I must say with regret that none of these books seems to me quite worthy of its subject—with the exception of Nussbaum’s, a book that needs to be read and heeded, but may not make much headway against the critical consensus. To me, the university is a precious and fragile institution, one that lives with crisis—since education, like psychoanalysis, is an “impossible profession”—but at its best thrives on it. It has endured through many transformations of ideology and purpose, but at its best remained faithful to a vision of disinterested pursuit and transmission of knowledge. Research and teaching have always cohabited: anyone who teaches a subject well wants to know more about it, and when she knows more, to impart that knowledge. Universities when true to themselves have always been places that harbor recondite subjects of little immediate utility—places where you can study hieroglyphics and Coptic as well as string theory and the habits of lemmings—places half in and half out of the world. No country needs that more than the US, where the pragmatic has always dominated.
An excerpt from an NYRB article on Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—And What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities by Mark C. Taylor and Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities by Martha C. Nussbaum.
Gregory A. Petsko, Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Biochemistry & Chemistry at Brandeis University,wrote an open letter to George Phillip, President of SUNY Albany in his column in Genome Biology. While there is much to quote, I found this passage particularly amusing:
It seems to me that the way you went about [announcing the closure of the departments in a Friday afternoon meeting] couldn’t have been more likely to alienate just about everybody on campus. In your position, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I wouldn’t want to end up in the 9th Bolgia (ditch of stone) of the 8th Circle of the Inferno, where the great 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the sowers of discord. There, as they struggle in that pit for all eternity, a demon continually hacks their limbs apart, just as in life they divided others.
The Inferno is the first book of Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the great works of the human imagination. There’s so much to learn from it about human weakness and folly. The faculty in your Italian department would be delighted to introduce you to its many wonders — if only you had an Italian department, which now, of course, you don’t.
Zing. Read the complete article here
…Things I don’t care about.
Just got this, which didn’t make it through the comment filter (note that he’s making a MAJOR appearance, not just a mere appearance AND the stupid invocation to “hide your tulips.” Ack):
Greetings from Verso Books NYC! Please help us promote this great event by posting it to your blog or adding it to your organization’s calendar of events.
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HIDE YOUR TULIPS, ŽIŽEK IS COMING!
Slavoj Žižek reveals the signs of the coming apocalypse… Continue reading
I noticed the other week that Stanford UP is publishing a translation of some of Giorgio Agamben’s essays, entitled Nudities, next month. Here’s the blurb:
Encompassing a wide range of subjects, the ten masterful essays gathered here may at first appear unrelated to one another. In truth, Giorgio Agamben’s latest book is a mosaic of his most pressing concerns. Take a step backward after reading it from cover to cover, and a world of secret affinities between the chapters slowly comes into focus. Take another step back, and it becomes another indispensable piece of the finely nuanced philosophy that Agamben has been patiently constructing over four decades of sustained research.
Perhaps I’m being cynical, but this seems like a mere ploy to sell books, and frankly, it’s annoying. That is to say, I think the text in bold needs to be translated: “The essays are admittedly loosely related non-sequiters, in fact, the only connection is that they are written by the same person. That said, suckers like Ozeri and Emelianov will purchase the book, nonetheless due to the cult of personality, or popularity of Agamben. Readers will have to make all the connections on their own, we basically threw together these essays.”
Maybe that’s too harsh, but really, what’s wrong with saying we liked these essays and we’re publishing them all together? Read the rest of the blurb here
TNR review of Mark C Taylor’s latest book about higher education :
The syndrome has become all too common. A provocative op-ed piece appears in a major newspaper (for preference, The New York Times). Its logic is fragile and its evidence is thin, but the writing is crisp and the examples are pungent, and the assault on sacred cows arouses a storm of discussion (much of it sharply critical, but no matter). It goes viral. And almost immediately, publishers comes calling. “This should be a book,” they coo, and the author, entranced by a bit of sudden fame (not to mention, perhaps, a decent advance), eagerly agrees. He or she sets to work, and soon enough the original 800 words expand to 50,000. But far from reinforcing the original logic and evidence, the new accretions of text only strain them further, while smothering the original provocations under thick layers of padded anecdote, pop sociology and oracular pronouncement. Call the syndrome Friedmanitis, after a prominent early victim, the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Continue reading
An interesting NY Times article, “Placing the Blame as Students are buried in Debt,” about student loans and financing education, given some of the recent discussions here as well as over at Ktistmatics:
So in an eerie echo of themortgage crisis, tens of thousands of people like Ms. Munna are facing a reckoning. They and their families made borrowing decisions based more on emotion than reason, much as subprime borrowers assumed the value of their houses would always go up.
Meanwhile, universities like N.Y.U. enrolled students without asking many questions about whether they could afford a $50,000 annual tuition bill. Then the colleges introduced the students to lenders who underwrote big loans without any idea of what the students might earn someday — just like the mortgage lenders who didn’t ask borrowers to verify their incomes. Continue reading
I think that it’s high time we here at Perverse Egalitarianism offer our own advice for graduate students. To that end, I’m posting last week’s New Yorker cover as a sort of carrot on the one hand, and as a little dose of “the Real” (I capitalized it so everyone can know that I’ve opened a book by either Zizek or Lacan!) on the other. Keep on. Keep on. (I do fear that this image is disturbingly true, however.)
This is the kind of excessive attitude I used to be prone to that annoys my wife so very much, but what the author forgot to discuss was the ability to talk intelligently about the 800 unread books. Academics make a career out of it (as do those pretentious bloggers). Regardless, this little article, “The Joy of Unread Books,” kind of made my evening for some reason. I like this connection between reading and dissapointment.
An unread book is all possible stories. It contains all possible characters, styles, genres, turns of phrase, metaphors, speech patterns, and profound life-changing revelations. An unread book exists only in the primordial soup of your imagination, and there it can evolve into any story you like. An unread book – any unread book – could change your life.
Like most readers, I love browsing in bookshops and libraries. I like to run my fingers along the spines and read titles and authors’ names. I pull the books out and flip through them, thinking about the stories inside them, the things I would learn from them, how my life would be subtly but surely different after I had read them. Sometimes I buy or borrow the books and read them. As much as I enjoy the books, I often find that the book I have read is somehow not as exciting as the book I had imagined reading. No book is ever quite as good as it potentially could have been. Continue reading