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Archive for March 2009

full employment

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picture-1

Recently promised myself (again) that I’d do only serious posts, no more self-reflection,  no more twittering. But just this last time:

Aforesaid friend mentioned in my last post arrived and spent the day today hanging around my office and the environs of my uni while I did what I had to do at work. When we were done, he said to me (I paraphrase a bit, but only a bit) man you do work fucking hard here huh?

I made him repeat this to my wife when we finally got to my place.

It’s true. I do. This system is way way more work-intensive than the US model. Academic work is always intensive, but this thing is pretty close to forty-hours-a-week of actual scheduled or semi-scheduled activities. I.e. reading and preparation, let alone research, don’t’t count in the total.

Hmmm. Still a good trade to live where I do. And very happy to be employed at all, god.

In the Observer yesterday there was a feature that detailed what people do at their jobs all day. Annoyingly, it only features relatively interesting upper or upper-middle-class jobs (no 9.00 am I stand at the till and ring up groceries, 1.00 pm I take lunch 2.00 pm I stand at the till and ring up groceries, 6.00 pm I go home in other words). And at least one of them is hideously annoying. But they do have the rundown on a day in the life of a university teacher of English whose days sound like they are almost exactly like mine, adjusted for having kids and such.

7am Wake up to the Today programme. Go to the gym, followed by breakfast with my girlfriend, a theatre director and translator.

8.45am Walk to college, which takes about 45 minutes.

10am Give a 50-minute lecture. I do about two a week, at the moment it’s literature and the Second World War.

11am Have an hour-long “supervision”, a one-to-one (or two) tutorial with students about their essays. I do about 12 a week.

1.15pm Eat with the 60 other fellows of the college at high table. It’s a really good way to bond as a unit.

2.30pm Give a weekly seminar, on modernism and the short story.

4pm More supervisions and endless emailing, mostly with the 30 English students I’m responsible for, but also arranging library visits, organising symposiums and contacting the editor of a book I am writing on London’s bomb sites and the literature of wartime London. I also set entrance exams and interview prospective students in December and January.

5pm Work on my book – it’s my first. I try to clear one full day a week, but the reality is that the three eight-week terms pass in an intense, exciting blur, and holidays are for research and writing, preparing reading lists, lectures and seminars.

7pm Sometimes I eat in college, work late in my office and then catch last orders in the pub and debate with friends. If not, I walk home listening to my Welsh-language podcasts practising my vocab. My mother is Welsh but I grew up in Brighton, so I only speak a little.

8pm Prepare for tomorrow’s supervisions, reading all the essays I will be discussing. Practise lectures on my cat Tolly.

8.30pm Cook dinner. I enjoy cooking as a way of relaxing.

9.30pm More preparation. Then I’ll read in bed until I fall asleep at about midnight. I have countless books on the go at once. I like to read articles and journals around my subject, but also completely off-topic as well. As a child, I just wanted to read books and I’ve fallen into a career where I get paid to do that. Some days, I can’t quite believe it.

Not too far off, nope. Except tonight I’m still very much marking papers and it’s currently 12:24 AM.

Just saying. I do have a minor point to make about all of this – something about work and sanity, something about work and sanity and the near absense of consciousness due to overwork , and perhaps all of that in relation to strange utopias of hard work… What? There aren’t any? What about the new bloomusalem? – but there’s no time to make that point now.

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March 17, 2009 at 12:36 am

all work all play makes blank a blank boy

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Light blogging, relatively speaking, lately, and for that dear readers am very very sorry. You don’t want to hear me go into the details, and you don’t really have to unlike those I know in the pinkflesh earthside, but, ahem, just to make this whole thing more real for you, here’s what I’ve been up to:

– Cleaning up the topmost bedroom because my bestest pal from grad school is coming to stay for a bit. When we were young and not yet employed, I used to meet him every single Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday, right?) at places like this. Whichever of us could get there a bit early would go and occupy a table outside in advance and sit reading the Times until the other showed up. Golden days. In the picture below, it looks like it’s a cloudy NYC day but it still never gets that light in London.

dylan thomas had a bad night here

– Shaking Alain Badiou’s hand. Yep, yep. I know. You’re impressed. Thing is he’s bigger than I am, I think, which weirds me out. I am bigger than almost everyone, but not Badiou. Physically I mean. No! Not that sort of physically! You know what I mean, god, you guys! I later asked IT, apropos of I don’t know what, maybe it was this post,  if she thought I could take him. She took the fifth. Hmmmm…..

– Working like a maniac. Christ alive, it’s too much! All I do is mark papers and attend departmental meetings. One of my Ph.D. advisors, a guy who wrote a book on Benjamin et al that I know many of you have read, once told me as we walked somewhere after seminar that one of the worst things about academic work is that you never get to read. I responded that I was sure he was being a little hyperbolic. But as it turns out, my god, I don’t have time to read – or let’s see, wash myself, wash my clothes, eat properly, process complex personal epiphanies, read newspapers other than the londonpaper, call my mother, clean the litterboxes, or be civil to ex-students who knock unannounced on my office door.

It’s true what you hear, Americans, about academic life over here. It’s busier, and harder. The upside, of course, is that they don’t seem to fire people all that often. And if you’re lucky, you get to live in London.

