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Deep Design by Libby Lumpkin

Deep Design

by Libby Lumpkin

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Picked this up while roaming the shelves of the public library, where I was supposed to be writing. It's intriguing and frustrating in almost equal degrees. Nine concise essays on design and (feminist) art history, which (both fortunately and unfortunately) do not stay within the mandate set out in the introduction, which is to look at the how rather than simply the why of design. Topics include the smiley face, the red-slash-within-circle prohibition sign, Las Vegas showgirls, New Mexico, and the state of feminist art circa 1990s.

Midway into the first essay, I found myself wishing Lumpkin had a better editor and that wish stayed with me throughout. Not because she doesn't write well--she does--but because she isn't thinking as rigorously as she quite clearly could. Logical fallacies of all sorts abound. That first essay is filled with non sequitors (conclusions that do not follow from their premises). There and elsewhere, Lumpkin frequently begs the question by presuming that which she ought to be proving. A good editor or peer reviewer would force her to connect the dots in those non sequitors and to prove what she asserts, thereby forcing her to think even more deeply. Since so many of her ideas are already striking and insightful, I'm guessing that exercise would sharpen and deepen them.

I liked best the essay on chance art--which took a thought-provoking detour into mathematics--and the meditation on place implicit in the essay on New Mexico. I felt frustrated by the essay on showgirls, which included intriguing ideas that were undercut by the logical fallacies mentioned above as well as by the acontextuality implicit in talking about this as if Nevada weren't also a site of the traffic in girls and women.

I liked least the gratuitous sideways swipe at ecofeminists.

Libby Lumpkin, if you're reading this: Give your next essay to at least two people who don't already agree with you and one more who does tend to agree with you but who is a good critical thinker who will not be be afraid to challenge you. Demand that they point out the structural weaknesses in your arguments. Then get ready to feel sheer delight when, in figuring out how to fix those problems, you end up saying something truly new.
  pattricejones | Dec 26, 2011 |
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