Steve Hamelman: The Terminator-Scholar
Articles » January 2003

Moreover, the differences between the situation of a savage and of a neurotic are no doubt of sufficient importance to make any exact agreement impossible and to prevent our carrying the comparison to the point of identity in every detail. -- Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo

TERMINATOR-SCHOLAR (tūr“ muh nay“ tūr-skah“ lūr): Compound n. A person, usually between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-two, who possesses a predatory notion of how to acquire or amass knowledge; characterized by an anti-humanistic sense of the ends to which such knowledge should be directed. The Terminator-Scholar is a hyper-cerebral product of American graduate schools in the post-Poststructuralist Age (c. 1990 and on). The Terminator-Scholar derives his or her name from two films written and directed by James Cameron (The Terminator [1984] and Terminator 2: Judgment Day [1991]). In these movies the antagonist is the Terminator, an android wired with advanced computer circuitry and built to endure unexampled physical assaults on its frame. Less an old-fashioned robot than the personified hardware of virtual reality, the Terminator is sent to Los Angeles by supercomputers from a dystopian future in which people unlucky enough to have survived a nuclear war are either immured in work camps or reduced to hiding from their techno-masters in squalid subterranean quarters. The Terminator's orders are to kill two human beings who threaten the command of the said supercomputers. Late model Terminators can morph into liquid metal, human forms, animals, tile floors, and other objects that lack intricate mechanical parts. ¶ Scholars are human beings devoted to the acquisition and sharing of knowledge. Generally, they are teachers or researchers interested in art, history, literature, natural sciences, music, and so on.

In schools of the Humanities all across the land, a new breed of scholar has begun to appear. Either ABD ("all but dissertation") or just out of graduate school, he's cropping up with alarming regularity at conferences, at job interviews, and in print. Because he's the offspring of a poststructuralist curriculum, ideology, and Zeitgeist, he's consequently a member of the first generation of post-poststructuralists, which means he and his brethren were either in diapers or not yet born when it, poststructuralism, officially got underway in 1966.

In one of those rare moments when the origin of an epoch can be dated by scholars with relative consensus, Jacques Derrida, at Johns Hopkins University in 1966, delivered a paper called "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." In this seminal talk Derrida laid out many of the elements in his mission of decentering structure and nullifying transcendence in Western metaphysics. Intellectual history, literary theory, and philosophy changed instantly. Humanists quickly became apprised of, and never fully recovered from, Derrida's revolutionary thesis, which invited scholars to dive into the abysses of linguistic presence/absence and other
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Steve Hamelman is a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University. He has published many articles on early American fiction. He has also written essays on rock' n' roll music and mountain biking, two pursuits that keep his intellectual interests in perspective.

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