– Going to a hauntology event. Which was nice, as it was underneath London Bridge. So under London bridge that you had to have your ID scanned at the door, I guess to make the BBC’s job easier afterwards if you were make the damn thing, erk, fall down. It reminded me, a bit, of nights that I used to have when I was childless (ooops, initially typed childish, ha!) in Brooklyn. That is to say, it made me feel middle-aged before my time. I told my therapist today about that feeling, and he said Yeah, I don’t picture you so much as a raver. I think you’re more a type for talking somewhere with a bottle of wine open. I love my therapist. He’s from Boston, btw. No raver am I! He’s right. I like me some good conversation.

Problem is, I was five years younger in Brooklyn, that is to say safely within the core demographic for such affairs. Now I am, suddenly and shockingly, older than most of the people who attend such events. Hmmmm…. And strangely I’m not depressed by this.

– Feeling even more middle-aged, but in a comfortable way, because everyone I know well, basically, is starting to get requests to appear on TV or radio. Including me, even. One of the Major American Networks is apparently trying to cast my wife as a talking-head in a Major Piece they’re doing on socialized medicine, the NHS and the like. My wife is a brilliant Overton Window player, which is probably the best thing, in terms of politcised hackery, that you can be.

I am happy to hear that the Major American Networks are working on Major Pieces on socialized medicine. I am thinking that they should film the birth of our second child via the costless services of the NHS at University College Hospital, especially the part where my wife pushes and I faint.

– Getting work. Mmmmm. Work. By which I mean writing work, of the non or only para-academic variety. I am covering the enormous Communism Conference for a fine American magazine / journal that you almost definitely read if you look at my site. And this summer I get to write a personal essay cum litcrit piece on sitting around in coffee places doing crosswords and the like that will be published by one of the Finer Left-Oriented Presses. (The table of contents of this collection reads like a who’s who of Interesting London, plus one guy from the Bronx, and, um, me…) And I have various stuff (on Lefebvre and other things) that I need to get to right away. This sort of work makes me very happy indeed…. Not that I don’t want to revise my monograph or anything….

– Watching Mad Men. It’s not the best thing ever, but it’s more than good enough to keep me entertained. Was thinking today that with this one – who is always the one to be pictured in newspaper items about the show – they are effectively bringing the big ass back after several decades in the desert of televised desire. All well and good, bring it back then…. All to the good, all very just and right.

Ah man, I have to go and read some student papers now… Exhausted, awful, but glad that I got in touch….

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March 13, 2009 at 12:34 am

our robots, ourselves

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oooo baby i like how you say holloway road

oooo baby i like how you say "holloway road"

Got a ride to work today in a removal van that I hired to transport all but ten or so of my books that remained at my house to my office at the university. (Long story short: my wife’s office in our house has become, through the magic of paint, a nursery. Half of our bedroom, through the magic of desk moving, has become her new office. The bookshelf in our bedroom that held my books now holds her books. I have no office at home; I have no bookshelf at home. Thus the removal men….)

Halfway there, I started thinking about the fact that GPS units have female voices. They may have both male and female voices, you may be able to choose, but I’ve never heard one with a male voice. This is interesting.

But what is more interesting is what I noticed just after I had this first thought. The removal men who were driving me in incessantly referred to the GPS unit, despite it’s very obviously female voice, as a He not a She. Aye mate, he says that we should turn right at Holloway Road and then make the second left onto Parkhurst Road. I woulda thought he’d send us through Highbury Corner, but he must be thinking, yeah thasit, that you can’t turn right off of Camden Road onto….

I guess the obvious explanation is that, you know, gnomically, men are better with directions than women, therefore, if anthropomorphised, the GPS is male in the minds of my removal guys, even despite the gendering of it’s speech. But one wonders, since perhaps the path of least resistance would be just to call it it, whether at the back of their minds there’s a tiny fictional equation being done, a dim scene half-imagined, in which there’s a little man with a map in the box, a man who knows just where to go, who figures it all out and then whispers it, turn by turn to his little female assistant to deliver verbally with her silkily halting almost real voice….

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March 9, 2009 at 9:26 am

Posted in uncanny, Uncategorized

food we got

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Barbara Ehrenreich at Alternet (via icite):

It was also supposed to be a simple matter for the masses to take over or “seize” the physical infrastructure of industrial capitalism–the “means of production”–and start putting it to work for the common good. But much of the means of production has fled overseas–to China, for example, that bastion of authoritarian capitalism. When we look around our increasingly shuttered landscape and survey the ruins of finance capitalism, we see bank upon bank, realty and mortgage companies, title companies, insurance companies, credit-rating agencies and call centers, but not enough enterprises making anything we could actually use, like food or pharmaceuticals.

I don’t have figures on this, but it might surprise Ehrenreich to know that lots and lots of at least food is “manufactured” locally, even in the United States. It’s strange, and I know it throws the “slow food” types into confusion, but I’d venture to guess that seventy percent of what’s on your average American supermarket’s shelf (actually – you’re local co-op may well be worse, though that’s no reason to stop shopping there…*) is produced nearby. The thing is, unlike televisions, cars, and children’s toys, cookies and bread don’t age well, thus they don’t do well on the slow boat from China or Vietnam. Trust me, I know this in all too intimate a way, as I was both a long-term if seasonal employee of a Major American Food Company whose trianglular red logo all of my American readers are familiar with and, um, a close-up observer of the selfsame company’s labor issues – domestic labor issues.

