Category Archives: Da Whiteman

“I’m allowed to feel disappointed”

This is worth thinking about. Something I have procrastinated about is leaving academia. In a way, I feel I was pushed out when I started my first job, which had nothing to do with the kind of job, or life I was interested in. So my career change already happened to me, and when I think of career changes it is to begin doing something that more closely resembles the kind of work I was interested in and thought I could find in academia. I have been reticent about asking certain questions, but something I did discuss with friends and family was leaving. They were all horrified and convinced me not to, and I stayed because I was told I owed it to them, they would suffer too terribly if I left (that is another reason I feel trapped and do not work well). This, actually, shows why I do not ask enough questions–I am not accustomed to receiving non-destructive answers.


The Precariat & The Professor

Talking with Jill yesterday about disappointment and the post-ac hustle, I was reminded of Kate Ragon’s chapter for The Precariat & The Professor, “Pleasure & Paradoxes of Organizing in the Corporate University.” We come to academia for a variety of reasons, but so many of us arrived here because we are idealists, we are dreamers– we believed the university was the contemporary City on a Hill, the last remaining one, in fact. Swallowing the bitter pill of the university’s reality is only the beginning of disappointment, which compounds, whether you get on the tenure track, work contingently, or leave for other, better things: Kate Ragon, like Erik Strobl, writes of the frustration of attempting to organize academics who think union labor is somehow below them. Jill, on the other hand, writes of being disappointed that she’s disappointed in herself for willfully walking away from a university who exploited her knowledge…

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On change

“Bien regarder, je crois que ça s’apprend.”
–Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima mon amour.

“Change comes first at the societal level, not at the level of the individual. You work to change society, change the relations of production, and this work changes you.” My Marxist boyfriend said this one day in Berkeley during Reagan’s second presidential term, when we were exasperated at the vagaries of the hippies. That was long ago but I remember it because it was true.

I forgot for a long time because of learning to survive the university as it took its entrepreneurial turn, while we were trying to earn tenure in the belief that things still were as they had been. (The vocabulary was still the same, and policies and practices were changing but on their face the changes were small, and most of us lacked the perspective necessary to accurately interpret the shifting panorama.) The cant was that we should work on ourselves, and manage this regardless of circumstances, since the real relations of production had to be irrelevant to rising stars. One was not to recognize the obvious truth that such advice–liberal/conservative propaganda, actually–was only appropriate in situations where the real relations of production were working, at least adequately, for you.

Similarly, change at the individual level does not come from changes in habit: that, again, is liberal/conservative propaganda. Changes in habit flow naturally from deeper change. Deeper change is change in relation to self, in relation to the means of production, in relation to meaning.

All of these things are deeply and definitely true.



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A terrible beauty

It is said you cannot psychoanalyze yourself but I am forced to do it as I have found it to be the best available option. That is why I have this weblog.

There were two breakthroughs this week. It is a breakthrough when you find a simple answer. The first was actually one I had in the 1990s but that took some time to get consolidated; it is about recognizing and rejecting abuse. If I feel strange (panicked, horrified, sad, greatly diminished, and so on) it is a reaction to abuse which must be identified, recognized, and refused. If I do this, I straighten right up, and if I do not, I remain in that state for a long, long time.

The next has to do with my acquired fear of certain kinds of writing. It is about the feeling that this is something you must do, but also must not do; it is required of you but not yours; you are not really worthy of it, although you must do it to prove worth. (These are of course a series of double binds.) But the answer is (of course you are worthy and) this is you. (Anyone can see that language and writing are me, it is ridiculous to question it.) Take it on, assume it, take your place, because yes this is for you, this is you.

In psychoanalysis it is said that seeing the problem is solving it. In behaviorism you must learn how to solve it and form habits around this, and all of that is hard work but it is superficial and will not stem the tide, or free you from the undertow of the past and of every unconscious misconception you have. In psychoanalysis the work comes first, in learning to really see. Because just seeing generally is not accurate enough. You have to hit not just the target, but the bull’s eye. It is when you do that that problems fall away and you change magically. The apparatus that was draining you falls away, and new energies are liberated. It is as in the Communist Manifesto (“All that was solid, melts”) and also “Easter, 1916” (“All is changed, changed utterly”). Everything is easy.

I am quite pleased to have seen the things I have seen, and to know the things I know.


