The Bullshit of the Academy


This post will remain at the top of Larval Subjects until something changes with the Middlesex Situation.

In solidarity with our brothers and sisters at Middlesex and to preserve the integrity of academia, I strongly encourage readers of Larval Subjects to sign this petition boycotting Middlesex until the Philosophy department is restored and those students and members of the faculty who have been wrongly suspended have their positions restored. This is not just an issue pertaining to the Middlesex Philosophy department, but goes straight to the core of academia. We must not let these sorts of practices become acceptable.

We the undersigned therefore commit ourselves to an academic boycott of Middlesex University until it shows evidence of full reinstatement and continued support for its philosophy program.

Prior to such reinstatement, we will refuse to act as external examiners or to deliver talks at the school. We will encourage colleagues to reject job offers at Middlesex. We will refuse to visit campus for any reason other than to protest the decision to close the philosophy program. We will, in short, cease to engage with Middlesex as a legitimate academic institution.

You can find the petition here.

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I don’t have much to add to what Balibar, Harman, Toscano, and Protevi have said beyond the angry grunt that Middlesex’s suspensions are absolutely disgusting. I find this situation depressing beyond words.

Harman has a REALLY INTERESTING post up on Brentano and the Analytic/Continental divide. For the most part I agree with all that he has to say. Occasionally I hear people say that SR is trying to bridge the analytic/continental divide. Perhaps this is true of some theorists, but it is something that never even occurs to me. As I’ve occasionally stated, for me there’s just philosophy. There are Anglo-American philosophers I appreciate, and continental philosophers I appreciate and value. It never occurs to me to think there’s a divide that somehow needs to be overcome. In fact, I think this divide is more about institutional power and hiring practices, than about philosophy.

And to be quite honest, often I find myself impatient with philosophy (the academic discipline, not the practice) in general. On the continental side you seem to encounter a lot of intellectual historians that seem to believe that philosophy consists in providing commentary on other thinkers. On the Anglo-American side you encounter an over-estimation of the value of argumentation (though I do value good demonstration), a sort of technocratic mentality not unusual to admistrators and managers, and a deeply anti-communistic/anti-democratic fetish for journal articles over books (i.e., media that are only available to a specialized elite group of insiders that know a specialized language, and worse yet, that are only directed at that cloistered elite). I even had a faculty at a liberal arts school job interview (translation, highly eclectic department) once tell me that he thought journal articles are more valuable than books. My point is not that “books are better than journal articles”, but rather that this attitude strikes me as reflective of a highly cloistered mentality where ones primary audience is professional philosophers and academic advancement rather than those outside of philosophy. It’s difficult to imagine what would become of Socrates’ dialogues were this the case. Socrates was ready and willing to talk to anyone and everyone at any time, regardless of whether they were a “philosopher”. Dialogue only ended when someone behaved like Thrasymacus, threw a temper tantrum and acted rudely, and stomped off. Hell, Alcibiades stumbles into the drinking party of The Symposium completely blasted and proceeds to engage in a most memorable and embarrassing speech about love.

Philosophy, I think, dies when it becomes a discipline and an elite and closed community of philosophers. And if this is the case, I think it is in part because philosophy is without an object. In this connection, I’m partial to Badiou’s thesis that the aim of philosophy is to think its time. Whatever else one might think about Badiou’s philosophy, I think he’s got it right when he argues that the conditions of philosophy are always outside of philosophy. They are to be found in the politics of the day, the science of the day, the art of the day, and great loves. And probably many other things besides. When have we ever had a genuine philosopher that wasn’t secretly animated by the mathematics or science of his day and how it had overturned everything, that wasn’t struck by the political transformations of her day and therefore had to rethink the nature of being, who hadn’t been struck by the art of her day and therefore had to rethink the nature of the world, or who hadn’t been struck dumb by an amorous encounter? Philosophy always finds its animation from elsewhere than philosophy. Or to put it differently, the production of philosophy is not strictly immanent in the sense that it is not motivated simply by other philosophers.

Whenever philosophy happens, of course, many philosophers emerge and argue with each other. But I cannot help but feel that this is because they are all collectively responding to conditions outside philosophy. Spinoza, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, etc., responding to, among other things, Galileo. And this is why philosophy becomes so sickly when it becomes a discipline. Because philosophy finds its conditions outside philosophy, because philosophy is always parasitic, like a self-reflexive meta-discourse trying to think the state of discourse and what it reveals about being, and because disciplines must have an object you end up with something like a morbid continental philosophy that can only feed on the corpses of dead philosophers, and a technocratic and administrative Anglo-American philosophy that tries to turn philosophy into a scientific discipline based on minor problems. Philosophy is here cut off from its outside and as I’ve said on another occasion, philosophy cannot happen without its others. This is why I’m always embarrassed when others from other disciplines and practices apologize for “not being philosophers” when addressing philosophers.

And I must say, that any trip to the APA or SPEP reveals that the discipline is in rather dire straits. Not only are there rather ugly unconscious gender attitudes endemic throughout philosophy, but there is a certain deep provincialism regarding political matters one encounters in these environments. Nothing is more embarrassing than hearing an accomplished philosopher promulgate mediocre political views that anyone could have gotten from propaganda nodes like MSNBC or Fox News. It’s embarrassing to the practice as a whole and its distinguished history. And the worst part about it is that there’s a certain smugness about this provincialism and ignorance, where philosophers behave as if they are superior to all the other disciplines and know better than them. And the worst part is that 9 times out of 10 the real theory or philosophy is always done in disciplines other than philosophy such as English, media studies, sociology, anthropology, biology, history, geography, etc., etc., etc. And this, no doubt, because they have an object other than philosophers and therefore do not have the patience to labor over the body of philosophical corpses beyond engaging with these dead bodies in terms of how they advance the questions and problems their subject presents them with.

I suppose this isn’t the sort of rant one should place on a blog.

I came across this advice to administrators in The Chronicle. So true, and I confess I do enjoy being pet.

Anthem has some terrific links up on how the Middlesex fiasco is being covered in the news. If there’s any justice in the world this decision will be quickly reversed. It’s fairly clear by now that they had no idea what they were in for. I suppose I take some grim satisfaction from this, but all the same it would be better if we ceased hiring administrators who have never spent any significant time in the classroom, who do not support the Arts, and who believe that universities are isomorphic to corporations. So it goes with the Taylorization of higher education. Sigh.

Please sign this petition to save Middlesex’s philosophy program.

I am just now hearing about the disgusting events taking place with the Middlesex philosophy department. If there is anything I can do, just say the word. Given the quality of the work that comes out of that department this is simply unbelievable.

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