So Ehrenreich is a little bit wrong in an article in which she is mostly right. But it’s OK – this fact should give Americans hope. We could feed ourselves with the bakeries we’ve got, even if we might have to stick with our old TVs for a bit and our kids would be bored with last years toys and we’d look a bit dumpier without the sweatshop-made shirts and trousers…. Lots of things aren’t produced in the USA anymore, but Cheerios we’ll have under socialism, if it were to arrive, if we were to make it happen….

Can you imagine? Socialist fucking Cheerios would taste ten times as…. oaty? **

* One of the few things I liked about the unfortunate place that I lived before I moved to London was the percentage of my spending that took place at establishments that were co-ops. The better part was spent at the lovely food co-op right around the corner from me. We bought stuff for the house and garden at a community owned garden store located in the middle of a shitty part of town likely shittier than any of my British readers have ever seen. I bought my books from a store that was effectively owned by the department where I worked. There was beer and ciggies from the gas stations, that’s true. But twas nice, all of this, and I still drag my canvas bags from the food co-op down to my Tesco to fill with grimly packaged wiltshire ham and pasta here.

** Again not to be promisory. But there’s a huge thing I really need to say about Ruskin and aesthetics and socialism and the idea that fair-trade coffee actually tastes better as the artisinally-made cathedrals looked better to Ruskin than slave-made pyramids. And I will say it, shit – promisory – soon.

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March 9, 2009 at 12:19 am

Posted in socialism

bad news all around

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More bleak news on the academic job front, via the NY Times.

Fulltime faculty jobs have not been easy to come by in recent decades, but this year the new crop of Ph.D. candidates is finding the prospects worse than ever. Public universities are bracing for severe cuts as state legislatures grapple with yawning deficits. At the same time, even the wealthiest private colleges have seen their endowments sink and donations slacken since the financial crisis. So a chill has set in at many higher education institutions, where partial or full-fledge hiring freezes have been imposed.

A survey by the American Historical Association, for example, found that the number of history departments recruiting new professors this year is down 15 percent, while the American Mathematical Association’s largest list of job postings has dropped more than 25 percent from last year.

“This is a year of no jobs,” said Catherine Stimpson, the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University. Ph.D.s are stacked up, she said, “like planes hovering over La Guardia.”

The anticipated wave of retirements by faculty members who are 60-something is likely to slow as retirement savings accounts and pensions wither, administrators and professors say. That means that some students who have finished postdoctoral fellowships and who expected to leave for faculty positions are staying put for another year, which in turn closes off an option for other graduate students coming up the ladder.

Glad to see that the Times has gotten one of the secret and small issues at play here – secret and small but bound to make this problem worse moving forward. In the USA, where there’s no manditory retirement (as there is here in the UK, and probably as there should be everywhere, but only if there are proper state pensions in place of course, which is not at all a given….) lots of the long tenured types who were headed toward retirement have had their stupid TIAA-CREF accounts shredded by the stock market dive. Their answer, of course, will be to defer retirement even longer than academics usually defer retirement, which is a long, long time.

At my last job, I had a choice between a state pension and a managed retirement account with TIAA-CREF. I really wanted to choose the former, really did for so many reasons, but with things the way they are in terms of mobility / precarity, it seemed (in the five minutes I was given to make the choice after some infotainment at the HR building) like a very bad bet to start a habit of accruing tiny little pension pots all over the USA… and as it turns out, not just the USA. So I took the non-pension. And wow, has it ever bled cash over the past year.

Well, at least if the academic job-market tanks everyone could just become freelance writers instead of boring academics. Erm… Francis Wilkinson, executive editor of The Week, suggests that writing may well be becoming – or already – exclusively the province of the rich:

It’s not obvious how young writers without accommodating, well-to-do parents or a trust from gramps make it these days. Surely they can’t spend a year or two blogging without pay until an audience evolves to nurture them. They’ll starve. Meantime, freelance rates for non-fluff magazine writing have barely risen in the past 15 years. And the chances of getting a job at a quality newspaper or a serious magazine are fast approaching zero.

There are exceptions, I know. There always are. But on the whole, the writing game seems likely to become even more a province of the upper middle class and flat-out wealthy than it is already. The offspring of the affluent, branded college degrees in hand, can afford to give it a go. But anyone hailing from more hardscrabble environs may find it too difficult to get traction before succumbing to the dismal economics of it all. (In contrast with another industry under siege—music—in which rising from the hood or the farm still seems plausible, even stereotypical.)

The Internet has brought the newspaper business to its knees. Some serious magazines are undergoing stress tests of their own. Maybe a certain kind of writing about the world, informed by underdog experience and lower-class perspective, will also prove to be a relic of the dead-tree era. Such writing wasn’t in great supply before. But movie stars, business executives, even accomplished authors all write for free these days. Why should some kid nobody’s ever heard of get paid?

