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Archive for June 22nd, 2005

Spurious, Capital, Parentheses, the University

OK, I see that I’m not the only one (scroll down into the comments a bit…) who’s noticed what’s happening over here…

Planet of Stupidity: “But all along we are orbiting the planet of our stupidity, I said. The planet of Capital, I said, from which are born the ghostly correlates of what we take to be the work of our creativity. What I produce does not matter, I said. It is not anti-production, it is not the gift that breaks with the economy of production, it is simply a bad book in the great streaming of bad books, I said. That’s what we’ll be known for, I said: bad books.
The dream is ending, I said. Soon, books will count for nothing. Only income generation will count, I said. Monographs will cease to be of any importance, I said. What will matter is research funding, I said, the flood of money the government releases for academics to bid for, I said. Even in philosophy, I said. Especially in philosophy, I said. Philosophy will be a way the State returns to itself and confirms itself, I said. There will be only State Philosophy, I said, building elaborate new space stations to orbit the great planet of stupidity, I said.”

(Via Spurious.)

If I might be allowed to respond on an entirely inappropriate level: the funny thing is, the sort of stuff that Spurious is talking about, this stables-sweeping and performance review, the form-filling work that entropizes what we’d like to believe, as S. puts it, is “a little negentropic island in the midst of general decay” – all this, to the eyes of this US academic, is part and parcel not of the hot breath of Capital on the university but rather of socialism, what’s left of it everywhere but here…

Back in January, one of the places that invited me to give a job-talk, was a large urban research university in Canada… Wasn’t prepared for the abrupt change – change that felt as tangible as a sudden drop in barometric pressure…

As part of my day on campus, the department actually put me in a room with one of these creatures that S. references in one of his posts – one of the “administrators expert at translating poorly written funding proposals into sleek and efficient funding proposals” – who sat next to me on a couch reviewing my “materials,” tsk-tsking at the slimness of the publication column, asking if I had anything “in the pipeline…” If we were to work together, he informed me, we’d have a lot of work to do very quickly, and as it was, I would only be eligible for the most trifling of governmental grants… A lot of work…

I interjected at one point (only because I’d been informed that this person – this Dean’s – opinion would have no bearing on the decision to hire me, “well, where I come from, the idea usually is to publish well, not just to publish anything…”

“Of course, of course, that’s the idea here as well…” But it wasn’t…

The system in the US is entirely different – at once paradoxically much more mysterious and altogether lucid… The system I encountered in Canada seemed like the system Spurious is describing – but it also seemed like the opposite of capitalism, at least to these American eyes…

I didn’t get the job, in the end… But during that trip and after, I was a little bit shocked – a little bit scandalized – at just how American I felt… How the faculty at this place seemed nice enough and intelligent enough but also sheepish and quiet, almost a little naive…

And it felt as though this sheepishness and naivete was very much the output of the socialized soil in which these people were planted. Not having written the dissertation with health insurance for yourself and your unborn child on the line, not finding a way to survive an unprecedented real-estate bubble on a grad school stipend… Instead: forms to fill out, stables to sweep, grants to be gotten… And if you don’t get a job, you simple linger on in the department, teaching the same classes you’d teach were you to get a job… (At the place I just left, they more or less slam the door after 5 or 6 years, wash their hands of you…)

At any rate – I wonder what there is to be said about the connection between the bureaucratic rationalized irrationality that Spurious describes and the flattening out that comes of a (more) egalitarian system…

(I can’t remember the exact figure, but the parents of the average student at the place I just left, one of the jewels of the US system, bring home more than $250,000/annum…)

So, in short, I wonder if it’s really Capital that Spurious is talking about. I guess I’d call it a deeply ambiguous modernity, bureaucratic rationality…

And how does Spurious’s affiliation with Tarkovsky’s Solaris work in this light?

I feel like one of the scientists on the space station orbiting Solaris, I said. Orbiting round and round and round the planet of my stupidity, I said. Round and round I go until I’m bored.

In a certain way, it’s a film as anxious about the status of the parenthetical in a world busy rationalizing it out of existence… But where do capital and socialism fit into the rubric there?

(BTW – I think what Spurious is up to is fantastic… Don’t be confused by my questions on this point…)

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June 22, 2005 at 12:29 pm

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