Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What is my problem? (In which I inform Caroline Tully that I do not love her.)

So, one of Caroline Tully's fans took offense at my recent post about her, and proceeded to pound out a few paragraphs of substance-free self-righteous indignation in my general direction on his blog: Caroline Tully and one noisy critic... (I am the "noisy critic" in question). As happens so often on teh interwebs, the real fun came in the comments section.

None other than Caroline Tully was the first to comment on the post. She posed the question: What is Apuleius' problem? In all, three different answers were provided to that enquiry.

The first answer was given by Tully herself, who proposed the following explanation for my criticisms of her: "He must secretly be in love with me!" To which I can only reply: No, Caroline, I'm sorry but I don't think of you that way.

The second answer was proffered by Ethan Doyle White, whose original blog post had prompted all this speculation about my "problem" in the first place. Ethan's hypothesis was that I am "an individual who is certainly disgruntled with academia." I replied to Ethan to inform him that the scholars who are praised in my blog greatly outnumber those that I criticize. I provided Ethan with a list of some of these academics whom I have cited with admiration and (sometimes quite lavish) approval, including: Sarah Iles Johnston, Pierre Hadot, Eva Pocs, Jan Assmann, Ramsay MacMullen, Ruth Martin, James B. Rives, Anthony Kaldellis, Niketas Siniossoglou, Christina Larner, Julia Annas, Dorothy Watts, Charles W. Hedrick, Jr, Joscelyn Godwin, Arthur Versluis and Stefano Gasparri.

The third proposed solution to the puzzle posed by Tully came from a blogger named "Phoenix" who at first stated that she had "
no idea who this person is and what his gripe with Caroline is all about," but then immediately added that "the palpable envy and inferiority issues he displays should be apparent to any discerning reader."

I found Phoenix's answer to be the most curious of them all. What is Caroline Tully supposed to have done to create such feelings of envy and inferiority in those unworthy fortunates who behold these accomplishments? I posted that question in the comments section, and, not to put too fine a point on things, I ventured that as far as I was aware, Tully is just a graduate student who has precisely one peer-reviewed academic publication to her credit (and good for her, as far as that goes, which, it must unfortunately be stipulated, is not very far when it comes to inducing feelings of inferiority).

Phoenix did not respond to my request for further information regarding Tully's supposedly intimidating scholarly oeuvre, but Ethan leaped to Caroline Tully's defense and claimed to know of four different "scholarly" publications by her. But three of these publications do not meet even the most liberal definition of "peer-reviewed academic publications" (leaving only the one I had already mentioned as not being, in itself, particularly awe-inspiring).

Now see here, sir! Isn't it impolite to focus on the deficiencies of another person's curriculum vitae? Of course it is. But the thing is, you see, in the first place I was responding to the claim that my criticisms of Tully were motivated by envy, and so I was trying to find out what precisely it is that I am supposed to be envious of?

But in the second place, Caroline Tully has made a point of promoting herself as an authoritative interpreter of "academic research on archaeology and history," while at the same time claiming that those Pagans who criticize her hero Ronald Hutton, or who find value in the work of Marija Gimbutas, a scholar that Tully sneeringly disdains, are unlearned simpletons to whom scholarly research is "a foreign country" and to whom the published works of scholars (or at least those scholars who meet Tully's approval) appear to be written in "an undecipherable language." Therefore, qualms about good manners notwithstanding, Tully has by her own arrogant posturing made the issue of her own rather negligible academic credentials "fair game".

But none of this answers the question: what is my problem??

Well, I'll tell you what my problem is. My problem is this:
When a situation arises in which Pagans do not like what they hear from academics, the conceptual spaces from which they can speak and be heard, and from where they produce their own counter-narratives, are primarily the Internet, self-publishing and the Pagan conference. Particularly in the case of the Internet, the material Pagans produce ends up being more widely distributed and easily accessible than academic texts can ever hope to be. It is at these sorts of sites that some Pagans have assumed the discourse of oppressing the perceived academic coloniser. A recent example that we would all be familiar with is the vitriol generated as a consequence of the criticism by two academic bloggers, Peg Aloi and Chas S. Clifton, of Ben Whitmore’s book Trials of the Moon.