It is a bit hard to understand, and the older I get (and the better circles that I move in) it only gets harder. A little while ago I was out for drinks with a relatively famous writer in multiple genres who had just spent an hour, among other things, baiting his academic audience with their failure to publish relevant work, to publish in the newspapers and the like. Despite the fact that he is, as I said, relatively famous, I doubt we’re talking about boatloads of money from the books and the increasingly rare journalism, and certainly not enough to support a lifestyle that at least resembles, if not betters, those of the academics that he was drinking with afterwards. I wanted to ask the unaskable question – the question about how this all worked, how with the family and the kids, the tennis games on Saturday mornings and the house in a decent part of the city – he kept it all together without tethering himself to a department and lectures and seminars, essays to mark and students to meet and sub-committees to sign on for. But of course, I did not ask. Though there are a few options, one does not really need to ask.

In America, it is hard to think of anyone remotely near my age who writes who is not an academic of one stripe or another. In the UK, it is slightly easier, I suppose because of the low cost of education and the free health care, and the fact that the pay scale seems to be slightly more humane than the one decscribed by Wilkinson above. But only slightly easier. Back home, I do or did know a few who went the intern to editorial assistant to subeditor to managing editor route, while writing on the side – a route fraught with perils of more than one stripe, but every once in awhile it works out. And of course there are a few exceptional cases where it can happen the way it should happen, occasionally even very deserving cases like this one. Or then again, some try other lines of work, but this usually comes to no good, I suppose because too much of your mind is elsewhere for to much of the time. At least when, say, a literary academic isn’t writing because his or her job is too demanding, she or he is still working through the operative questions and issues at least part of the time. Working as a bank teller or a store clerk or a lawyer or, dunno, an intinerant apple picker might well be a good source of material, but I can imagine (and remember) how intellectually depleting such work can be.

One feels a reflexive need to say at this point in this sort of post that it is important to remember that academics are only academics, writers are only writers, and that everyone else in the world has it worse. I am sure that is very true. But on the other hand, and without being a blinders-on technocrat about things, it does seem a bit worrying to thing about a world in which almost all would-be academics have to find something else to do, or else teach themselves crazy until writing is off the table, and where absolutely the only writing that gets done is done by the children of the idle rich. Of course, we’re already there and getting more there everyday.

I’d like to find a way to write about this. It’s interesting – given the choice between blurring the distinction between what we do and what everyone else does via “the modern office is the victorian factory” move and some sort of elderly-sounding defense of art and thought as the eyes and mind of the polity stance, my instincts are on the side of the latter. I am not a factory worker; I’m not really treated like one. It doesn’t take a very deep look into Victorian factory life to realise that this is true. On the other hand, it may be harder to produce and disseminate decent work now than it used to be. There’s some other way at this than the ways people are generally thinking about it, but I’ve been warned not to be so promisory in my posts, so no promises.

(I’ll come back to it later, soon…)

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March 8, 2009 at 10:13 pm

in lieu of an “also appearing in” thing on the sidebar…

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… something that I wrote was recently linked to on the estimable bookforum homepage, something I wrote under my real name, in print. This is a first, and is special to me, as I’ve been reading the linkblog on the bookforum homepage since before the guy who writes it (or wrote it, who knows) was hired by bookforum, since the linkblog was just his personal blog….

Anyway, don’t bother looking, as you won’t be able to figure out which one is mine. Trust me. But still, that’s a nice feeling…. Thanks to the person who got me the work….

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March 7, 2009 at 12:52 am

Posted in me

wish there was fookin titles on the telly

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Ha ha ha ha ha! British people watch The Wire with the subtitles on. So funny. Sometimes they tell me this, when they’re brave and confident, sometimes I just overhear it. Ha! My wife and I can’t get over that. Silly British people! It’s juss Baldimore, sheeeeeet.

Tonight, though, we watched the first hour of the first episode of the Red Riding triology on Channel 4, which is based on a series of novels by David Peace. Was excellent! Best British TV we’ve seen! But, um, the Yorkshiremen, wtf? It’s like barely a discernable language they’re speaking sometimes. * I provided semi-simultaneous non-translations (based on information gleaned from a review I read yesterday) that went something like Um, he’s being sarcastic, um, about the fact that the other guy, um used to work in London and I think this is, like, somewhere else.

* I understand that if a proper English person said this it might be construed as offensive. I can’t be offensive in this way, as I am luckily an American, and we weren’t around when the fights started. Or we left just after… Bad scene…. Happened to ask my class today why sometimes “tea” is, like, tea and sometimes it’s dinner. People got a little upset, tensions unusual at my uni flared up momentarily. It was refreshing but also scary. Try asking that question, Americans, when you’re working a room of class and geographically mixed Brits. It’s interesting! Preview: posh ones categorically deny that tea every means anything other than tea and biscuits. Other ones will respond, “yeah that’s because your grandparents ate more than one meal a day.” Sheeeeeeet.

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March 6, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Posted in britain, teevee

of the devil’s party: nu milton

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Jonathan Bate gives us something strange to think about in his review of Campbell and Corns’s John Milton: Life, work, and thought:

Campbell and Corns discover a Milton who would have been at home in the corridors of New Labour power or in the managerialized modern university.

