Rigor Shmigor

When I was a grad student, I relished the rigorous read. I'd devour a text — that's what academics call books and articles — word for word, gesture for gesture, trope for trope. It afforded me a profound satisfaction, a satiation, a resonant reverberation. The experience was less excavation than erotics (not that those two need be opposed). There was something sumptuous to me about letting Foucault's — or Gadamer's or Nietzsche's — words linger in my mouth, savoring every syllable, relishing every figure. It was making love in every sense of the word.

But there was an implied moral component, as well. Rigor is an academic mantra, an accolade, an ideal. You gotta be rigorous. You have to know the thinker, the writer, the artist inside and out — and all the secondary writing on that person. That's why a dissertation is supposed to exhaust the literature on your subject.

This was a problem. Rigor, to me, was aesthetic, not moral. I enjoyed devouring a book.  But that didn't mean I had to read everything he wrote. I mean, I did a rigorous reading of Paul Ricoeur's La Métaphore Vive but do I have now to read everything Ricoeur wrote? Holy shit, I hope not. No, I like reading some of this, some of that, a dab of de Certeau, a bit of Bataille, a little of Lacan.

Every now and again, I'd be so enamored of a writer, I'd read everything he wrote (it was usually a he, I will admit).  But once it came time to read the so-called critical writing, well, I just couldn't stomach it. To plod through arid academse, to ponder such pedantic prose: I was not constitutionally capable. My body would revolt at the mere titles of articles. By the end of the first paragraph, I'd be weeping and retching.  The bibliography of my dissertation has, I don't know, 25 books — all written by the people I was writing about. 

I did entertain some vague ethical notions of rigor. Something about being true to the text, respecting it, and so on. I remember believing that Deleuze was rigorous but that Guattari was frivolous; I read The Fold but scorned Anti-Oedipus. 

That was before. This is now. Now I could care less about rigor. I just want something that turns me on — an exquisite phrase, a nasty figure, a keen turn of thought. I want it messy; I want it to slur with depravity, with lust, with love. I want it to challenge coherence; I want it to slip and slide and bleed. Now, it's Guattari and his free wheeling schizoanalysis that turns me on. 

This is not to say I don't appreciate rigor. But my appreciation is aesthetic, not ethical. I love when artists are so insanely rigorous that their work takes on an aura of madness. Or a book, like Badiou's Being and Event, is so absurdly thorough. 

But rigor is not a mandate for me — morally or aesthetically.  I can read a text, take any snippet of it I want and do what I want with it. When I quote people now, I go by memory. Who cares what the so-called real quote is? Ok, sometimes it matters and sometimes it's beautiful.  But, mostly, who gives a shit? The way I remember Nietzsche is Nietzsche, too — or, at least, is the Nietzsche that matters to me. And if some pedantic prig wants to come along and say otherwise, let 'em. You don't like my Nietzsche? Who cares? Call it something else.

Words, art, texts are only as interesting as the new experiences they foster. If I read something and can then spin it into something else, isn't that incredible? Do I really need to be faithful? Do I really need to be rigorous?  Just give me something that lives and lives well.  Give me something that foments new life. Rigor shmigor.


TomG said...

This was my problem as well. But I wouldn't call that scholarly demand "rigor." There's a lot of exceedingly loose thinking that goes into piling up the tenured security of having read everything.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and nice to read. I am kind of ambivalent about this issue: I consider myself a self-forged philosopher, and as such i have given myself all the freedom to think whatever i might be up to think about philosophy, but this does not exclude some rigour in my thinking, in my writing and in my way to pose my philosophical restlessness. I do think that one has to read all about those authors that feed our views. I actually have the experience of having read chronologically the complete works of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Deleuze, and Foucault (but also Guattari, Bateson and Bourdieu). It took me quite a time to do it, but i did it because i could, firstly, and secondly because i was to the point of willing to stop the common train of our daily life, which leads no time to read neither to think in fact, and also to stop dreaming the kind of intimate scholastic fantasy like 'one day, i will read all about this or that author', which is a common line of escape for academics whose restlessness is totally subjected. So I did it, not time for sterile second sources, only a rigorous reading: no notes to take, no specific interests to solve: only the necessity to open my mind to philosophy and read affectively and totally immersed as in a celibate practice. However, being a social researcher, I did had a more professional concern about being rigorous: you cannot pose any problem adequately without rigour: and if you have some vocation, you would tend to start hating every single thing that you can possible brilliantly think about what you are in fact researching, because it comes as part of a certain illusion of immediacy regarding to the object you study, because it comes as part of a naive realism as an effect of such approximation. Though, time may pass, and while it passes, those brilliant thoughts become obstacles to reach your object, but those that were thought with some rigour, those that reached out their own point of rigourousity, still remain there as thick facts to gnaw objectively. I sum, I learned to love rigour because it is rigour what transforms us with respect of our object of study and even with regards to our own philosophical restlessness.

Daniel Coffeen said...

There are at least two notions of rigor. There's the conventional, academic sense of the word: cite all your sources. Exhaust the literature. This usually happens at the expense of thought.

But then there's another sense: be thorough, not exhaustive. Think that idea thoroughly. Let that idea twist and turn you; follow it wherever it goes. Don't let yourself off the hook.

I argue against one notion and for the other. And, mostly, to rid rigor of its moral implications.

Hexidecimalconflagration said...

I thought "Rigor Shmigor" was the name of the man in the picture at the top of this post.

Thought he was Icelandic or something...perhaps Norwegian....

Nordic-sounding names aside a quick image-search revealed that it to be Guattari with an off-kilter lampshade in the background,alright.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Ah, well, the image seemed appropriate, somehow. The title, too.

dustygravel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dustygravel said...

Hahah! Rigor Shmigor. I think I will start calling him that… that just tickles me.
You know it's hard to tell, but I want to say that Deleuze is the crazy one. But the only solo work I've read by Guattari is 3 ecologies, but I don't really think Gilles needs the doctors help going off the deep end, if you know what I mean.
I didn’t go to school for this stuff, I just read it because I love it, I do recognize rigger when I see it though. I read the selfish gene by Dawkins, I only read it because I wanted to understand the meme. I made my self read the whole thing through and found it pretty satisfactory. I love the figures of the survival machines, the replicators, and the primordial chaos. I find it enjoyable to picture a world with out any replication at all, just infinite difference, then all of a sudden, one replicator, and then it’s all over. Well I’m glad I didn’t just skip to the chapter on memes, I would have missed a lot. But there’s definitely something to what you say, just read what you like, take it easy. I have to admit, I suffer from a pretty extreme case of book greed, gets me anxious some times.
Recently I read an article by Dawkins in which he accuses Deleuze and Guattari of being unnecessarily obscure. I don't think he understands Deleuze and Guattari.
If he did then he would have recognized the similarity between his theory of social replicators (memes) and Deleuze and Guattari’s own application of repetition in the field of social evolution, affect percept est.

When I read the selfish gene I found it quite lucid, but Dawkins only has one term for "a (social) unit of imitation" Deleuze and Guattari have a whole taxonomy of varies cultural and trance-cultural replicators, which they use to articulate their incredibly nuanced vision of cultural evolution. I don’t know, maybe it has to do with learning styles.