AGENT SWARM

Mikhail Emelianov a publié un article intéressant sur la vie des intellectuels qui n’ont pas obtenu un poste universitaire. L’article est équilibré, évitant les écueils du triomphalisme (je gagne plus dans un boulot mille fois mieux) et de la honte  (ma vie n’est qu’un échec, je suis un raté). Il n’a pas fait carrière à l’université, de ce fait il a pu effectuer une auto-analyse de l’agencement des capacités et des affects qui ont composé son parcours universitaire et qui s’agence autrement dans un contexte de vie non-académique. Mikhail Emelianov trouve que tout n’est pas perdu de ses longues années d’étude, qu’il a dévéloppé des compétences transférables à d’autres types d’emploi, et qu’il peut apporter une approche individuelle, informée de son expérience universitaire, dans son travail actuel. Il constate que son individuation intellectuelle ne s’arrête pas du simple fait d’avoir quitté l’environnement académique.

Contrairement à un préjugé répandu, l’académie et…

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On Never Quite Finishing Any of Zizek’s Books


I “discovered” Zizek when I read his small book on Lacan (Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan: But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock). It was the summer of 2001, I believe, and I read the whole thing in maybe a week. Then came other Zizek’s “philosophical” books and I sort of read them here and there. Then came the thick ones: I read about a third of The Parallax View (selectively, flipping through chapters). I started In Defense of Lost Causes and read it for a few weeks, never finished it. I read the “blue” one (Living in the End Times) while stuck in a waiting room at a hospital (and then a room at a hospital) but also did not finish it because the hospital stint was over and I put it down as soon as I got home.

I read about 200 pages of Less Than One. I am not likely to ever finish that one either.

Has anyone ever finished a book by Zizek? I mean really read it from cover to cover?

Employed Positivity of a Post-Academic


Every time I think about my present gainful non-academic employment, I think about all the other former academics who are currently not employed as academics – there has to be a large number of us out there, given the odds of getting an academic job these days (I do not count the adjuncts, I count full-time benefited positions with long-term contracts ) – the silent majority, if you will. Where are all these people? What do they do with their lives? How do they survive? What are they thinking about? Do they hope against all hope that the system will magically change and they will get their fair chance? Are they working on some academic writings hoping that the compound effect of a few essays and maybe a book will eventually lend them a job? Do they think about giving up? Do they regret going to graduate school? Are they hiding because they think of themselves as “failed academics”?

Many of these questions will obviously never be answered – not by me, not by you. Continue reading

Illusion of Free Time


Having taken a rare day off this week, I found myself doing what I do best – sitting around doing nothing. When I was still a graduate student, I did this a lot. It took me three years to finish my dissertation, but I only spent 5-6 months out of those three years doing anything related to dissertation research or writing. During my short tenure as a full-time university lecturer I spent long days, weeks even, sitting in my office doing absolutely nothing. Well, not nothing nothing, of course, but nothing that would count as academic work. Now, having been gainfully employed full-time and outside of academia, I dream of having free time. I work on my “academic” interests on the weekends, early in the mornings and late at nights. I get more “stuff” done now because I know that this is all the time I have and if I don’t sit down and write something down, it will simply never happen otherwise. I don’t work for any particular reason, I don’t have any real hope of securing a full-time academic job – not because of the market, but because I haven’t applied for any jobs for the past three cycles. I am not likely to ever apply for an academic job. It wasn’t a conscious choice on my part. It just happened. And now suddenly having been freed from the peer-pressure to “make it” as an academic, I am full of ideas and desperately short of time.

The illusion of free time to come is the ultimate academic illusion, it seems. First you work to get a degree, then, or so I am told, I wouldn’t know myself, you work to get tenure, then you work to get promotion, then – to get reputation, then – to impress your grandchildren. My “academic” work now is my hobby. You play a fiddle and get drunk at an Irish pub every now and then, I read Hegel and translate Bogdanov. We are both enjoying our hobbies. Am I “outside of academia”? No, I have never been inside it. And I am beginning to like it – I really hope it’s the magic of some sort of self-deception, an academic version of “you can’t fire me, I quit!” But wherever it is coming from, I welcome it.

Well, something like that…

On Principled Politics


The US presidential election season is upon us, or rather, has been upon us for at least a while since it became clear that Republicans will have Romney as their candidate. Apparently, it’s on. Republicans convene next week to present their ideas and people to the world and so on. With all the unlimited resources the campaign season is characterized by the ever more evident indistinguishability between the candidates: often I find myself unable to tell who is behind a particular political ad until the name of the opponent is clearly identified. It has been like this for a long time, but I don’t think it was this bad in the previous cycles. The irony of this particular crisis of indistinguishability is that we are told that for once we have two clear choices. And yet these two “clear” choices are presented to the public in very similar conceptual forms: we love America, we want it to succeed, here is the best way. I suppose this is the clear result of running not on your principles but on the results of various polls – old people love Medicare, put yourself forward as a defender of it, unemployed want jobs, put yourself forward as the fixer of the economy, students are burdened with debt, put yourself forward as the defender of youth and future opportunities.

There has to be a lesson here: be vague to the point of such ridiculous emptiness that your audiences suspect that you are vague on principle, that you are no concerned with what appeals to them but already know what is good for them. “Trust me, I will save you from your woes, but if you ask me how, you express distrust in my ability to satisfy your needs and that is offensive. Only by relying me fully and completely can you be a voter deserving of my candidacy.”

Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia (by Lynn Mally) – Online


It appears that Mally’s classic study of Proletkult is available online now here. Published in 1990 (so researched during the Soviet Union) it remains an important study of this understudied phenomenon of the Russian revolutionary experience. With more attention given to Bogdanov recently, I hope that more English-language literature on “proletarian culture” appears soon.

Here is the excerpt from the Introduction:

In October 1919 Petrograd, home of the Russian Revolution, was a devastated city. Severe food shortages had prompted the exodus of large parts of the population. To make a difficult situation even worse, the White Army general N. N. Iudenich began an assault on the city, bringing his armies almost to the suburbs. Yet this emergency did not stop a respected theater director from holding a lecture series on the history of art in an organization called the Proletkult, even though the audience changed constantly because of military mobilizations. At the same time, the Proletkult theater was preparing a performance for the second anniversary of the revolution, a play written by a Red Army soldier who had helped to storm the Winter Palace.

This dramatic mix of political insecurity, physical privation, and cultural creation was not unusual in revolutionary Russia. Similar episodes can easily be found in contemporary journals and newspapers and in the memoirs of cultural activists. They illustrate quite graphically that the proponents of revolution were not willing to limit their goals to the establishment of a new political and economic order. They hoped to create a new cultural order as well.

Music and Partisanship


The Bolshevik concept of “partiinost'” has been giving some major headaches to many generations of translators. Most commonly, it seems, it is rendered as “partisanship” or “party-mindedness” (which is a bit awkward). Another option could be, in view of the current philosophical fashions, “party-orientedness” which would give us a nice “party-oriented philosophy” and so on. The idea, however perverted it became in the Soviet Union (a entirely different topic), was not in itself as odd as it sounds: all philosophical (or, for that matter, ideological positions) positions are biased, they serves the interests of the class that they either represent or aim to serve (lacking class consciousness). These aren’t, of course, “official” definitions by any means, but they are close enough. Continue reading