Long time no hear everybody! Today, we’re re-posting Robert Palmer’s blog on his experience on grad school. We’re experiencing a brain-drain in academia, if we continue to ignore racism, sexism, elitism and all its nastiness.
Recently, a well-meaning senior colleague told me that I should be excited to apply to one-year positions. “They can lead to a tenure track, and moreover, it gives you the chance to get an overview of the different institutions out there, before you settle somewhere.
Bless his out-of-touch and away-from-reality heart. Here are the reasons these Visiting Appointments suck:
1) It doesn’t lead to tenure track positions: As Nate Silber of “Das Zugunglueck” writes about his field of German Studies, the chances that you get a Tenure Track job after several Visiting Assistant Professorships is small. Heck, the chance that you get a tenure track job is small, since they are vanishing.
2) Moving expenses: Less and less universities offer help with moving expenses, and if they do, they barely cover a minimum of the actual cost. Those fresh out of grad school will put it all on a credit card, thinking they can then pay it off once the first paycheck comes in. Then, you need to add the cost of traveling back and forth to see your significant other/spouse/family, who live away from you. So, if you live frugally, don’t have any family or medical expenses, you may even be able to save something of their pay for- drumroll please- the next move.
3) Productivity (or lack thereof): Most of the time, all these positions require is a warm body who can teach while so and so is on sabbatical or enjoying other privileges of the tenure track life. This means that you will get a 3/3 or more teaching load, and it won’t be courses you necessarily enjoy to teach. You’ll be teaching intro classes until the cows come home. Then add office hours, meetings to which you are obliged to go, talks (to show how invested you are in the place)etc. If you do your job, we’re talking about a good 50-60 hour week. Unless you prefer to live like a medieval monk (and hey, nothing’s wrong with that), your research will slow down. You thought one year should be enough to crank out an article and that book manuscript, if you write a dedicated hour every day? It can be done, but mostly isn’t. Which then in turn looks bad when you apply for tenure track somewhere else.
4) Campus Community I: The Pariah: Most of your new colleagues will be… nice. And that’s pretty much it. While there are exceptions (see the next point), most people will be friendly, but they will keep you at a distance. They know you won’t stay, and during the job season they will show sympathy, but at the end of the day, you are not in the same boat. Yes, you do the same work, you are in the same field, but still, they have no idea what it is like to apply for jobs every damn year. And most of them don’t want to know. So, you engage as much as you can, you attend all the talks, you promise to keep in touch, and finally, you leave.
5) Campus Community II: Leaving the Party when it’s in full swing: I made wonderful friends in my last two VAP’s, personal and academic. We worked well together and the numbers of majors enrolled skyrocketed (ok, they rose). They all wanted me to stay, but couldn’t really do anything about it. This led to awkward silences in departmental meetings, personal conversations, and in the end, a lot of heartache.
6) You live in places in which you don’t want to be buried: Admittedly, I am torn on the issue. Having an open mind is not a bad thing, and experiencing different lifestyles and different opinions hasn’t hurt anybody. But then, try to be black/jewish/gay/liberal/atheist in central Oklahoma, and you’ll ask yourself whether you really have to experience EVERYTHING or whether it’s ok to have read about a few things and only possess second hand knowledge. In these places, the university campus is usually your safe island, and that says it all.
7) Your social life sucks: Granted, living the “life of the mind”, you shouldn’t care about things as shallow and trite as friendships or even relationships. But if you do, be prepared for a lot of heartache. You will slowly start to get to know people, and then you’ll leave. If you start dating someone, and that’s a big if (see #4), you will see this expression on their face when you tell them you’re here for a year, and no, you have no idea where you’ll be next year. And then you’ll never hear from them again.
8) Bureaucracy: Breaking leases, extending leases, paying double rent, getting your driver’s license changed, switching insurances, switching whatever benefits your previous employer gave you to the current employer, getting your mail forwarded, telling your bank you’re moving- it all may seem trivial until you have spent two days running around and on the phone taking care of stuff. Most junior academics I know could easily write an ethnography of the DMV’s of the United States from having spent so much time there.
