The prose of Judith Butler naturally put me in mind of others -- Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Gayatri Spivak, and others of that ilk -- and that made me remember, fondly, the MESA Nostra Contest and the prose passage put up for contestants to identify.
So I've decided to re-post it. If you feel like entering the contest, do so -- but don't peek, don't try to find out the author by googling around. That would never do.,
MESA Nostra is the professional organization in which, in order to become a uomo d'onore, or a donna d'onore for that matter, no kneecaps need be broken, no nightclubs broken up, no trucks hijacked, no girls put on the streets, no cocaine contraband prescribed by "los medicos" of Medellin be distributed. No, there are only two requirements to become a Made Man in MESA Nostra. The first is easy: you must view the entire Middle East through ideological blinkers, in which Islam scarcely matters, and in which, whatever happens, Jihad-conquest and dhimmitude will be ignored, so that contemporary expressions of millennium-old doctrines, attitudes, impulses will be interpreted without the slightest reference to those doctrines, attitudes, impulses.
That is content.
There is also form.
What would Shakespeare have been like had he not forced himself to squeeze his dramatic verse into the Elizabethan doublet of iambic pentameter? Or Spenser, without the Spenserian stanza? It is not only writers in Elizabethan England who found such constraints productive. How impressive that 20th century French writer who managed to produce a novel without using the letter "e," or that other one who composed a series of works based on a single device: the beginning and the final sentences of whatever he wrote were phonetically identical, though semantically wildly different, and he assigned himself the writerly task of beating a plausible path through the overgrown jungle of language, a path that led ineluctably from that first sentence to the same-sounding, but different-meaning, last sentence.
Many of those in MESA Nostra may not realize it, but they are akin to Shakespeare and Spenser, Georges Perec and Raymond Roussel. For them it is not a question of verse-forms, or lipograms, or homophonic puns. Their self-imposed constraint consists in limiting their scholarly lexicon to fewer than fifty nouns, and two-dozen verbs. They harness these exhausted nouns, these over-worked verbs, and put them to work, no matter the subject. No matter the subject.
Thus the prose produced by one member of MESA Nostra will sound remarkably like that of another. Here we mean the enthusiastic, full-throated members of MESA Nostra, those whose interests do not stray very far from "Iraq" and "Palestine" and "colonialism" and "empire," and the obvious ring-changing variants: "occupied Iraq/Palestine," "Iraqi/Palestinian people," "Israeli colonialism," "American empire." Many members of MESA Nostra membership have a deep and abiding personal and professional interest in these matters, as they do in little else. They can do no other.
But a few members of MESA Nostra are members-in-name-only, who remain different in mental makeup, and distant from the bureaucratic intrigues, the political tendentiousness, the anti-American,anti-Israel, anti-Western themes and variations. These "non-member" members do not write about the "construction of Palestinian identity" nor the "(de)construction of Israeli identity." Rather, they write about "The Methods of the Muhaddithin," or "Ephraim of Edessa," or "Xavier de Planhol and Agricultural Desolation in the Berber Heartland," or "Yemeni Jews as Chattel Slaves" or "The Destruction of the Coptic Churches of Upper Egypt," or "Schacht, Jeffery, Gottheil: Three Masters of Morningside Heights" or "Arabic but not Quran'ic: The Evidence of Numismatics" or "Twelver-Shi'ism in Mevlevistan" or "Ibn Battuta, the Rihla, and the Destruction of Hindustan" or "Why There Was No Arab Copernicus or Vesalius: An Inquiry" or "Aisha and Marriage in the Islamic Republic of Iran" or "Quran'ic Memorization and Comparative I.Q. Levels in Post-Independence India" or "Sir William Jones and the Re-Discovery of India" or "The Role of Hadrami Traders in the Muslim Conquest of the East Indies" or "The Story of Thomas Pellow" or "Indo-Persian Miniatures of Jihad-Conquest in the British Museum Collections: A Catalogue Raisonee" or "Table-Talk of a Mesopotamian Judge: A Critical Edition" or "Book-Binding at the Abbasid Court" or "The Role of Hungarian Converts in Ottoman History" or "The War Within Islam: Universalist Claims, Arab Supremacist Doctrine" or "The Treaty of Al-Hudaibiyya and Pacta Sunt Servanda: Muhammad and Grotius on the Law of War and Peace" or ... made these up just now to give you -- and some future doctoral candidates -- an idea. But these are not the people whom we have in mind when we discuss MESA Nostra at JihadWatch. We are talking about the other kind.
And it was with that other kind in mind - the card-carrying careerists, the blurb-and-reference swappers, the runners-for-office, the risers-high, the much-interviewed, the solemn dispensers of wisdom to the unwary, the True Believers - that we created the MESA Nostra Contest.
The contest is simple. Below is a single paragraph, itself consisting of a single sentence, transparently written in Mesanostran. Contestants are asked to identify the author.
"In conclusion, I feel that this work of analysis, by focusing on the implications of the phallic hegemony of Wehrmacht-helmeted Israeli troops and their supporters throughout the American empire, both equally unappeasable in their demonstrable need for "the Other," does what in a quasi-heuristic sense it was intended to do, as it manages to break away from all Eurocentric approaches to discourses of postcolonial subalternity, or even of meta-alterity, and comes so subversively close in its disjunctive interrogation of the counter- or, more exactly, anti-mimesis which is inherently essential to Mesopotamian or indeed to Cairene, Abbasid, Jordanian or Palestinian thought for, as a native of (Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Islamabad, Ramallah, Teheran, etc. - choose one) and hence a non-European, I am of necessity self-assigned to that category of people best placed to perform such a mission of interrogating all postcolonialist as well as narrativised specificity, but of equal necessity, not as one obviously intent on de-undermining or rather meta-determining the poststructuralist or post-postmodern universalism, with its customary relativised discourse analysis which seldom lends itself to anticipatory prolepsis, but on the other hand my critique is quite meta-consciously deeply para-rooted within, as well as up-rooted out of, and obviously from, Western thought with its inalienably alien constructions of meta-identity and hypersexuality, which necessarily give rise to post-essentialism which, in a larger sense, serves merely to violate all the strategic critiques of hegemonic historiographical constructions of essences, whether of the Orient or of scholars who deny the self-referentiality of all postcolonialist essentializing."
The prize for the first correct entry emailed to [email protected] will be a nicely framed copy of Professor Hamid Dabashi's celebrated Poem in Prose to Edward Said, which you may read now by googling "Hamid Dabashi" and "Edward Said." For many, that will be prize enough.