Category Archives: What Is A Scholar?

On having time to yourself

THIS is why the people with their alarm clocks and hourglasses, upping their so-called productivity, seem so antithetical to the life of the mind.

“The world of labor and wealth is armed against the idleness and utopia that it sometimes promises. Thinking and dreaming require unregulated time; intellectuals lingering over coffee and drink threaten solid citizens by the effort—or the appearance—of escaping the bondage of money and drudgery. Guardians of order have denigrated, almost for centuries, critics and rebels as mere ‘coffee house intellectuals.’ In the catalog of bourgeois sins bohemian intellectuals earn a double entry, thinking too much and doing too little.”

—Russell Jacoby in The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (Basic Books, 1987): 29.

I must read that book. I remember the reviews, but now I actually get it.

Axé.

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On primitivism and aristocracy

I do not agree with everything in this Appiah article on primitivism but there are some very interesting references in it.

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I have been in Utrecht for a week and it has changed me greatly. I want to live here. I looked at some notes I made the first day and I know so much more about the town now, and the Netherlands are so much more familiar now.

I have learned something important: the idea that was imposed upon me, that one should finish the Ph.D. in a field like letters, and then decide what to do with one’s life, is an aristocratic one, was what aristocrats actually did. It is not an odd neurosis of mine that one must first prove personhood via the Ph.D. and ideally tenure in a top place in a humanities field before going on with one’s life, finding ones true field and vocation — it is an aristocratic ideal that was actually communicated to me as a requirement.

This is very interesting. Parents who want children out of the nest, on the one hand, but want to tie them to it hand and foot, on the other. I had some other psychoanalytic insights as well, about early infancy.

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Writing is the act of saying I

Joan Didion, again. “Writing is an aggressive, hostile act.” Trysh Travis:

[In] graduate teaching, this means helping students figure out what they are arguing about complex and multifaceted topics with which they tend to have, in clinical mental health terms, deeply codependent relationships. . . .

. . . bell hooks calls the process “coming to voice”. . . . Confidence in their own authority allows them to say both “this is my argument” and “that could be my argument, but it is not.”

Making such claims is scary; they entail a lot of responsibility. Traditional feminist pedagogy — indebted to the ethics of care — provides an easy jumping-off point for discussing the responsibility an author has to sources and audience. . . .

But we lack a feminist discourse that grapples with the fact that, as Didion explains, writing is “. . . an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.” To be clear, that aggression inheres . . . in the act of clearing space (in one’s head, on the page, in the scholarly conversation) for one’s own vision and voice.

Writing in standard academic English, “the act of saying ‘I’” always already occurs over and against the voices of others. Writers dialogue with some of those voices, but to most of the others, they must say, “That could be my argument, but it is not.”

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A chronicle of crisis

I want to read Bauman’s Social Europe book. Perhaps, since the book comes in non-traditional forms, this is something I will do while traveling.

I submitted something to my writing group but must not forget to do something with it once I get it back. It has potential to be overshadowed but should not.
After I finish this next paper I must keep working on it, dividing time between it, my out of field paper, and course preparation. Then the question of our grant proposal will come in, and I do not want to miss a beat now.

That means, of course, that I cannot participate in any of my typical self-destruction or self-doubt now; others need me to be whole and want to know what I have to say.

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Fraught

On political euphemism, it is very important to note that the PATRIOT ACT (which was not patriotic) and then, rising to a new level of irony, became the FREEDOM ACT.

I read about the lives of Elena Garro and Helena Paz Garro and it was sad. Both died ill, poor and alone; Paz’ death coincided with the pomp and circumstance of her father’s centenary celebration. Garro’s self-imposed exile had to do with the tangled politics around the events of Tlatelolco, and Paz Garro was a talented person who struggled with her parents’ shadows.

About writing, I read this:

Why couldn’t the boy just have refused to sign the letter? Why the paralysis? For Freud, the unconscious was inherently conflictual, and in this example, the boy may have felt both the wish to sign and not to sign the letter. This would have stirred up his oedipal conflict with his father and the guilt that went with it. The symptom allowed him not to sign and, through the physical pain of the paralysis, punished him for his guilty wish.

This applies to many things. (I am convinced Freud is right about many things, and that he is discredited because he is too intellectually demanding and not enough of a profit center.)

Fraught is the word my friend used to characterize the situation at my university. Fraught is the feeling I have and fraughtness is the opposite of peace. It is the affective challenges, not the intellectual ones, that are hard.

I am involved too much, some would say, in service, administration, politics, advocacy; politics and advocacy are me and service and administration are extracted from me in a situation fraught with double binds. One should ignore everything and tend to one’s work, except that those who do this, can do because they have more people to share service and administration with. And the university wants you overworked, so you cannot do advocacy and politics–and it wants you to internalize that view.

And the reason I do not like academic advice is that it ignores context. “Work in the office,” it says to people who have no office (to give a simple example). Context matters. More profoundly, academic advice supposes that everything can be remedied with self-discipline and self-help; you are a neoliberal subject who, if deserving, will excel without context.

People think one should awaken in the morning thinking of discipline, schedules and getting things done, but I think one should awaken thinking of love.

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“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.

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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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