Strange for me to think about today, in light of my recent post on bureaucracy, and further as yesterday I taught (twice!) Coetzee’s Disgrace, which from the title forward plays out the story of an old-school lit prof (and student seducer) in self-consciously Satanic resistance to, yep, the managerialized modern university in the wake of “the great rationalisation.” Hmmm….

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March 5, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Posted in bureaucracy, poetry

hoaxum

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Perhaps one of the most comforting ways to think of the current crisis, if you’re an academic in the humanities with some or lots of investment what we call “theory,” is that it is a giant, real world Sokal hoax, except one written collectively but especially by the Sokaled themselves, and that has exposed the so-called “discipline of economics” as a self-spinning, jargon-laden fraud.

Their journals should be defunded, their tenureships revoked, and I hope that their TIAA-CREF accounts have been well and truly emptied, those guys.

Red asses not yet red enough, here, at the NYT.

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March 5, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Posted in crisis, economics

the bureaucratic sublime

with 13 comments

From Alexander Provan’s review of a group of works on and by Kafka in The Nation:

At the fin de siècle, the state bureaucracy already held considerable sway over people’s lives and selves, and Kafka wrote from the center of the age’s contradictions and anxieties. When he assumed his position at the Insurance Institute in 1908, after having spent a dismal year in the employ of Assicurazioni Generali, an Italian insurer, the Dual Monarchy was groaning under a superabundance of paperwork. Legislation enacted in the 1880s had ushered in the European welfare state, and its administration required a massive expansion and modernization of the notoriously sclerotic royal bureaucracy. By the turn of the century, district authorities were processing four times more paperwork than they had been twenty years earlier; the empire was “being suffocated by files and drowning in ink,” wrote the governor of Lower Austria. Meanwhile, the arcane official idiom had become so divorced from vernacular German that the bureaucrats and their charges could hardly communicate. One imagines a cadre of clerks madly dashing off reports and edicts, which would be inevitably eclipsed by newer documents before they arrived at the appropriate filing facility. In Kafka’s last, unfinished novel, The Castle, this flood of imperial documents has so overwhelmed the citadel that the living rooms of village homes have been turned into storage annexes.

I wish I had time to do the reading that I’d like to do in order to make the point that I’d like to make. But for now: it is important – when dealing with Kafka, modernism in general, and modernity in general – to remember that the alternative to bureaucracy isn’t necessarily free and easy human contact and everything working very smoothly indeed. Rather, the alternative, both historically and often enough at present day, is the efficiency of hierarchical fiat.

For in its most neutral sense, and under forseeable conditions (anarchist utopias where you simply take as many apples as you like from the big barrel notwithstanding), there is no distribution of public benefit without bureaucracy. If there will be free health care and subsidized education, there will be forms to fill out, boxes to check. There are ways to run a society without forms – the gentlemanly handshake, the emperor’s thumbup or thumbdown. I’m sure there are people who get into Harvard from time to time without filling out an application, just as there are doctors you can see who will bill you later. The welfare state is a state run on ticked boxes and eligibility criteria. This is not to say that the pejorative usage of the word bureacratic is unjust. Bureaucracy is in fact often enough used to inhibit the distribution of benefits by setting up obstacles for those who would obtain them to negotiate, as I’m sure just about anyone who has filed for unemployment benefits in the USA or UK could easily testify. But this fact – the way bureaucracy is put to work in neoliberal societies by those who would deprive citizens of their rights – should not distract us from the bigger picture.

In this light, take a look at IT’s excellent post on the RAE and the goalpost-shifting that’s perhaps about to happen. The RAE is perhaps the most maligned element of bureaucratic governance in the UK system of higher education. But if I might play the helpful American for a second or two, it’s worth remembering that for all the grumbling that we do (“we” being now UK academics – I wear a lot of hats) that, in the eyes of someone who comes from the states, the RAE seems like a potentially highly progressive manifestation of bureaucratic rationality. We can see in IT’s post just why the word potentially is in the previous sentence and why I’ve italicized it.

But the Americans out there can second this if they like. If we had a system of academic finance distrubution that held even the slightest possibility that if, say, SUNY Stony Brook outperformed Columbia during a given period, that SUNY Stony Brook would swipe some funds away from Columbia’s pot…. Well, that might change some equations around a bit. And if the system were weighted to reward good work against the odds and to draw some cash away from well-endowed but underperforming institutions…. well, we’d still be simulating “market” logic, but one could deal with that if the simulation was jiggered to be fair, given the unlikeliness of any true equality in university funding of the “nationalize Harvard and spread its endowment from sea to shining sea) model….

But, yeah, a potentially fair RAE might look like the one that just took place, but whose findings were then duely acted upon rather than burying them in shoulder slaps for the old boys and vague ramblings about “our current crisis….”

Anyway, back to bureaucracy in general:

I’ve attended private universities in the US, and I’ve worked at public or publically-funded universities in the US and the UK. And I can assure you, with a few notorious exceptions (looking at you, again, Columbia!), there’s lots and lots more paperwork and general bureaucratic overhead involved with every single thing that happens, from the changing of the title of a course to the admission of Ph.D. students at publically funded institutions. There are days when my life feels like it is dissolving into a mass of papers on my desk. And I resent it – you have no idea how much I resent it.

