Tired of flabby and limp analytic terms in scholarly work? Those terms abound – supplement, intersectionality, complexity, thick analysis, intertextuality, hybridity, mimicry, interstices, habitus, objet petit a, wellbeing index … [add terms here].
Instead, I propose two key terms with some bite.
1. Putschism, or the Kornilov putsch.
Lenin defines a putsch as an attempt at insurrection that is ‘nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses’ (Collected Works, Volume 22, p. 355). The Kornilov putsch of August-September 1917 was a conservative conspiracy, led by General Kornilov and supported by the old aristocracy, landowners and capitalists. It sought to impose its will by deception, force and old patterns of deference, first on parts of the army so that the conspiracy could achieve its aims and then on the people. The putsch disintegrated when Bolsheviks and SRs infiltrated Kornilov’s wavering troops and persuaded them either to refuse to fight or to defect. The putsch gave the Bolsheviks their chance, since the vast majority of workers and peasants swung over to their side and enabled the October Revolution.
Applied to scholarly work: picture yourself listening to a weak paper that relies the support of a few heavyweights. During the discussion that follows, begin your response with: ‘Putschist! Your argument is nothing other than putschist, just like Kornilov!’ Or, if you operate with brittle American politeness, you may say: ‘Thankyou for your wonderful and insightful paper. However, I would like to ask you why it is given to the mentality of a putsch, fit only for a circle of conspirators and stupid maniacs …’
2. The Kursk salient.
A salient may be defined as a feature of the battlefield projecting into enemy territory. It is surrounded on three sides by the enemy, rendering the troops in the salient vulnerable to being encircled and cut off. The enemy line facing a salient is defined as a ‘re-entrant’ (that is, a reverse salient). If the salient is long and narrow it is called a ‘deep salient’, which is susceptible to being ‘pinched out’ across the base. If it is ‘pinched out’, the salient becomes a ‘pocket’ in which the defenders are trapped.
The Kursk salient appeared on the eastern front in 1943. Since the Red Army tacticians had long realised that the Germans would attack there during the summer campaign, they developed an innovative strategy of high-concentration, well-camouflaged, multi-layer defences that were 250 kms deep. For the first time during World War II a German blitzkrieg was absorbed, blunted and turned back in a devastating counter-attack that broke the Wehrmacht and essentially won the war.
Applied to, say, literary analysis, one may venture a bold new, ‘Kursk salient’, theory that appears to its critics highly vulnerable. Salivating at the prospect of pinching out the saliential theory and creating a pocket that may be captured, your opponents set out to attack. In response, you develop a strategy like the Red Army that will lure critics into the trap, absorb their punishment and then destroy them in a crushing counter-attack.
The possibilities are endless: Galileo is the Kursk salient of astronomy, or rather, we now have the Galileo salient. In queer theory we have the Stonewall salient. The subconscious becomes the Freudian salient. Capital is the Marxian salient of economic theory …