9) The mental drain of constantly being in limbo: Three months after you arrive on your new campus, you start applying to jobs again. You update your materials, you frantically check the job wiki, you don’t sleep, and you don’t eat. And at some point, you stop having dreams- whether you’re ever going to have a family or settle somewhere you like seems to be out of your hands.
As the job season slowly comes to an end (except for a few places that will tell you on July 27th that you can move across the country and start August 15th), a thorough evaluation of the process from Dr. Belle, previously posted on “Tenure She Wrote”.
Today’s post is by Dr. Belle, a fourth-year postdoc
Job openings are both a blessing and a curse. They can infuse both search committees and applicants with a sense of hope for the opportunities to come, but at the same time the search process is stressful for everyone involved. Search committees and departments spend their time and energy reading through applications, selecting candidates, and making choices. Are they making the right decisions? Are they selecting the ideal candidate for the job? But, no matter the stress the current faculty are under, the applicants are under more. Each of us applicants are applying for dozens of jobs, possibly year after year. What’s a minor annoyance in one application, such as a system that keeps crashing, or having to ask for yet another letter of recommendation that may never be read, can become a heavy burden when you multiply those annoyances by…
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“In politics, If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” ― Margaret Thatcher
It’s not often that someone on my side of the political fence quotes someone from Thatcher’s side in order to support an argument. But I have to give it to her. Maggie has a point. All too often, in the world of politics, men talk the talk, but it’s women who walk the walk. The same goes for academic politics, in which men still dominate, the majority running roughshod over all except the most bulletproof of women academics. Despite the same degrees from pretty much the same, incestuous collection of universities that grant PhDs in the Humanities, men somehow get taken more seriously. This, despite the fact that they will more likely ruin department profile because of their arrogant posture, despite the fact that they still think with the little head instead of the big one, leading to the romancing of undergrad and grad students and lovely aca-babies, despite the fact that their work and ideas are no better than anything women produce. As a matter of fact, based on 20 years of experience, I know more men academics who have lied, cheated, padded their CVs, double-dipped in publications, claimed a book review in a vanity press a legitimate publication, produced absolutely opaque garbage that ends up in some of the most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in the nation and reigned over their departments like feudal lords. I’m not saying women don’t do these things, but most of the women I know in academia have actually followed the rules, produced good research, chased and slayed the publication dragon, something they couldn’t really achieve without support. Most of us know that support comes either in the form of a partner with an income that can sustain them both (I’ve had that luxury at one point, so I ain’t hatin’.), an often painfully-felt absence of children (had that one, too), or an ability to survive on 3 hours of sleep a night (dodged that bullet). If they do decide to get married, have children, have a life outside their laptops, they often pay the price of “failure.” It’s no different inside the ivory tower than outside it. Or perhaps not as many women cheat and lie their way through their academic careers because not as many ever make it into the hallowed halls, mocked and marginalized instead into a demeaning obscurity. Why don’t we hear their voices, why are they gagged and bound, hostage to the academy? Why don’t we see or hear more often from women who—surprisingly—still actually want to participate in a discourse that matters to them?