But the reason why I resent it is because I am a little bit of a snot with a few not totally healthy memories of life at extremely-well endowed private institutions, where if the right person wanted something done, it was simply done without all that much paperwork, all that much meeting and voting and squabbling and oversight. I will admit that there are times when I envy the working life at institutions like the ones I attended.

But of course, of course, there’s a distinct and clear dark side to this sort of efficiency. It’s country cousins with the darkside that goes by the parabolic abbreviation make the trains run on time. With the smoothness and humaneness of response comes often enough a lapse into nepotism of the worst sort, the hiring of friends and lovers and the lovers of friends, picking from the visible top of the heap (and we know who gets to be visible) and that sort of thing.

At the place where I used to work, when the department decided to hire someone, there was this hoop that we had to jump through called something like Affirmative Action Review. Now, the purpose of this review wasn’t expressly to force us to hire black candidates rather than white ones, or women rather than men. It often felt like a mostly useless paperchase involving interaction with some office or other in the adminstrative building, all of which generally came to ratifying the choice we’d already as a department made.

But there was a logic to it. I didn’t get it at first, but I had one colleague (who happened to be the single Marxist instigator, you know the sort) who incessant raised the point of the affirmative action procedures when we were tempted to play fast and loose with them by, say, not running a proper job advertisement, not interviewing several candidates for a position, or not putting a potential spousal hire through the full ordeal of the interviewing process.

As I said, I didn’t really get the point of the procedures that I’ve just listed at first, but he explained it all to me once so clearly that I never wondered about them again. The point is this. The AA protocol doesn’t ensure that we would hire, say, a black candidate for a job. What it does work toward ensuring is that we don’t fall victim to the temptation to hire intelligent friends,  to hire spouses and partners and lovers, even if they are talented and seem on the surface to be an obvious choice for the job. We might in the end end up hiring them anyway, once the full search has been completed…. or we might just hire someone else who’s astoundingly excellent when given the chance (I’ve seen this happen. Shit, I’ve made this happen. Just ask around my old school… Was amazing, I was….) Our friends and lovers tend to be similar to us in background, just by mandate of biographic probability. (If I had had to marry one of my grad school classmates, the odds were something like 5-1 that I’d have married a woman that went to a posh undergraduate school just like me, was white just like me, came out of similar socio-economic bracket as me, and so on and so on…) We had Stanford grads around, and without due diligence we’d likely have been experiencing a fall harvest of Stanford-types every year etc etc.

Perhaps I’m overplaying the point. Perhaps I’m just trying to tell myself something like rather than grumble about the paperwork that’s waiting for you on your office desk, that you’ll have to go in early and spend an hour filling in tomorrow morning, shut up and realize that sometimes the bureaucratic stuff has its purpose. And that, in fact, if society were the way you’d have it in the haziest vision of what it actually might best be, you’d likely be doing more and more paperwork, endless paperwork that would take the place of the easier “Oh, that’s a good school! Let’s let her in!” which is the worst thing in the world, really….

In short, and again absent the arrival of the anarchist utopia that is in equal parts a lovely idea and unlikely to work properly, I will content myself with fantasizing about a world in which I visit an office to apply for my housing, I fill out a form to apply for my shitty constructivist computer (as they would be hard to get, given the equal access that those currently without access would have to them – schoolkids in Ghana before the overly-pensive in London), I wait my turn for my subsidized vacation somewhere, and I hand in my dated vouchers to get me some food at post-Tesco. So long as all this pain-in-the-assery meant that I didn’t get to step to the front of the line because I carry American Express, so long as the bureaucratic hoops meant that we were all getting our fair share, so long as paperwork replaces class-privilege, it is a worthy dream to replace the ones that I currently am having about lost cats and the like…

Let’s hope the funders-that-be sit down and their desks and go through the numbers properly and give Roehampton its due. They’ve got some good fucking researchers over there, let me tell you. And from what I hear, worthy students too.

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 4, 2009 at 12:15 am

people with signs

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IHT is full of these lately:

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March 2, 2009 at 4:59 am

public dream 1

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I’m reading Adorno’s dreambook. Look, it’d be easy to write snarky posts about it – dreambooks are easy targets. But I’ve decided for a bit to try to write down some of my own. Bad idea, blogwise. But…. I’m starting to think of the blog a bit differently, yet again. God, am I ever restless with my genres, my forms, aren’t I? The phrase public dream, which is drawn most directly from a book I have not read – a book I flipped through but did not buy, but which I will buy today, keeps coming back to me. I’ll try to say more soon about that. But for now, I am OK with the blog being a sort of public dream – and not just when I’m writing about my own actual dreams. I am so promisory, in all things not just this, but I’ll try to say more in a bit.

For what must be the ten-thousandth time, I dream at the end of my short night about the escape of one of my cats. As usual, it is the grey one who goes. I am outside with my parents, my parents are packing to go on a trip (a relief this is, I am excited to see them go) when the cat runs out the door and goes bounding down the front yard toward the street. I have the last good opportunity to stop her, she runs right at me, it looks like it’s going to be easy to stop her, but she leaps up and around me and I miss and fall backwards like an ice hockey goalie.

