Cultural Intertia, Spirals of Rage


A good friend of mine has been a working artist for many years and is now in the process of applying to MFA programs. Of course, such applications involve a portfolio of one’s work and the usual personal statements. Today, he sent me this question posed by the U of Berkeley (most egregious aspects are in bold):

In an essay, discuss how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how you might contribute to social or cultural diversity within your chosen field; and/or how you might serve educationally underrepresented segments of society with your degree.

You may place a maximum of 8000 characters in the text box below.

Good grief! For some reason this question has sent me into a spiral of rage!

What the fuck is an educationally underrepresented segment of society and how is the artist to “serve” them? Why must one contribute or represent cultural/social diversity? Does that mean one should always have those who are outside of the the given “majority” in mind when one creates the work of art? Why should one have to think about serving underrepresented groups at all? The question itself is loaded with all sorts of conceptual, metaphysical and dare I say, personal baggage. This is really identity politics of the worst kind. Why must underrepresentation etc. be the condition for art?

Welcome, cultural inertia!

This is an apt quote from an article Slavoj Zizek wrote for the New Left Review a good few years back:

Multiculturalism is a racism which empties its own position of all positive content, but nevertheless retains this position as the privileged empty point of universality from which one is able to appreciate (and depreciate) properly other particular cultures — the multiculturalist respect for the Other’s specificity is the very form of asserting one’s own superiority.

Thus, the tolerant, polite liberal multiculturalism of today is nothing more than

an experience of of the other deprived of its Otherness (the idealized Other who dances fascinating dances and has an ecologically sound holistic approach to reality, while practices like wife-beating remain out of sight..) (Welcome to the Desert of the Real, 11)

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2 thoughts on “Cultural Intertia, Spirals of Rage

  1. I’m applying to a physics PhD program at UC Berkeley and UC Davis. Both of these UC’s ask the SAME “educationally underrepresented segments of society” question.

    It’s not only art, which I personally find annoying.

  2. Good grief! Underrepresentation as a condition of Physics! How do you even begin to respond? “I want to built a particle accelerator in the public housing projects in Staten Island, because really, it’s high time that they have access to such things.”

    Oh, California.

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