send shivers down the spines of all
right-thinking people, but whose mention now merely inspires us to scratch
our heads in wonder at the baroque inscrutability of the past. Examples
will eventually be drawn from throughout the history of intellectual debate
-- cf. "Arianism" in the early Christian church; "revisionism" among
mid-century Marxists -- but I would like to initiate the list by nominating
the lately deceased "essentialism." 

Many of you, I'm sure, can remember the days when this epithet referred to
something clear, present, and abominable, and served as a terrific tool for
separating the real thinkers from the amateurs. In recent years, however,
it was hurled with such regularity at such a broad class of inappropriate
targets (consisting, basically, of almost any use of metaphor in the
service of theory) that it finally overextended itself and, alas, expired. 

I make "essentialism" my inaugural nominee for two reasons: (1) to
commemorate the passing of a great intellectual slur, and (2) to draw
attention to what I consider the most exciting aspect of the Dead Anathema
list -- its utility for the busy net.thinkers of today, who are so often
obliged, in the haste of otherwise brilliant efforts at demolishing
opponents' arguments, to invoke the name of some Dead Anathema they
mistakenly believe to have a spark of life left in it. "Ah, if only" --
they must lament in the cold light of the morning after -- "if only there
were some easily accessible registry of the quick and the dead that could
be consulted in such moments!" Well, soon there will be. 

It is my long-term plan, in fact, to have the contents of the Dead Anathema
list built into spell-checkers in a variety of communications software, so
that no online debate need ever again be marred by outdated name-calling.
Theoretical insults will from then on be rigorously of-the-moment! I have
applied for a modest grant from Microsoft's research division to make this
happen, and Redmond insiders tell me I have a pretty good shot. Is this a
great time or what?

(Special notice to structurally unemployed Ph.Ds: When the grant money
comes in, I *will* be hiring. Watch this space.)

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