Simple. The same male academics who mock and marginalize also drain the last drop of lifeblood from any woman still clinging to her position like a misguided barnacle on the underside of the Titanic. Women rarely get heard because their ideas get co-opted and claimed as some man’s. Nina Negroni attributes it to EMS, Entitled Male Syndrome, that condition in which academic men expect or demand assistance, inspiration and ideas from their female counterparts without crediting them for their work and claiming it as their own. Men who suffer from EMS have a tendency to casually pop into a female colleague’s office and strike up an innocuous conversation, leading slowly into mentioning the real reason they’re suddenly acting as though they give a shit about her: they need help, be it with research, curriculum development or communication. He just got this fellowship for the semester, and he’s going to be teaching an upper-division course on Nietzsche, which he knows nothing about. But instead of saying that, he says that this is the first time he’s taught the class to this student body, and they’re so “different” from the ones he taught at Northwestern/Harvard/Wisconsin/Stanford, wherever. How would she structure a class like that for these students? The female colleague, conditioned by decades of being told that she has little worth outside the scope of a man’s appreciation, that she exists to serve men (behind every great man, there’s a great woman) and being shat upon from a height, often, particularly in her fledgling years, might feel a little challenged at this moment, that she will be deemed unfit forever and a day if she doesn’t have an answer for this question, if she doesn’t have materials she can provide to validate her claim. She may perceive the question as an honest opportunity to collaborate. Either way, she will eagerly offer up a suggestion or gladly answer a question, sometimes even her whole syllabus or painstakingly-created bibliography, in the hopes that the male colleague will, for once, be impressed enough to tell another male colleague that she is good at what she does, that one hand will wash the other at the right time, that the male colleague, when he later receives a compliment on the brilliant idea at a meeting or a conference, will say, “Well, actually, it was Suzy’s idea. She was generous enough to share it with me. Isn’t she great?” In reality, she would be thrilled with just, “It was Suzy’s idea.” Even if the male colleague said it through gritted teeth, threatened her family, and shot her in the kneecaps afterwards. She helps him because she is helpful, or because she hopes and expects that he will help her at some point, a perfectly reasonable idea. After all, it is politics. She has done her part. But the male colleague who suffers from EMS, due to neurons sacrificed in the brain to make room for his freakishly large ego, lacks the ability to see past the bridge of his pampered nose. The parts of the brain governing empathy and conscience have been subsumed by entitlement and laziness. Not only does he expect the female colleague to give him everything she has on Nietzsche, but he also assumes immediate ownership of it all, of every sentence he finds appealing, of every idea that tickles his fancy. He sees it as a gift, one among many, that he has been entitled to his entire life. It would never occur to him to give credit where credit is due, no matter how small. But it’s often not that small. I have experienced this at all levels, from my adviser to professors and lecturers to graduate students. It’s not new to me, getting the email asking about a couple of sentences in someone’s article, or the concept of a particular type of literacy related to foreign-language learning. I have stood at cocktail parties or coffee gathering more than once and been asked why so-and-so never credited me for that research or that project. I have learned to keep quiet, most of the time, except when I just can’t resist.
But it happened again just last week in the office I share with other lecturers, usually women. This semester, a male colleague is sharing it with us. He’s just there for the semester, teaching a course on the Frankfurt School. He currently spends his time outside of class working on an article, in the office, when I am supposed to be sitting in it alone, according to the system most lecturer schedules go by. I keep my answers mostly monosyllabic, and he doesn’t seem compelled to fill the silence with conversation, either. But then, last week, he became quite chatty. “Can I ask you a question?” He turned halfway in his chair to see me stuffing salad into my mouth. “I don’t want to disturb you.” Men who suffer from EMS do not realize that they have already disturbed you at this juncture. Instead of first turning and seeing whether I was free, my colleague simply assumed I would suddenly become free for him, paying lip service to the idea that he should be considerate, because he was raised to do so. “What do you need?” I asked once I’d finished my bite. I answered also out of the politeness that I’ve been taught, instead of saying, “Can’t you see that I’m trying to eat my lunch in peace? Piss off.” “I’m working on this sentence, but I don’t know exactly how to write what I want to say.” My monosyllabic responses have never revealed that I work in applied linguistics and composition, that I have taught academic writing since 1997, that I obsess about syntax and word choice. And my desk implies exactly what I want it to: that I’m a simple, good-natured language instructor who has no other interests. But my desire to solve a sentence puzzle outweighed my desire to stay mum. “What’s the sentence?” Once I understood that the sentence a) said nothing and b) did it horribly, I asked him to please explain to me in plain English what he wanted to say. After a much longer than expected tedious process of teasing out his key terms and engaging in reflective listening, I recited the sentence I’d come up with. “Oh my god, that’s perfect!” he said. And when he said that, I realized I’d just written a topic sentence for one of his primary arguments, if not the thesis statement itself. “Wow. Thanks a lot. Let me know if I can ever help you with something.” Dude, you can’t write your way out of a paper bag! How will I need help from you? And help with what? Language instruction, English composition, pop culture or translation courses? I don’t think so. Did he offer to credit me for the help I gave him? Of course not. Will I ask? Of course not. Life is too short, and I should have known better at this point in my career. It just makes me terser than before. As a matter of fact, I eat lunch elsewhere now. Maybe Maggie’s steely determination had nothing to do with her conservative values. Maybe it was just her digging her heels in because she wanted to do instead of be stolen from. Maybe it was her being the first—and still only—Prime Minister of Great Britain. Love her or hate her, Thatcher was pretty bulletproof. Come to think of it, she would have become chair, don’t you think?