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A rough draft (response to Jonathan)

I know people say procrastination is perfectionism but I don’t know how in the world they came up with this idea. I know perfectionists and they don’t procrastinate, they’re just meticulous and over-critical, over-fussy.

I first “procrastinated” twice in graduate school, when I had paper ideas that were not actually viable. Studying on quarters there was no time to change, so I tried to force the papers to take their planned shape anyway. They were hard to write because they were not working, and I called the stalling and thrashing about, “procrastination”. I think it was something else. I wasn’t putting off work, I was avoiding the work that was actually needed, because if I did that work I would not finish by the deadline.

I was also accused of conspiring to procrastinate in graduate school, when I estimated twenty weeks as the time needed to research and write an article while also doing other things. The professor said that would be procrastination. I should not write a publishable article, just write some essay, in ten weeks. Again, I don’t think this was procrastination: I think it was good planning (ten weeks of reading and ten of writing was what I wanted). I made a deal with the professor to give me two quarters of B instead of one quarter of A. I wrote the article and it was published in a good place. People laughed at me as well when I said I could write a dissertation in a year at the rate of six pages a week (they wanted seven very rough pages a day, but I don’t make progress when I write that rough). They were floored when I actually did it (they had also yelled at me every day when they saw me not at the desk, because I was working a job, so they could not believe I was making progress).

My next big procrastination episode came with a book contract that asked for major revisions to the manuscript, requiring major research, that I wasn’t sure would lead in the direction either I or the press actually wanted, to be done in six months when I would also be teaching three courses new to me. I knew it was not realistic but signed on anyway, due to fear of being accused of conspiring to procrastinate (conspiring to be lazy, I suppose, which is a sin). I could not figure out a feasible project plan because there wasn’t one within those time constraints. I wanted to ask someone about it but did not dare due to fear of the pain of being accused of conspiring to procrastinate.

Instead, I just waited to not get tenure. Note what the actual procrastination was: I did not procrastinate on work, but on asking the question I needed to ask. I thought about this clearly at the time. I preferred to have something bad happen for a good reason, not finishing the book, over the possibility of abuse and a false accusation of conspiring to procrastinate. (I also wanted someone to volunteer the suggestion that I ask the needed question, and would fish for this, but was not clear enough about it because I was so fearful that I might instead get an accusation of conspiring to procrastinate.)

People did not understand why I was not devastated, but rather pleased, over the tenure decision. The decision came from a high administrative level, not from those who knew me. The paperwork said everything was excellent except for the non-finishing of this project, and that the university would reconsider if the project were finished within the year. I was pleased because everything was true: nothing false, no apparent bias, nothing trumped-up. The only thing that was wrong was something I knew was wrong and could agree to. This was immensely satisfying because what was wrong was a real thing, not something unjustified or worse, justified but invisible to me–and most importantly, not a character flaw, only a project not finished.

Note, then, where the procrastination is in all of this: it isn’t in not working, it’s in being afraid to ask questions. In the case of the two seminar papers I struggled with, what I really needed was to visit office hours and say I was struggling with the topic and the argument. I was afraid to do this because facing the actual problem could put me past deadline, and also, one was supposed to be willing not to be a perfectionist. I did not think the professors in question would have these reactions; I thought Zeus or Yahweh would. In the case of the book, I again procrastinated about asking the right question. I was afraid because once again, what I wanted to ask was heretical and I feared either immediate execution or torture of a type that would cause permanent disfigurement and disability. It was better to simply freeze.

Note what I have been afraid to ask: (a) can I let the research on the project take it where it will? (b) can I have a reasonable deadline, so that I can concentrate on the work itself? Note that the only constructive answers to these questions are a form of yes. But I not only expected negative answers, I also expected extreme violence and devastating abuse as a result of asking. Note also that when I was accused of conspiring to procrastinate, I went right ahead and did what I was planning, and got an article and a dissertation.

Procrastinating on work, having outright bad work habits, is only something I got into later. I could not understand it. That was when I came up with what you have in this post: it is a form of self-punishment and a separation from self. (One of the ways I have thought about it is as an overdeveloped superego, tied to an underdeveloped ego, that makes one want to retreat into id.)

