Impossible Professions


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.

Beyond the Divide (one view of the intellecutal payoff)


I came across this interesting account of analytic – continental divide,” Before and Beyond the Analytic Divide” (pdf), by Matthew Sharpe, wherein he suggests:

…a rapprochement between analytic and continental philosophers is a good we might at least pray for, as the ancients would have said. Why?
First, because both sides, as well as harboring virtues, also do harbor the type of vices and limits the others’ prejudices typically pick out. Continental philosophy often does verge into anti-realistic, unfalsifiable, and nonsensical formulations…Analytic philosophy, for its part, does not allow itself to raise many questions which are ‘philosophical’, certainly in the sense in which philosophy was understood until the seventeenth century, and is still understood by laypeople today: what is the meaning of being, or of our being? Can the sense of “truth” be reduced to something internal to propositions, rather than attitudes, systems of understanding, beliefs, ways of life, or certain experiences? What is the best way of life or regime? What is the relationship between ethics, politics, religion, art, and philosophy? Is our modern or postmodern age any better than previous societies? And if so, in what respects, and with what costs? It is legitimate to long for Heidegger or Hans Blumenberg, when asked to consider for too long, in a time of fast tracked social change, what it is like to be a bat, or to have a lead role in the prisoners’ dilemma. Continue reading

More Philosophical Tribalism


Crispin Wright discussing McDowell’s Mind and World:

…if analytical philosophy demands self-consciousness about unexplained or only partially explained terms of art, formality and explicitness in the setting out of argument, and the clearest possible sign-posting and formulation of assumptions, targets, and goals, etc, then this is not a work of analytical philosophy (“Human Nature? in Reading McDowell, 157-158) Continue reading

Commonplaces of Academic Life: NDPR Review of Levinasian Meditations


Since I wasn’t all that interested in reading it to begin with, I completely forgot Richard Cohen’s  Levinasian Meditations had already been published until I saw this review by Martin Kavka in the NDPR just now.  The review certainly  makes for some interesting reading.   While Kavka admits Cohen broaches some important, if not crucial topics in Levinasian scholarship (and beyond), there seems to be a defensive tone that runs through the whole book:

Levinasian Meditations, in its structure, embodies a claim frequently found in scholarship on Levinas, namely that Judaism and its other-centered ethics, through its countercultural stance, can play a role in saving the modern West from the historical evils that have resulted from the West’s tendency either to create social commonalities through political violence or to erase social difference through genocide and ethnic cleansing. Those who read these essays seriatim will quickly infer that many of them are, at least in part, responses to unnamed others who have offered dismissive responses either to Cohen’s approach to Levinas or to Levinas’s philosophy tout court. It strikes me as very possible that readers of Levinasian Meditations will misinterpret it as a result. Continue reading

Kierkegaard (and the APA)


I read this and couldn’t help but think of this year’s Eastern APA meeting.  However, it’s probably better to be fair and simply substitute ‘academics’ for ‘busy man of affairs.’

Of all the ridiculous things it seems to me the most ridiculous is to be a busy man of affairs, prompt to meals and to work… Who could not help laughing at these hustlers? What do they accomplish? Are they not like the housewife, when her house was on fire, who in her excitement saved the fire-extinguisher? What more do they save from the great fire of life?” (Either/Or)

Advice…


Now here’s some advice that’s actually useful:

You probably associate fads with fashion and junior high school, but fads are very much a part of modern academic culture. Whole disciplines and sub-disciplines rise and fall in popularity, as do certain ideas and personalities, the influence of which will often cross disciplinary boundaries. The pernicious effects of this faddishness are most often felt by those who study something that is out-of-fashion at the time they enter the job market. The most savvy (if un-idealistic) graduate students will choose their programs of study and dissertation topics with an eye to what is fashionable. Just hope that your choice is still fashionable a decade hence.

via 100 reasons not to go to graduate school.

 

SUNY-Albany: in the 9th Bolgia,8th Circle of the Inferno?


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

Accountability Regimes and Academic Life


Great article by Gaye Tuchman in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, “The Future of Wannabe U,” in which she continues her analysis of the accountability regime that drives the academic life:

Annually, other job and tenure candidates list how many articles and books they have published, how many talks they have delivered (including how many to which they were invited, and by whom), how many students they have advised and taught. Now and again, senior professors, writing letters to evaluate a candidate’s suitability to get or keep a job, provide their own lists. Sometimes they, too, are so intent on constructing them that they forget to discuss a candidate’s intellectual contributions. Last year, when presenting a distinguished-research award, a top Wannabe administrator noted that the recipient had published well more than 100 articles. He never said why those articles mattered. Continue reading

Intellectual Labor: Adjunct Hulk


A twitter feed about life as an adjunct, ADJUNCT HULK:

HULK ONLY GRADING 150 PAPERS TONIGHT. SO HULK HAVE PLENTY TIME TO LOOK FOR OTHER POSITIONS. OTHER ADJUNCT POSITIONS!!!

This is a good one:

HULK THINK JOB AT UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX SOLVE ALL HULK’S PROBLEMS. HULK AS JANITOR AT PHOENIX WOULD MAKE MORE MONEY THAN ADJUNCT!!!

Read more here and a good interview with Mark Bousquet, “Higher Exploitation,” in the Minnesota Review, here