Fresh off of the success of his hit single, “R.E.G.R.E.T,” Erudite the Terrible, that Reaver of Rhythms and Butcher of Backbeats, is proud to announce the release of his first full-length LP, “Hangin On that Tree of Knowlege.” The long ship isn’t set to make landfall until Æftera Jéola, but this track list should tide you over until the needle hits the wax!
1) The Weather’s Hot (and so are you)
2) Steamy Noodles (instrumental)
3) Hot Body of Work
4) (Shake those) Endnotes
5) Scholastus Interruptus (instrumental)
6) One-year Position (How far I’ll go)
7) Why why why
8) Freud’s Suite: The Phallus Palace (has no basement), Pleasure Principle, Our Love is Uncanny
9) You Know How (to stroke my ego)
10) Dead-end Road
The common white male student (discipulus pallidus masculinus vulgaris) comes in all forms and shapes, is however characterized by certain outward appearances: He will wear cargo shorts (unless outside temperatures are minus 18 Fahrenheit, which is when sweatpants become appropriate attire), and a T-shirt. The T-shirt either displays the letters of his Greek House, or, alternatively, advertises a Burger joint he likes to frequent after he and his “brothers” (fratrii) drank through their kegs of beer. Moreover, he is surrounded by a whiff of privilege, imperceptible to himself. The white male student’s behavior and true essence can be best studied, however, in interaction with another species, the female professor (professora feminina). On any given day, the interaction is characterized by the steadfast belief in the white male student’s infallibility. Hence, he will have no problems giving his female professor two thumbs up, declaring “you’re right” (accompanied by vigorous head nodding) after she explained to him why his approach to a problem was not correct. It is also beyond the DPMV to ever apologize for being 10-12 minutes late. Should the belief in this infallibility be shaken- the DPMV will excel in the heuristics of restoring the belief: Clearly, the professor harassed him about being a tad late. Clearly, the female professor has to be a bit more understanding of his situation of partying instead of doing his homework. And anyways, why is this bitch on his case constantly, does she not get laid enough?
In conversation with the professora feminina, the DPMV will exhibit benevolent friendliness, assuring her how he “truly appreciates” her concerns for his grade, and he will always finish his 11.47 pm email asking for homework with “respectfully yours.” On occasion, the DPMV shows an attempt of critical thinking, yet, it often gets lost with the beer that comes out of that funnel on Thursday night. His response paper on how refugees in Syria “got it really bad” thus will never be developed further.
