As the University of California gears up for tomorrow’s day of action, I’ve been hearing one argument against the walkout that deserves a little further attention. This argument proposes that there is a contradiction in a protest in favor of education that proceeds by students and academics halting education for a day. This argument is, of course, deeply moronic; it’s not, I suppose, entirely surprising to hear it from students, but it’s extraordinarily depressing to hear it from some of my colleagues in, of all places, a political science department, or from an actual politician, Robert Reich, who admonished us, at a teach-in this evening, to address our efforts to persuasion.
The problem with this argument is the incredible poverty of its understanding of politics. The suggestion seems to be that the only possible meaning of an action can be purely symbolic, an entry in a process of debate. The horizon of any conceivable action is “awaring” people. What this misses is that the staff, student, and faculty walkout might be a political action, an attempt to exercise power, or at least make a threat of exercising power. The very idea of politics has gone missing.
I sat down, and simply wrote it straight through. 12 pages. How long did it take? Geez, maybe 2 hours, maybe 3 hours…. The point is…I paid no attention to style. That’s for later.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve read or heard advice like this, but I’ve never understood it. What does it mean to write without paying attention to style? What is writing without style? Isn’t writing the process of taking something that doesn’t quite exist, the content of ones thoughts, and making it exist by supplying it with a form? So to write without paying attention to style would be to not write at all.
Graham Harman’s written quite a bit about the importance of style, as a matter of essence rather than mere decoration; so it’s odd to see him suggesting the virtues (indeed, the possibility) of writing without attention to style. I wonder what he means by it.
DeLillo in White Noise is both funny and astute about the physical embodiment of academic specialization:
The chancellor had advised me, back in 1968, to do something about my name and appearance if I wanted to be taken seriously as a Hitler innovator…. We finally agreed that I should invent an extra initial and call myself J. A. K. Gladney, a tag I wore like a borrowed suit.
The chancellor warned against what he called my tendency to make a feeble presentation of myself. He strongly suggested that I gain weight. He wanted me to “grow out” into Hitler…. I had the advantage of substantial height, big hands, big feet, but badly needed bulk, or so he believed—an air of unhealthy excess, of padding and exaggeration, hulking massiveness.
Which makes me wonder, how should I shape my physical appearance to be appropriate to the kind of academic career I want? Or, have I already, by my sartorial choices, sealed my academic destiny? A troubling thought.
The disadvantage of not posting anything for a while is that whatever post you write inevitably takes on the mantle of being a post worth breaking your silence for. Luckily, this problem was solved for me by finding something I couldn’t not post: a preview of the tATu film.
As I understand it, radical feminism, particularly as developed by MacKinnon, is based on a binary account of power in which having, or not having, power, is what defines gender. It’s paradoxical, then, that one of the main criticisms radical feminists make of post-modern feminists is that the posties, in critiquing the idea of the subject, deprive women of agency; it’s surprising, because hadn’t the radical feminists, albeit unintentionally, already done that? I’ve been wanting to think about this question for some time, and more generally about the questions about agency and subjectivity that are raised by debates between radical feminists, feminists of color, postmodern feminists, queer theorists, and others. As luck would have it, I also need to pick a “special topic” for a forthcoming exam on contemporary political theory; so, “Feminist political theory from 1980 to the present” it is. I’ve made a preliminary reading list, mostly obvious texts, with a couple of additions I happened to find in second-hand book stores. Any recommendations you have (for things to read or, indeed, for things to avoid) would be gratefully received: Read more↴
Adam points to the annoying habit among people doing academic work of moralizing about the “relevance” or accessibility of their work, and, I think, gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the way this usually proceeds. By positioning themselves in opposition to academic “irrelevance”
the speaker can make a double assertion:
The common people are right to be suspicious of some intellectual work, which really is useless at best or counterproductive at worst.
I, however, do not do that kind of intellectual work and am very suspicious of it myself.
The problem with this is that by focusing on the individual’s choice of academic style, this kind of move distracts from a critique of the exclusionary power structures of academia. Read more↴