Why Michael Chwe is worth reading
DANIEL P. Tompkins <pericles <at> TEMPLE.EDU>
2015-03-06 11:53:13 GMT
Well. I see that Chwe, a well-regarded IR scholar who uses game theory,
makes a mistake about Jane Austen's juvenilia in his recent *Jane Austen,
Game Theorist. * And in the spirit of a certain sort of philology, that
renders his book worthless.
We work in a profession in which that sort of response is common. Erich
Auerbach's *Mimesis *was one of the most important works on narrative of
the last century, but our field was full of people who refused to read
beyond the first chapter, because he said disputable things about Homer.
So they never got to the brilliant and significant discussions of the use
of Latin in Gregory of Tours, etc.
Now, back to Chwe. I'm actually using him in an essay right now, in
particular his comments on strategic thinking, e.g. "To think
strategically, one must ... take into account how others think
strategically." This is a central item in narrative, important not only in
Austen, James (Maggie Verver masters strategic thinking in *The Golden Bowl*)
and other texts. When I'm debating someone, or facing him or her on the
battlefield -- or in a marriage, I'll be better off if I can dope out how
he'll respond to my gambit.
But how many characters in literature have this skill? Some do, some
don't. It strikes me as a very worthwhile topic to explore, which is one
reason Chwe is somewhat useful (though not my major source). It might be
worth asking, how many list members have noticed characters thinking
(successfully: we all know *Princess Bride*) about others' thinking in our
readings of literature and criticism?
That's a more important topic than Chwe on the juvenilia, i.e. more central
to his work and to ours. I'm sincerely interested in what folks might have