Two times during the semester, the DPMV will engage in serious studying: During Midterms and Finals. In the week coming up to the midterm, he will gingerly approach a student in better academic standing (usually a female), flash her a smile, and suggest that they can study together. Generally, the female student will agree. They will meet at a public place, so that the DPMV can be seen studying, and on occasion, “say hi” to his friends. Should the DPMV actually earn a grade better than before, the glory will be his- and he will forget about the student that sat with him for hours, patiently explaining the very basics of the coursework, while the DPMV tweeted and took selfies on instagram. Should his grade not be as expected, he will write yet another polite email to the professora feminina, respectfully requesting to “discuss” his grade. During said discussion he will share his bewilderment: he studied so hard- does that not automatically qualify him for an A? This conversation could have two outcomes: The professora feminina actually starts doubting herself, as her species is wont to do, and gives him a better grade. In the second scenario, the professora will patiently explain what was done wrong, and will not change her grade. In the first scenario, the professora loses self- respect. In the second scenario- she loses the support of her fellow faculty- often former DPMVs and their mothers- and possibly her job. Interactions with several professoras not bending to the will of the DPMV and not understanding his infallibility, can turn into the well-known and researched “angry white male syndrome” (morbus pallidus masculinus aggravatus). Without a hint of irony, he will declare that there are good stereotypes (Asians are smart and Jews are rich), that white men really are the victims of society. Currently, a cure only involves a silver bullet, something the fewest of the professoras can afford.
The behavior towards the professora feminina can easily be explained: The DPMV is of the cocksure belief, that women are either mothers, or someone to sexually engage with (aka. “hit”, “hook up with,” “hang out with”). Since the professora feminina generally does not fall into his prey scheme- the DPMV concludes that she has to mother him. A little example will illustrate this: The DPMV takes, say an econ class, with a male professor, and fails. He will tell his friends how hard they will have to work, how hard the assignments are and that the professor is strict. This will be said with a tone of respect and awe. The student repeats the class, this time taught by a female professor. Even though she will grade the same way, even though she will assign the same problems, she most likely will have the reputation of a cold-hearted, hard-assed bitch (who needs to get laid, since this is the solution to all of mankind’s problems).
To be complete in this observation, it has to be noted that subspecies of the DPMV exist- such as the white, enlightened male student. Often, he has been raised by a single mother, is fluid in his sexuality, or his intelligence is above average. This subspecies is extremely rare, and, like white tigers, either becomes ostracized from the general DPMV community, or a target to them.
The DPMV is most commonly found in Liberal Arts Schools, in recent years however, a migration to state schools and community colleges has been detected. Similar to the common rat (rattus norvegicus), the DPMV easily adapts to most surroundings.
For the second time, I recently had to submit a formal response to the comments on my student survey evaluations, which I consider a theoretically useful but, in practice, simply a humiliating instrument of shame. The entire concept of student evaluations, as many people have noted, is pretty much a lousy idea, since the average college student a) does not thoroughly understand how and why their own work is being evaluated, b) resents grades lower than A, and c) is convinced that any sub-A grade is an unreasonable punishment inflicted by an incompetent or vengeful professor. Even at my last place of employment, which likes to brag about what a good school it is, students generally perceive having to work hard as a negative quality for a course, as if they were so naturally brilliant that anything more than half an hour of homework represents the prof’s shortcoming, rather than their own.
In a nutshell, really, that’s why students evaluations should not be used to evaluate a professor’s performance. Students tend to feel that their own subpar work is not their fault, but someone else’s. They are unable or unwilling to admit even to themselves that they could do better. Passing the blame is a natural if petty and unfortunate human tendency, but why on earth would a bunch of grown-ups take it seriously when a bunch of teenagers indulge in it?
But of course, tenure and promotion committees, as well as hiring committees, do.
I was working at a small liberal arts college that, because of its emphasis on teaching as the main charge of a college professor (good, reasonable) and its craven desire to be loved rather than respected by its own students and alumni (bad, stupid), takes student evaluations way too seriously. From what I’ve seen, the administration itself has come to think about the professors the same way the students do: it is the professor’s job to be lovable, and to give the students As, and if students don’t write evaluations praising the professor’s personal qualities while racking up high grades, the prof must answer for it. I’ll spare you the strange rumors I have occasionally heard about how such committees have used less than stellar evaluations to fire profs who deserved better. Just assume that those rumors circulate, and people are sensitive to the possibility of such judgment.