I start searching in the tallish grass of the front yard for her but I know that I won’t find her. (Why is the grass so high? This is my parents house, the one we lived in from when I was eight until I was twelve, and even though it wasn’t at that point, it surely is my fault that the grass is uncut).

I look for her but get distracted, finding instead a series of small, happy, but worse-for-wear human or animal couples. Human-animal couples – not humans with animals but couples made of creatures that fall between the categories. A set of oldish people, seemingly small like owls, people on their way to owlness and with the same posture and rate of movement, are huddled together in the branches of a tree. Two birds, big ones, birds on their way to peopleness, are nestled together in their home behind a bush.

I wake before I find the missing cat. I am sure that it’s been hit by a car or will never come back to peer in the kitchen window, hungry for its store-bought food.

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 2, 2009 at 4:39 am

Posted in publicdreams

“and the animals will love it if you do” (another sunday photoessay)

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I do not live in my favorite part of London. It’s no great tragedy; these things happen. But my favorite part is rather large. Basically, if you sketched it, it would look like one of those WMD dispersion maps after a weapon of some sort went off at Waterloo station on a day when the wind was blowing NNW. Or N and then NW and then N again – as the area in question hangs a rather sharp left turn at Euston Station and then a right at Regent’s Part and heads toward Hampstead and….

… Jesus, why am I making this so hard on myself? Radiation dispersion? What’s wrong with me? Basically, I like the run of the Northern Line (Charing Cross and Edgeware Branches) from Waterloo to Hampstead! Southbank, the Strand, the bit below the British Museum, Bloomsbury, Regent’s Park, Belsize Park and South End Green, Hampstead and the Heath.

Just about smack in the middle of this cloud or scatter or Underground continuation lies the London Zoo. It’s on the north side of Regent’s Park. This is, of course, the park where one of the best scenes in modernist literature takes place, the bit when Peter Walsh walks past Septimus and Rezia and both recognizes and utterly misrecognizes the scene that he’s seeing:

“But I am so unhappy, Septimus,” said Rezia trying to make him sit down.

The millions lamented; for ages they had sorrowed. He would turn round, he would tell them in a few moments, only a few moments more, of this relief, of this joy, of this astonishing revelation—

“The time, Septimus,” Rezia repeated. “What is the time?”

He was talking, he was starting, this man must notice him. He was looking at them.

“I will tell you the time,” said Septimus, very slowly, very drowsily, smiling mysteriously. As he sat smiling at the dead man in the grey suit the quarter struck—the quarter to twelve.

And that is being young, Peter Walsh thought as he passed them. To be having an awful scene—the poor girl looked absolutely desperate—in the middle of the morning. But what was it about, he wondered, what had the young man in the overcoat been saying to her to make her look like that; what awful fix had they got themselves into, both to look so desperate as that on a fine summer morning? The amusing thing about coming back to England, after five years, was the way it made, anyhow the first days, things stand out as if one had never seen them before; lovers squabbling under a tree; the domestic family life of the parks. Never had he seen London look so enchanting—the softness of the distances; the richness; the greenness; the civilisation, after India, he thought, strolling across the grass.

Jesus! Amazing! He’s goes on to do the 1918-1923 bit. Go read it for yourself. What a brilliant woman she was. Anyway, I was Septimusy a lot recently, despite not having had my buddy blown up in front of me, but I’m feeling a lot better now. And so we went to the Zoo today, a fine fine day, but I’m a little short on snaps because, don’t know, nothing was really doing it for me in the clique clique sort of way. And I guess I was having enough fun with my daughter that I wasn’t reaching for the Nikon every thirty seconds. Photoessay without pictures – there’s a concept! More later…

Here’s another picture of that canal with which I started the post.

It’s the Regent’s Canal, built during the early nineteenth century like almost all canals, and now (or latterly anyway) seems to be mostly something along which to build posh condo complexes in Camden town. The Zoo abuts the canal, which gives it all a bit of an inland island sort of feel.

I’ve been starting to think more and more about the fact that so many leisure areas / tourist attractions seem to descend in terms of layout and design from some sort of general “pleasure garden” sort of place from the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Worth looking into a bit, but there’s a way that all of these things, Disney World and the London Zoo and Central Park and, I don’t know, lots of other things have the same phenotype, carry some basic layout principles deep in their DNA. More to come, when I’ve got more to say on the topic.

I’m starting to recognize distinctively English florascapes as such. I am very sensitive to such things. I am absolutely positive that if you blindfolded me and dropped me in the middle of the woods in Northern NJ, I’d know instantly just where I was, from the trees and the plants and the skyshape and, I don’t know, the color of the dirt and the low roar of I-80 somewhere in the background. London, or the thing underneath London that pushes its way up through the city wherever it is allowed to, I’m just starting to see and sense.

Yeah, Jesus – fortunately this isn’t in the zoo itself. I guess I could have taken some pictures of animals, huh? We didn’t really look at all that many. One of the best things about having a zoo membership is that you don’t really feel any pressure to see much of anything. Saw the gorrilas, the penguins, some bearded pigs, and the giraffes, yes, but mostly played in the playgrounds and rode the carrousels and ate a halfassed pizza in the cafe (should have gotten the hotdog outside. Always get hotdogs at zoos! It’s like one of the fundamental rules of life!)