For me, I still need to refine the theory, because if it is just this odd choice of askesis over the feeling of accomplishment, if that were a sufficient answer, I’d snap out of it. (Note that I procrastinate on many things, on everything that is a required activity, including also work on house and yard, and I only have healthy relationships to art work, political activism, and program design/institutional grant-making. *Because in these activities I do not feel there is some terrible super-ego watching me.*)

So in tentative conclusion: yes, procrastination is self-destructive yet feels good, or feels constructive in some way. But to understand why this is, one must refine the theory. Practical example: in my first academic job I would always stay up too late, because I hated the job and wanted to maximize the time in which I had gotten away from it for the day. Going to bed only brought the next day closer, when I would have to go to the torture chamber again. So once more, for me, procrastination is self-destructive but feels like self-protection, or like *the only way available to grab some space for the self to just be, as opposed to be subjugated to être-pour-les-autres*.

This, actually, could be an important insight. What if procrastination is pleasant because it is the en-soi? What if working should be the pour-soi, but is often the pour-les-autres? What if it is only easy to work if one can be sure it can be pour-soi?

Finally: I could also write about another form of procrastination in which I have engaged, about changing careers, but this post is already long. I would rather end with a newer insight, gained as I wrote this post: I have always procrastinated about speaking for myself, due to fear of extreme violence. The example that came to me while writing is from a conversation with a professor on my Ph.D. examination committee. The exam had been good and she had been surprised: “Don’t take this the wrong way, please, because I didn’t think you would fail, but I didn’t know you were this good. You are always so tentative, so careful, so unwilling to fully engage. What you have done here was brave and you should continue: you can have a brilliant career, I know this now.”

I have of course not had, because of Reeducation in all its aspects. But notice what the professor pointed out: I had always procrastinated about developing my ideas and asserting them. I did not explain to her that I had decided to do this for the examination because as I studied, I realized it would be the only way to pass: if I did not stand on my ideas, I would not be able to organize my thoughts, because there was too much information to retain and organize. So I came out with my ideas, did not procrastinate, because I thought that the best way to avoid failure or death. But in many other instances, I procrastinate because I wish to avoid death.



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On defenses of the Confederacy and Jim Crow

I did not know, and do not want to know, and my father was always kind to his workers, who did not need to unionize.

This kind of statement, especially from an adult in this day and age, is not a sweet excuse but actually a refusal to look at reality and to change it.

It really means:

I do not care about what happened or is happening, I only care about feeling innocent and virtuous as an individual.

ADDENDUM: I should write about my mother in relation to this. One of the ways in which she was a good mother was that she did not try to teach this, but tried to teach against it despite having been taught a great deal of this herself.


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Henry Giroux Today

Having a bad day today. Maybe the hangover from being denied tenure by the right-wing stooge John Silber, the then president of Boston University, in 1981 still stings. Since those dark days, I have always had some hope in the university, recognizing that it was an important site of struggle and filled with contradictions. I am losing that hope. I consistently meet administrators who are not only unimaginative but cowardly and incapable of supporting programs whose value cannot be reduced to cost-efficiency metrics. These people do not just lack a vision, they constitute a kind of academic walking dead, albeit with the ever present smile on their faces–a kind of sickening embrace of civility. They are truly incapable of providing support and resources for faculty fighting for economic and political justice, faculty who take risks, join hands with those colleagues who have been reduced to Wal-mart workers, and act in solidarity with students who refuse to be reduced to customers. Where are the administrators from the ranks of the humanities and liberal arts? In too many instances we have dead-beat administrators drawn from the empirically based disciplines who do not have a clue as to what scholarship is about and increasingly reward the most unfit people with university awards, academic positions, and committee assignments–all the while making clear that qualified people should not apply. Rigorous and courageous scholarship has now gone the way of typewriter. Faculty are rewarded for committee work, grants, and a general attitude that can only be viewed as supine. Even worse, these individuals organize themselves in clicks exercising power that represents the worse form of cronyism. They barely publish, have no international reputations, and feed on gossip and innuendo, reproducing themselves in hires who mimic their own idiocy. I am sure there are exceptions in North America, but dark side of neoliberalism has just about killed the university as a democratic public sphere. All that is left is the detritus, filled with losers and dead beat careerists.



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A flash of insight

Why did you not ask for advice and information?

Because I already knew that my father would not answer such questions. From this I had learned that answers would not be forthcoming from anyone.


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