Imagine, then, how it feels to receive an email reminder from the administration that I need to write a formal response to my student evaluations, describing how I intend to make use of them to grow and improve as a professor. I will tell you that it feels very much as if I have just been accused, tried, and found guilty in a single sentence, and am being given merely the opportunity to repent publicly before being dragged away.
It was hard for me to get through the task without constantly thinking of the Soviet intelligentsia who were purged during the 1930s, convicted on no evidence of absurd criminal accusations always centering on their presumed disloyalty to the state and its leader. Stalin wanted to get rid of everyone in the government who was not directly loyal to him, and also to deflect some of the blame for unpopular or unsuccessful state initiatives. An entire generation of intellectuals working for the Soviet state was purged: arrested on false charges, interrogated and tortured to make them confess, and, after their conviction was formalized, either sent to the gulags or shot right there in prison. Such unfortunates – some of them deserved a nasty end on their own merits, but that’s beside the point here – were permitted to say very little in their show trials, which were lavish kangaroo courts, as a rule. The only things they usually got to say aloud were the scripted “self-critiques” given to them by the secret police who interrogated them: politically flavored declarations of criminal and moral guilt in which they confessed to both political crimes and underlying character flaws that prevented them from being good Soviet citizens. The character flaws were the more important part, since the self-critiques always led up to the way in which one’s moral failings paved the way for treasonous behavior.
Since my contract was ending, and I have little reason to expect further association with my newly former employer, I was deeply tempted to mouth off on paper to them about how contemptible I considered their campus culture, and what a relief it was to me that I need no longer comply with it. But – there’s always a but, right? – my self-critique had to be sent to both administration and my department chair. My chair is a natural reference for hiring committees to consult when considering my application, and, furthermore, the chair is in some sense answerable to the higher-ups for the behavior of the professors in the department. To express my full range of feelings about the whole endeavor would be to embarrass the chair deeply, which would of course make it unlikely to get a good letter of reference down the line.
Back on those Soviet purges: plenty of intellectuals hauled into jail had strong moral and political convictions, and were willing to die in the name of their cause. They knew they would be executed no matter what they said, so why not go down swinging, and at least force the occupants of the kangaroo court to hear a piece of their minds first? This is when the secret police, who were devilishly good at sensing what their prisoners were liable to do, would make it clear to the would-be protestors that, should they depart from the script or refuse to comply in any other way, their loved ones would also be taken and killed. There was no way to resist.
I admit that I’m glad that the stakes aren’t that high for me. I have been told that I have a fat mouth, after all.
Understand that this post isn’t a lamentation for myself; I’m fine. (Really!) I do feel bad, however, that the system at my former employer seems to replicate itself irrevocably, since it only permits the professors who kowtow to it to remain and take up the reins themselves. And the profs who are insistent on being good teachers – not beloved friends or fashion plates or bros who hand out As – are increasingly purged from the college as disloyal to the college or responsible for its continuing mediocrity.
Here I am reading yet another article in which someone is trying to make Adorno’s thoughts on jazz not racist. Seriously, academia, can we get real for a second? Listen, you like to think of yourself as open-minded, and I guess you are. More than most of the senate in any case. But what’s with trying to make cultural chauvinism and elitist reactionary pablum acceptable when you happen to agree with it? He’s a sacred cow, but even the most prized heifer has to be put down when she breaks a leg. Dude was a European elitist who couldn’t for the life of him imagine ideas of art that were outside of his own culturally (and class) defined image of it. He was a bigot, is what I’m trying to say. He wasn’t extraordinary here by any means–his opinions are typical of the literary class’s hatred of jazz and all that came with it, read: “it’s black, overly sexual, and frivolous”–but it’s still racist. Very much so, actually. “But he was talking about a different kind of jazz,” you say. Nice try. He may have hated “German jazz”—that hot syncopated dance music that busted into German clubs and hearts after the First World War—with special vigor, but his metaphors and imaginary about jazz are right out of the most vitriolic racist pamphlets of his time. The phallic saxophone that tempts and pollutes chaste dancers (and evokes the libidinal and well-endowed black man and fears of miscegenation), the lurid potential of a jazz dance floor hot with enthusiasm and sexual energy, and a stubborn inability to entertain ‘foreign’ musical forms and patterns: these are all common themes in a racially charged ‘debate’ about jazz and American culture in postwar Germany. And if they sound familiar, that means you’ve either endured DW Griffith’s masterpiece of revisionist and racist propaganda, Birth of a Nation, or that you’ve paid cursory attention to any discussion about race sometime in the last three hundred years.