This is part of a larger situation whereby Pagans who dislike British historian Ronald Hutton’s book The Triumph of the Moon have participated in an internet smear campaign against him, motivated by Whitmore’s attempted criticism of Hutton’s work. While the dependence of modern Witchcraft on late nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship has been evident to scholars for decades, it appears to have only been grasped by the majority of Pagans themselves in the wake of the 1999 publication of Triumph of the Moon. As we know, Wicca’s foundation claim used to correlate with historical research, but the supportive scholarly interpretation of witchcraft popularised by Margaret Murray was discredited in the 1970s. It is obvious that many Pagans, including those that so vehemently oppose Hutton’s work, are unaware of the evolution of witchcraft scholarship. Nor do they understand the rigors of historical methodology, and that Whitmore’s book has, in fact, not in any way demolished Hutton’s research. Anti-Huttonists have gleefully lionised Whitmore, seeing him as a noble “man of the people” defeating the assault by malevolent academics such as Hutton who obviously have the destruction of the Wiccan religion in mind.

A simple internet search reveals that—despite Hutton’s recent article on Witchcraft historiography and Peg Aloi’s review of Whitmore’s book, published in The Pomegranate, and which are both freely accessible on the internet—Whitmore’s Trials of the Moon is thought to have vindicated the Murrayite standpoint and he has been made a hero, fans of his work not understanding that pointing out a few mistakes or omissions does not a successful refutation make. In comments on internet discussion boards, fans of Whitmore freely admit that they cannot tell whether his observations are correct. The important thing is that they seem correct, they claim to take down Hutton, and that feels good so it must be right. Carla O’Harris sums up this attitude with her vitriolic comment on Clifton’s blog: “Hutton is a second-rate hack-artist whose cult is completely undeserving.”
The above three paragraphs are taken from Tully's Pomengranate "opinion piece" that is at the heart of "my problem" (link). Tully makes a very serious accusation, and one that is aimed in part at Yours Truly. Have critics of Ronald Hutton, and especially those who have praised Ben Whitmore's book, Trials of the Moon, engaged in a "smear campaign"? I challenge Caroline Tully or anyone else to answer a few simple questions about this "smear campaign":

1. What are the "smears" that have been made against Ronald Hutton?
2. Who has made these "smears"? In particular, what role does Tully assign to Ben Whitmore in this "smear campaign"?
3. What are the objective criteria applied to determine what constitutes a "smear"? And how do these "smears" against Hutton differ qualitatively from the often personally insulting criticisms that have been directed against Ben Whitmore and other critics of Hutton by Tully, Peg Aloi, Chas Clifton, Ronald Hutton, and others?
4. Can Tully produce specific links to the internet sources that make up the evidence upon which she based her conclusion that an "internet smear campaign" exists?
5. Can Tully produce specific links to internet sources in which Ben Whitmore is "gleefully lionised as ... a 'noble man of the people'", or in which he is referred to as a "hero", or any of the other extravagant and idiotic characterizations she makes about the debate surrounding Whitmore's book?
6. If Tully cannot substantiate what she has written, will she retract it?
7. If Caroline Tully neither substantiates her claim about a "smear campaign", nor retracts her accusation, should anyone take her seriously?


Related linkage:

4 comments:

Katy Anders said...

Pagan fight!

I actually like these sorts of disagreements more than I ought to, and for a couple reasons:

1. It helps clarify where the real differences lie (at least so long as it doesn't descend to complete name-calling); and

2. It creates a sort of buzz around the the folks involved - which doesn't mean we ought to resort to hype often, but a little attention never hurt.

Oh, and you handled yourself wonderfully over there!

Apuleius Platonicus said...

It could be worse. Since Ethan Doyle White had so stupidly "gone there", I was very tempted to title this post "I have never called Caroline Tully a 'narcissistic media-whore'". But for now I am keeping that one in reserve.

Hierax said...

I haven't read Hutton's books, so I didn't want to comment before. But it is clear that Tully and her fan are not really tackling your questions and evidence, and that's always a bad sign in terms of intellectual integrity.
"He must be in love with me"... Jeez... :-/

Anonymous said...

I felt that your criticisms were justified. Pointing out deficiencies in someone else's argument does not constitute a "smear campaign". Just as importantly, Hutton himself has backed away from some of his previous statements declaring a lack of spiritual and intellectual continuity between ancient and modern Paganisms.

Any attempt by academia (even if it has a Pagan public face) to use its clout within the community, will be doomed to failure. Paranoically suspicious people like myself will instantly see a clever Antifa plot to de-legitimize our spiritual beliefs, and some of the others were drawn to Paganism in the first place because they have deeply non-conformist tendencies.

Aetius