Thursday, May 24, 2012
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
In Bodies and Machines, Mark Seltzer writes:
It should by now be clear...that naturalist discourse registers such a transformation in production in terms of what I have called the double logic of prosthesis: in terms, at once, of panic and of exhilaration. (160)
There was a moment at which this appeal to "panic" and "exhilaration" (whose?) was a common critical move. But in this, the age of affect theory, one wishes to know just what is meant by such words.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Friday, May 4, 2012
I don't really want to dwell further on the madness that is the Church of Higher Efficiency's* response to Naomi Schaefer Riley's anti-intellectual blog post dismissing all of Black Studies basically on the grounds that Schaefer Riley does not understand the titles of some dissertations. [background]
But I do want to note Amy Alexander's suggestion that cuts at UC and CSU should be the real target of outrage, as if there couldn't ever at any one time be more than one issue deserving of outrage.
As Gautam Premnath rightly pointed out, it's not as though the two issues are unrelated. "The crisis of public higher ed," Gautam observes, "has its roots in the contempt for scholarship you condone."
Schaefer Riley's MO—"check out these titles; aren't they obviously ridiculous? This entire discipline is clearly worthless!" is a very familiar one. Various mainstream publications trot out the ritual mocking of the MLA program every winter, as if a journalist's inability to understand the titles of talks in a specialized field proved something. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick describes how such tactics were taken up against (the title of a talk from) her work in her 1993 essay "Queer and Now." Anyone who knows scholarship knows that Sedgwick was a true thinker—careful, erudite, inventive, insightful. But you don't have to know anything to mock a title.
We're used to seeing such unrigorous hit jobs in the mainstream press, because the mainstream press is anti-intellectual. Amy Alexander has been defending the Church of Higher Efficiency's dubious decision to give NSR a blog (and, as Brian Leiter points out, this has been dubious for a very long time) on the basis that "CHE is a NewsOrg, not part of Academe." True enough. But if a paper purports to be the Chronicle of Higher Education, shouldn't it have a specialized knowledge of higher ed, or at least not be actively hostile to higher ed? Shouldn't ye olde MLA-season title-snarking be plain out of bounds for any higher-ed-related publication?
My sense is that a lot of academics feel ambivalent about the Church of Higher Efficiency—"it's a dreadful rag, but it's our dreadful rag." CHE is quite adamantly saying, "no, no, we're not your dreadful rag at all; we have no obligations to higher ed whatsoever." The Church of Higher Efficiency is thus taking the stance on scholarship that Amazon takes on books: you read it; it's a major part of your intellectual and personal life; it contains ideas? Great; whatever; to us it's a widget that we ship out of a warehouse in Tacoma. We are happy to ship you a coffeemaker as well; makes no difference to us. Pageviews, plz.
That's unfortunate, although I can't exactly weep over the Church of Higher Efficiency getting explicit about just how little it cares about higher ed per se. I mean, it's a dreadful rag (exception: the excellent Jen Howard). Rather, I want us all to make the connection that Gautam made, between these routine pot-shots at scholarship by journalists who proudly announce that they are not in a position to know what they are talking about and the kinds of sweeping policy changes that are currently leading to the effective dismantling of public higher ed in California and elsewhere. "Is college WORTH IT?" they ask. Not if you can make a career of announcing your lack of education and taking pot-shots at the educated, under the auspices of a periodical allegedly meant to serve the higher ed community, no less.
More public scholarship. Less Church of Higher Efficiency.
UPDATE 5/7: The Church of Higher Efficiency has apologized for its editorial oversights and dismissed NSR. Tressie McMillen Cottom deserves the internet equivalent of a standing ovation.
*"Church of Higher Efficiency": h/t Mark Sample.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. "Queer and Now." Tendencies. Durham: Duke UP, 1993. Print.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
The obligation of the child to be happy is a repaying of what the child owes, of what is due to the parents given what they have given up. The duty of the child is to make the parents happy and to perform this duty happily by being happy or by showing signs of being happy in the right way.
—Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 2010
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
It never occurred to me to peruse the USPS's fine selection of stamps online until a friend alerted me (today) to the existence of poet stamps. I'm not much for the fetishization of specific poets, much less the category "Poets." Is there anything worse than "Poets"? But I do love spotting poetry in the wild, and this particular sheet of USPS 45c/Forever stamps offers us a glorious instance—a mini-anthology—a history (forever).
The poets pictured are Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E. E. Cummings, Robert Hayden, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams—"ten great poets," as the website copy observes—a rather hodgepodge group, but not a bad one by any means. The USPS wishes you to know that this group "includ[es] several who served as United States Poet Laureate," and that, between them, these poets have been awarded "numerous Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, and honorary degrees."
Most remarkably, "[t]he sheet's verso includes an excerpt from one poem by each of the poets featured on the sheet," making this sheet of ten stamps into a tiny anthology of twentieth-century U.S. poetry. What is the principle of selection at work here? It seems somewhat arbitrary, but not way out in left field, either. The apportioning of prizes to the represented poets is undoubtedly one factor, one indicator of notability. The poets are clustered at midcentury, with none particularly recent, and none preceding modernism. They are moderately, but not aggressively, "accessible" poets; another way of saying this is that they are moderately, but not aggressively, "difficult" poets. (Of course Williams was sometimes very aggressive with his difficulty, but that has all been redwheelbarrowed away.)
I wonder what the quoted selections of poetry are. Maybe I'll order the stamps and find out—maybe I'll order the anthology and read it. It costs about as much as a small press poetry book.
"The Twentieth-Century Poets stamps are being issued as Forever stamps in self-adhesive sheets of 20 (2 of each design). Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate."