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Friday, May 17, 2013


Here is someone so alienated from her own work that instead of writing an article for CHE about why we should care about Kafka and Wittgenstein, talks like this
My tenured colleagues sometimes get offended when I compare academe to a cult—of course they would, they're in the cult! Still, they must recognize the similarities. In literary studies, for example, we have our own lingo—French-theory jargon, which is nearly impossible for outsiders to parse. We have quasi-scriptures from worshiped nondeities—Derrida, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty—which we recite, from memory, to win arguments.
I guess since I haven't read or quoted M-P in 25-years I must be not be a member of good standing in the organization... yet I am.

Note how the metaphor of the "cult" allows her to evade responsibility for her own ideas. She was brainwashed! What alienated her from her work was simply that she couldn't get a tenure-track job. Otherwise, I surmise, she would be perfectly happy doing intellectual work she doesn't care about. Maybe she worked in a grad program so intellectually isolated that nobody knew that jargon has not been fashionable for at least 10 years. Everyone I know hates it. That Derrida peaked about 1990 (in American academia), and Merleau-P. about 1975.

Here is here in Slate making a similar argument:
There is unquantifiable intellectual reward from the exploration of scholarly problems and the expansion of every discipline—yes, even the literary ones, and even if that means doing bat-shit analysis like using the rule of “false elimination” to determine that Josef K. is simultaneously guilty and not guilty in The Trial. But there is one sort of reward you will never get: monetary compensation from a stable, non-penurious position at a decent university.


Vance Maverick said...

This is someone who describes herself (on her Twitter home) as an "intellectual's anti-intellectual". I'm not sure it gets more pretentious than that. The alienation you identify is her brand.

Jonathan said...

That's amazing. She wrote back to my comment that her description of her dissertation analysis as "bat shit" was meant to be humorous. She accused me of having lack of sense of humor.

Anonymous said...

God, it is her brand. I am perhaps too kind to her.

(I would love to see her comment in response to yours on the CHE but our university library does not subscribe to it online ... or I have not been ingenious enough in my scouring of the databases ...)

Clarissa said...

She should have gone into sales because with this amazing capacity to sell the same tired and boring ideas to a variety of online publications she could make a killing selling all kinds of things. This is a talent that should not be wasted in a field that has little use for it.

I think it has now become clear that this is a person who simply chose the wrong profession. Instead of recognizing this, she draws the surprising conclusion that something must be wrong not with her choice but with the profession.

Many years ago, I made a mistake of deciding to Major in Business. When I realized I was suffering, I simply dropped out and applied to a foreign languages program. Alternatively, I could have stayed, become a bitter, failed business person and written passionate posts about the world of business being a cult and successful business people being lying creeps with no sense of humor.

Leslie B. said...

Thinking about this and now writing about it in my essay. I still can't read her essay since my university does not subscribe to all aspects of CHE. Alienation from labor is not just or not primarily an individual moral failing -- it comes from the circumstances you're in, is one of the ideas I have on this.

Jonathan said...

What bothered me, among other things, was the notion of a cult. It seemed a strategy for not taking responsibility for her own intellectual agenda. Someone else is making me do it. Someone broke down her old self and built a new one, etc... Rather than writing about the structural problem of the job market, she writes about the inadequacies of her graduate education, and of graduate education in general. But if grad education were perfect, and there still were not enough jobs, then the problem would remain.

I'd like to know how many entry-level German tt jobs there are, and how many PhD are awarded in German each year. Then I would see: oh, it's 30% that can get them, or 20%, or whatever. Without that information it's hard to know what the situation is. Our students get tt jobs in a variety of institutions. Almost all of them. So I sleep at night.

I am somehow able to get to this article from home, even though I don't subscribe to CHE. Maybe it is because I am registered to comment?

Leslie B. said...

I'm still thinking this through, largely because of having been dealing the past couple of weeks with severe mental health situation of a friend who flipped out largely because of the pressure, the harrassment, the cognitive dissonance. (This is someone with tenure and book well reviewed and so on, successful.)

Cult: there was a famous article a while back on academia as cult; that is what she is responding to. It is hard to see until you are not getting jobs or considering leaving. At that point people really get on your case about betraying the cause, and the cultishness comes out of the woodwork.

What she is talking about in graduate education is the indoctrination to care, really care, about whether one gets a job, and to go to further and further lengths to get them, and to give up more and more of the other things one might want in life, and to be willing to countenance worse and worse jobs.

I did not go through that in graduate school but I did later on. The feeling of being asked to abandon everything you value (including access to books and journals if you take a job at a school without a functional library) just for purposes of saying you are a professor *is* really strange, and the way in which people question your motives, come in and try to judge, characterize you, and so on, is in fact Kafkaesque.