Because all of these fears are fears of black culture: its ‘lasciviousness,’ ‘frivolity,’ and basic ‘amorality’. That rightwing newspapers and demagogues say the exact same things that Adorno does should raise some eyebrows, but it doesn’t. Because you like him. But one man’s bourgeois fears of cultural decline and the racial outsider are another’s considered critique of the culture industry, I suppose. What I’m trying to say here, dear Academy, is that you’re a bit of a coward. Not running-away-from-shadows-and-giving-your-lunch-money-to-the-first-person-with-anything-resembling-muscle-definition cowardly, but in a dishonest intellectual sort of way. You know, in the brain, the muscle you lionize. If you can’t look at and examine your own thoughts, and that perhaps you use canonized racism to justify or legitimize your own elitism or feelings of cultural superiority, how is anyone supposed to take the rest of what you say seriously? It isn’t bad that Adorno felt the way he did—after all, what are we going to do about that now—but do you really have to try so hard to defend, or worse, rationalize it?
Let’s lay it all out, academia: I’m up to my man-berries in your love for the things you say, and I’m tired of hearing racist shit spooned out under a gravy of Marxist-Freudian lingo. Newsflash: it still stinks. Stop trying to make me eat it. Better yet, stop eating it yourself. Put down the spoon and learn to cook real food.
You won’t because it’s cold in your windowless room, and I understand that; it’s dark in there too, and paper can cut deeply if you’re careless. But mostly you won’t because you can’t raise a hand against something you revere. I say ‘thing’ because he is not a man. You’ve made sure of that; you’ve stripped him of his muscle and left the head, because under all your finery, dear Academy, you’re record store philosopher kings. You live like Adorno did, as the last great gourmand among a rabble feasting on burgers and milkshakes; you see what others cannot and pride yourself on the secret freemasonry of the high chair you’ve built for yourself. It’s an illusion, of course, but I don’t begrudge you that, because if you’re not wise, then what are you? You make way for Adorno’s racism and run to the defense of your man because you see in it what you’ve always seen in the mirror: a great mind drowned by stupid consumption and conformity. You stand apart and he proves it for you. He proves it so nicely, in fact, that you don’t even have to think anymore, just patch the chinks in the logs when the rain comes down especially hard and make sure nothing rots too much. Take care of it, and it should last a lifetime. I felt this way too, when I was thirteen.
For the most part, though, you run to him because to do otherwise would be to rest easy with complexity. The bigotry ruins your theory, is the thing. It makes everything all human and icky, not celestial at all. But don’t worry, just ignore it or talk around and sterilize the issue in a bath of high-minded mustache twisting and misplaced confidence. You’ll have all the lumps beaten out in no time. Restore order at all costs; intellectual integrity is a small price to pay, so take out your wallet. And don’t pretend like you don’t do it with the rest of the Frankfurt crowd. It’s the same reason you can scream to the hills Marcuse’s ‘wisdom’ that ‘bad’ ideas—evil ideas—should not be tolerated, that they should be snuffed out for the greater good while at the same time decrying his firing from UCLA without the slightest bit of irony. UCLA probably didn’t realize that they had put his ideas into action by expelling a threatening ideology that was disruptive and openly hostile to the institution that allowed it to exist in the first place, but what’s your excuse? You’ve read all the books. Does it say somewhere that self-reflection is fascist, or that Hitler had a mirror so you can’t? But then again, absolutist statements are only fun when the other guy has to swallow them, am I right? If you turn them on yourself the water gets all muddy and you can’t see the bottom at all. It’s just so damn complicated this way. Best not to think about that.
