Saturday, July 19, 2008

More joys with the Internets

I promised that my next few posts would involve my Auseindersetzung with the world of philosophy and the last one sort of did. This one will too. But more to the point it will pose an important question:

Why in the hell do I let myself get sucked into stupid arguments?

This post over here at the Chronicle argued that deconstructionism never really fit into the "leftist" mold that right-wing conservatives were so critical of post-modernism for.

The article was well-written and although this complaint (a rather old one in fact) is wrong, I thought it was well-laid out. The subsequent discussion quickly degenerated into the usual snipes and gripes about continental philosophy by the very lamest category of analytics.

Now, the complaint about the bad political credentials of deconstruction (even if it were true, would this amount to an a priori reason for rejecting it) and about its supposed empirical unverifiability or sheer non-sense are among the two most tiresome complaints against it.

Sadly, naive Ideas Man thinks that when people make tiresome points they might actually be interested in hearing why they don't speak to the matter at hand. You'd think that I'd have been in academia long enough to know that the reason why people make the same tired points is because they like to have something to say and they like to turn any discussion in the chance to rehearse what they already know, and make sure that everybody knows it.

And when Ideas Man's idealist conception of the human race is shattered, he turns snarky.

There are enough things in life worth being occupied with (and more than enough pressing matters to be stressed about) to justify not getting involved in tiresome debates that one doesn't need to get involved in.

Sadly, there are some tiresome debates that I do occasionaly need to get involved in: for example, listening to Levinasians and Adornskis make the same tired points over and over again, since they pertain directly to issues that I am interested in and represent important (even if wrong) sets of voices in the debate.

Then there are those discussions that I'm not particularly interested in, but that I can listen to with an open mind --- debates in other words which I can enjoy following along without having a stake in --- (the Deleuzers and Badiouians, and about 90% of 20th century analytic philosophers, as long as they are talking about their own discipline and not making forays into ).

So why do I bother myself with the haters?

No more, no more. From now on, I'm unsubscribing to about 2/3s of the blogs I subscribe to and reading only those things that give me genuine pleasure (this second list of blogs that I will still read includes all those of my friends, i.e. anyone who happens to read this). And if I'm tempted to foray into blogs with a wider readership, I'm reminding myself that the point of discourse in public forums is to score debaters points and not to advance actual inquiry. We'll see if it works.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

If I Ran the Ivory Tower

Over on her blog, my friend Dr. J took up the challenge of the National Association of Scholars to come up with Seussian style suggestions for the academy, a la Seuss's if I ran the circus. I had more fun with this challenge then I've had in academia in quite some time. So here's the result:

If I Ran the Ivory Tower

Let's start with students.
They're just too many
Of 'em lurking around.
How can any
work get done, 'midst the lecturing and grading,
The office hours and re-writes
flirting and dating?
And some things there are that have to get done.
The work that we do is not just for fun.
like the work of Doctor Agatha McDoozledorts
Our Chief Deconstructor of weather reports.

Not to mention the work of J.G. Pont-Santinita
Who writes on the word "the" in the novel Lolita.
Such work really matters!
It matters a lot!
And that's why some of our kids have just got
to leave the Ivory Tower, to the Real World bound!
They won't hardly miss us,
And we'll soon have found
That with so much more time on our hands for our thinking,
we can get our thinking done and have time left for drinking.
We’ll drink all we can at Van Blunderbuss Tavern,
prized for fabulous floorspace, a real spacious cavern
With space for professors and students, many now ex.
And the rules are much laxer on ex-student sex.

But how to decide which kids have got to go?
It isn't that hard.
As you and I both know
The grade curve is up!
A veritable bubble.
In a bubble such as this there shouldn't be trouble
in keeping a 4.0. If you can't then goodbye.
We're sorry if you object.
But please tell us why
We should give a second-chance to a kid like Scott Zenny,
For whom a second chance is two chances too many.

Now, on to titles.
We think that they’re great.
But the titles we have are at best second rate.
Assistants, Associates, at Oxford the Dons.
You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I suppress yawns.
Why not Duchesses of Physics? Sultans of Math?
Most Humane of the Humanists Horton McGrath?
Why, I know a certain Sasha O’Shale,
She has written three books on the psyches of snails
And been rewarded for these efforts with an endowed chair.
But I think we can say that she doesn’t really care
For her mollusky subjects like she used to
And I think what she needs is a rank that is new.
Her work is top-notch!
Don’t get me wrong.
But I fear that we might have heard her swan-song
Unless books four and five could give her the hopes
Of being named Supreme Pontificator of All That is Gross!

As health-care pushes the age of profs higher
We’ll have to rethink what we call the retired.
Right now “emeritus” covers too much terrain;
It’s fine for seventy, but it seems rather plain
When applied to some of our most ancient codgers
Who’ve become campus dining rooms permanent lodgers.
At ninety years old they should be declared
“Emerituser” –-
But the best name of all should be spared:
“Emeritustest” is what we’ll call the hundred plus geezers,
the aged, decrepit, the final breath wheezers.
(One such old gent hasn’t missed a meeting in 35 years.
The key to this fabulous feat is –- the chap barely hears.)

The emeritustest of all emeriti
suggested this improvement –-not I.
His name is Vaclav Meciarvert,
the very first Slav that they let into Harvard.
He was also first to prove beyond doubt
That Euclid’s robe was worn inside out
And geometry was Euclid’s final attempt
To figure out which way his arms and legs went.

So that covers the high ranks.
Now for the lows.
Neither Lecturer nor Instructor really quite shows
Just how far below the tenure-track elite
Are the adjuncts and one-years we pick off the street.
In one early post they got close with “Lecturer B”
But we won’t have gone low enough ‘til the letter Z.
There’s also the matter of those spousal hires
Like the poor dumb husband of Gertrude P. Griers,
The world’s most distinguished decliner of pig-Latin nouns.
He writes utter drivel on rodeo clowns
And their sex lives. But he gets called the same
As you and I do, though his work is quite lame.
But now, on the cocktail circle, he’ll have to resort
To his brand new moniker: Professor-Consort.

Last, there’s the matter of those research grants.
We think lots of worthy projects don’t get the chance
To do important work just because it is unique.
Unique work can’t be repeated; it doesn’t make you a freak.
But right now we require someone else to be
Able to duplicate the results that you’ve seen.
Take the work of non-freakish Smarty le Shope.
Inventor of the world’s only Micro-Macro-Ma-scope.
Le Shope has seen much much more than just simple quarks:
He’s seen antiptons, claptoms and scarks.
But most amazing of all is the Mini Casound.
Which is the tiniest life-form that we’ve ever found
With the very odd habit of flying into rage
Whenever it hears the songs of that rascal John Cage.
Smarty would be happy to show all funders how
To see these things.
But his machine is broken right now.
He’d love to fix it, and with enough cash could recover.
Who knows what other things Smarty alone can discover?

With these simple steps, oh the rewards that you’ll reap!
And just so you know my consulting fees are quite cheap.