But here’s a brand new Foxton’s estate agent office in Camden Town. Not sure exactly when it was completed, but we think the last few months, as my wife didn’t recognize it from the last time she was at the zoo. And it seems to be the last and best of its breed. A full espresso bar, wall-to-wall plasma screens scrolling available properties, and an utterly ridiculous color-scheme.

The truth of the boom somehow appears most vividly in the last things that it spawns, the things that it makes that are born obsolete and obscene in their obsoleteness. You can imagine this branch office closing a few months after it opens. The color scheme will seem even more garish, more tacky, as the next few months pass.

Ah that’s better. We had a stroller-sleeping child on our hands, so we stopped at a pub for a half-hour. I am befuddled, still, by the kid-in-the-pub thing. Sometimes it’s fine – some of them are like day-care centers on Sunday afternoons. Walk into another with a sleeping child and you’ll be asked to leave before you even clear the door. We sat outside at this one, which clearly wasn’t for kids. (Hmmm… The Spread Eagle... I guess not, eh?)

Bits of Camden Town are awful reminders of the worst bits of the West Village in New York. But other bits – just like the best bits of the West Village – are lovely. This part, the Parkway part, is AOK. But soon, as is wont to happen on Sunday afternoons, it was time to go home.

I’m shitting myself about work this week. Not a nice week at all. I should have spent the weekend, part of it, working, but I did the parks and zoos and lunches instead. I will wake at 6 AM tomorrow, I will try to make every minute count. I promise! I promise!

There was a sign by the gorilla house in the zoo that described a day in the life of the gorilla, and ended with (approximately) Snacking, wandering around with friends, taking rests in the grass. Wouldn’t you love to be a gorilla… at least if it weren’t for the difficulty of finding food and the possibility of being killed by a poacher? Hmm. Maybe. I’d settle for being one of my cats. At least I think I would. Cats don’t know the sadness of Sunday afternoons. Unless, as I suspect, having spent my whole life with cats, it’s sort of always like that for them, just not in a work-related way…. This is my prized Brooklyn stray who knows no father but me. What do you think? Does she look anxious?

Ah, but there’s a post that I really want to and have to write very soon about Gerhard Richter, a fabulous set of things that you can see here, and a few other things. Among those things, I am going to write about what it means for GR to rub out and deface personal images, pictures of his family, what the difference is between rubbing them out and thematically distorting them, and lots else. Coming soon! Too big to write quickly!

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March 1, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Posted in london, photoessay

credit crunch ulysses

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the ninth most emblematic webphoto of hackney

From the TLS review of Iain Sinclair’s Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire:

In an interview with a local free sheet, the Hackney Citizen, Sinclair mentioned that this book was originally meant to be a novel, a sort of Hackney Ulysses, prophetically structured around the theme of creeping debt and taking place over a single weekend. But the notion “was entirely negative . . . and I didn’t want really want to write on that depressing note”.

I will buy the book tomorrow, despite the fact that a) my wife yelled at me today for the sheer number of Amazon boxes that have been dropping through our mailslot this week and b) I yell at myself nightly for not reading any – any! – of the books that I so frequently buy. 480 pages – at the rate I read lately, if I came at it singlemindedly I might finish it just before the start of the 2012 Olympic Games.

I like the start of the review, too:

Writing in the TLS in November 1950, Julian Maclaren-Ross dismissed Roland Camberton, a London novelist who had settled into Maclaren-Ross’s Soho bohemia, as “devoid of any narrative gift”. A year later, the TLS was kinder to Camberton’s second novel, Rain on the Pavements, a loosely fictionalized account of the writer’s native Hackney. At the time, the London borough retained a strong Jewish identity – one from which Camberton, raised as an orthodox Jew (born Henry Cohen), had long been trying to escape. Julian Symons described this return to the novelist’s home territory as “a book of considerable charm”. But Camberton’s second novel was his last. As far as the literary world was concerned, he disappeared.

Camberton’s curtailed, mysterious literary life story might have been drawn up to Iain Sinclair’s specifications. Sinclair’s output and energy take up a lot more shelf space but, as the editor of London: City of disappearances, the co-author of Rodinsky’s Room, a quest for a missing East End cabbalist, and the creator of a distinctive oeuvre devoted to the vestigial, he naturally sees the vanishing Camberton as a kindred spirit. There is evidence, too, of a shared passion for the everyday details of urban life. Sinclair takes a passage from Rain on the Pavements as his own “statement of intent”:

“It was necessary to know every alley, every cul-de-sac, every arch, every passageway; every school, every hospital, every church, every synagogue; every police station, every post office, every labour exchange, every lavatory; every curious shop name, every kids’ gang, every hiding place, every muttering old man . . . . In fact everything; and having got to know everything, they had to hold this information firmly, to keep abreast of change, to locate the new position of beggars, newsboys, hawkers, street shows, gypsies, political meetings.”

This way of looking at the world, of combining attention to detail with Casaubon-like fantasies of completeness, has long been Sinclair’s favoured mode.

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March 1, 2009 at 12:08 am

Posted in crisis, london, novel