I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that you love complexity, but you don’t. You have a fetish for complexity. You love how arguments twist and ball themselves up because you’re an OCD vampire, in love with knots and twine. You can’t help but pick it apart, but there’s nothing at stake in diddling Marx or redeeming Heidegger when you’re not calling him a Nazi to make a quick point. This, though, is real complexity, the kind that messes up a nice picture; it can’t be easily reduced or brushed aside, because it has political meat to it, the way that hate is always robust and meaningful. There are political chips on the table here, not in the heady, ideological way that you’re so fond of, but in the strictest sense of the polis. Images and metaphor have meaning that pure theory does not, and there is a fear in you, Academy, a fear that behind Adorno’s fevered conviction and rage against a new media machine that—perhaps—his critique is not as sober as you had hoped: you fear that his argument may not be influenced by racism, but rather that it is motivated by it. And if that is true—if the talk of market forces and reification is embroidery for an ugly pattern of intolerance—what does that make you? An apologist? An elitist with its finger in the dyke? A self-righteous asshole? Because to read his work on jazz as serious criticism, you have to do nothing short of apologetics, you have to overlook and accept as true a train of thought that makes sense only within the confines of its universe, a universe—incidentally—powered by racial fear and cultural protectionism. You know, the good fight.
‘Jazz and pogrom belong together,’ Adorno famously says, but does this really make sense? Even in the context of Adorno’s ‘real target’ of German jazz and the essay’s internal logic and hysteric tone, does anything about it ring true? We have seventy-eight years between us, and there has yet to be a fascist state marching to hot piano and screaming trumpets. And young men and women have still to crumble under the promised yet unrealized sexual act found on the jazz dance floor. A horn break is not mob rule, and a backbeat is not barbed wire. But the bogey men of black culture that Adorno paints—the unnamed yet palpable fear of the Other and the loss of emotional and social control that he represents—are the real foundation stones for pogrom; no one has died for Glen Miller’s sheet music, but legions have been strangled in the battle against faceless racial foes. How do you Frankfurtsplain this away? It must be very embarrassing for you. But who am I kidding, you don’t care. Sure making excuses for bigoted rants is distasteful, but at least the trains run on time. Besides, words don’t mean anything, right? You use thousands of them all the time and nothing seems to happen. But then again, that’s everyone else’s fault.
Before you put down your dog-eared Beckett and hit me over the head with your velvet Kafka portrait, you should know that I get the appeal of the whole thing. There’s sexiness to a lack of compromise and absolute conviction, but it’s also messy. Making your intellectual life into a high school clique means the weird kid either has to eat alone at the lunch table, or you do your damnedest to change the rules so he can stay. You appear to have chosen option number two. But it’s all in the service of knowledge and inquiry, right? Want to dismiss mass cultural phenomena with a wave of the hand? No worries, because you obviously know better, you’re a doctor. Not that kind of doctor, but still. Do you find social media problematic and popular music the soundtrack to fascism? No problem, the School has you covered there. Your shit doesn’t stink. Bigotry is someone else’s problem, not yours, so look out the window and find something wrong with the scenery. I here Hotel Abgrund has some rooms open in you’re interested. So don’t worry about relevance, consistency, or intellectual honesty. It’s so bourgeois.
PhD, heal thyself, because “holier than thou” is not a job description. It’s a waste of my time.
This esoteric rant is brought to you by the CWBH (Can We Be Honest) Society.
-Erudite the Terrible