A note about “theory-wars”

A silly bit of anonymous writing, attempting to use reverse psychology to damn all opinion save that which the anonymous writer ascribes to  “Pelling, Zandbergen and Wikipedia” was recently published by Pelling in a post to ciphermysteries.

I have now received half a dozen emails from correspondents suggesting one or another person as author of that  lumpen satire… so unfunny that Pelling failed to see it for what it was – an invitation to snigger at, and hate, absolutely everyone who cannot agree with him about the nature of content in a fifteenth-century manuscript.

Among the names which correspondents have mentioned – as guessed author of that thing – has been Pelling’s own.  This post is written to state my objection to such an attribution.

It is perfectly obvious to me, having read Pelling’s writings from the early 2000s to now:  in mailing lists, his book of 2006, his blogpost comments and his not-particularly-amiable emails to me, that the person who wrote that ghastly thing absolutely cannot  have been Pelling.

Pelling writes true English; the ‘epistle’ writer writes an English dialect: I’d judge it one of the American dialects of English.

Pelling had what is called – in a particular tone – a  “good education” – which implies education in the critical sciences.  He could certainly not suppose, as the author of that tract does, that on a technical or a philosophical level “scientific” is synonymous with the “good, right, true and unarguable”.

Unlike the author of that lumpen effort, who hoped to use the snigger rather than the rational argument as a means to convince, when Pelling re-published the thing it was I believe because its supposed ‘humour’ was so very far from what he or those of his real-world friends think clever that he took it at face value, and published it as an act of indignation at what we saw (rightly, I think) as a scurrilous bit of defamatory rubbish.

What Pelling did not realise – though others have done – is that the author of that rubbish was not part of any dissident ‘theory-group’ but one of the members of the set with which Pelling has become increasingly often identified.

That, of course, is why someone sent him that email: expecting to strengthen the snigger-bond. And that association is why some believe Pelling capable of having written it.

Pelling has never tried to appeal in his posts to “us and them” divisions. His criticisms, right or wrong, have always been direct and usually name their target.

The snide remark, I’ll admit, is a speciality of Zandbergen’s and in recent times Pelling’s association with Zandbergen has been more evident – something the author of that tract recognises.

I not think  that is reason enough to argue that Pelling would now adopt an entirely different style of writing, nor such a method as a means to attack persons holding a different opinion about Beinecke MS 408.  He has – and certainly had – a saner sense of proportion.

Compare, for example, Pelling’s style when he criticised ‘Chinese Voynich theories’  with the intellectually lazy approach of the epistle-writer, who simply invents a non-existent theory and then ascribes it to one of the faceless and equally non-existent group: the alleged theory that the text is a   “Mongol shamanic songbook.”

There is no such theory. It is a fiction whose only aim is to reinforce the ‘snigger-bond’; to fictionalize and deride scholars or amateurs holding other views by conveying an impression that anyone not conforming to the views of “Zandbergen and Wikipedia” is irrational and to be read or mentioned only at the risk of being sent to Coventry.

Between Pelling and the writer of that email the differences are very clear indeed:   vocabulary, grammar and evident level of education; a mental construct which defines the style and content of critical comment; ideas of what does and doesn’t qualify as humour – even satirical humour.

On a less technical level, it is my own view that had Pelling written such a thing for private circulation, then found it had been made public, his first instinct would have been to ask  the blog-owner to remove it or to have plainly and publicly admitted authorship.

To do otherwise would have been very poor form:  not to take responsibility for one’s actions when inaction is likely to lead to blame being laid at the wrong person’s feet is one of those things that are simply ‘not done’ by ethical people.

Neither can I envisage Pelling’s trying to slide out of it by pretending that ghastly thing was just  ‘a harmless bit of fun, officer’.

Whatever you might believe about the ethics of it, that bit of propaganda had no relevance to this study, and had no purpose but to use denigration in place of reasoned argument and ‘snigger-bonding’ to overcome any tendency to independent thought within the group for whom it was originally written.

A sneer is not an argument; denigration of the scholar does not lessen the value of his evidence; what it does is ‘encourage the others’ not to read, cite or openly accept the scholar’s work. So it’s just one of the standard dirty tricks in an orthodox sort of sabotage. All it does is hinder and delay advance.

Which is yet another point against Pelling’s having created that pseudo-manifesto.

As we saw in months subsequent to Pelling’s meeting with  David Kahn   – dirty tricks  aren’t Pelling’s style, either.


I suppose you could call my defence of Pelling a sort of praising by faintly damning… but it is my honest and considered opinion that Pelling could not possibly have written that thing, and let no-one try to interpret my words to suggest otherwise.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s