update: some people whose opinion I respect criticised the initial version of this post as unfair and homogenising. I have changed the title and slightly modified the first paragraph. May the conversation prove fruitful!

I do not like the term “para-academics” as it suggests a mere neighbouring but parallel postion in relation to academia, as if the ghetto were isomorphic with the official hierarchy and seeking merger. I find myself in agreement with R.Scott Bakker’s Wake-up Call, but I have this minor terminological quibble with his call to the “para-academic shadow” to manifest itself against the hegemony of the cronies. The problem is that lurking in that shadow are those who are isomorphic to and commensurable to the institutions stratifications and who seek to profit from the confusion at the expense of those who are individuating on a radically different model.

Commensurable cronies are both like-minded and in-group-identified. That means you need a conversion and an initiation (which some have called a “degradation” ceremony) to enter into intercourse with them. There’s nothing wrong with such groups as such, the more affinity-groups the merrier. The problem is unequal access to institutionalised respect, power, money, charisma ie to social, intellectual, and financial capital. Such groups tend to be closed and closed-minded and so blind to what others are on about. I am blind, because I have already been converted but conversion allows me to “see”. You can’t see anything without conversion, and there’s the problem: the world would just be an overwhelming chaos.

Conversion makes us blind to everything else, it makes us stupid. This is why I have been going on about “synchronic” ontologies, and synchronic understanding in general. “Synchronic” is shorthand for a vision of the world based on being blind to its (ie both the vision’s and the world’s) constructed nature and being blind to other constructions. (Note: this is also what David from calls construct awareness). The group-individuation has become a group-synchronisation and produced a rigid set of stereotypes and associated roles.

Cronies are the opposite of individuals. They are the fish not only unconscious of the water they swim in, but also unconscious that this water is just one puddle and there are lots of others. They don’t even know they are fish, and find the others “fishy”. The few deconstructionists I met were very constructed in their personalities (self-satisfied hegemonic narcissists only begins to capture it) and very concentrated on and adept at constructing their careers.

Writing across ingroup boundaries is very desirable. However even the most committed transversal pluralist can only open up to just so many multiple simultaneous or successive conversions. The rest is barter, compassion, hospitality and sympathetic magic (or the opposite). Deleuze called such cross-group cross-construction intercourse a conversation, as opposed to a discussion between social and conceptual cronies. Cronies are into redundance and repetition, where innovation is more of the same. Cronies are synchronies.
I have already recounted how I was squeezed out by the Althusserians and the Lacanians. But I did my own thing and one day managed to show my writing to Lyotard and his recommendation got me a scholarship to go and study with him in France. I will never forget the day I ran into a Lacanian joiner and she asked me condescendingly, for I deserved no respect in those people’s eyes, what I was doing and I said I was going to Paris for 3 years to study (this was in Sydney, the other side of the world). Instead of smiling or congratulating me, she was furious. She snapped at me “Well, I’m certainly not going to Paris!” and the conversation was closed. She had been a very supportive sub-crony in a clique of lacanian feminists and received nothing for her pains. Those who succeed do so on a huge pile of little helpers who are not received into the light.

So I don’t like in-group discussions or meetings of cronies, but I am willing to converse with all sorts of people. And I am ready to help out or to contribute, but I am noone’s helper. That’s a mug’s game, even when the mug succeeds and becomes a Big Mouth.
I agree that the internet potentially changes the game and allows a new dialectic of exposure and response, an opening or widening of the conversations is possible.

(Note: Mikhail Emelianov has some very interesting reflections on the life of the “post-academic” here).

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  1. Philip says:

    This started as a short thought but it became long, winding and only partially on topic (but what else is new?!) — just to warn you:

    ‘Para-academic,’ to me, implies ‘wannabe-academic’. There’s a hint of condescension to it. It implies that we’re outside the main building where the real stuff is happening, cold noses pressed against the window panes, breathily gawping at what’s going on inside. More prosaically: in the phrase ‘para-academic’ the in-group (‘academic’) defines the out-group (‘para-academic’) but not vice versa — and this denotes a hierarchy (since the ‘academics’ require no distinguishing prefix; they simply are what they are).

    There are personal reasons why this is wrong but there could also be social and political ones.

    On the personal side, I’ve been debating for the last few years whether to go back into education and pursue the PhD. I currently work in a university on the research side of things but the study I work on has little to do with my academic interests (save for the fact that it’s scientific and I’m interested in science studies). Dropping this more-or-less stable employment and going down the academic route often seems like a great idea — but just as often it seems like a terrible one. Getting funding is incredibly difficult in the first place, the 3 or 4 years of PhD study (in the UK) are extremely stressful for most people and, at the end of it, academic jobs are scarcer than hens’ teeth.

    Of course there are many reasons for doing a PhD and diving into academia other than professional or financial advancement (which is just as well). But does a PhD really give you so much more than a title and a certificate? I’d say ‘yes it probably does’; but, then, just how much?

    I have quite a few friends who are completing or have recently completed their theses and their experience, so it seems, has been one of daily disillusionment. Not that they had any illusions that it was going to be easy or that there’d be plenty of jobs waiting for them when they graduated. The dire state of that side of things is a given. What they’re disillusioned about is the support they’ve received (or rather not received) from their supervisors, the alternately disinterested or malignant way they’ve been treated by university administrators and the general sense of living and working in a glorified sausage-factory — less the “dynamic intellectual environment” promised by the prospectus, more REF-friendly unit shifting, churning out drab, cookie-cutter publications by the dozen.

    In other words, far from ‘intellectual’ and ‘academic’ being synonymous it seems that, more and more, they’re being pulled apart. This is what is putting me off, far more than the hopeless job prospects, etc.

    Of course, grad students and academics are wont to complain and I enjoyed my time studying in that school in the past. I enjoy going to conferences, seminars and reading groups; I love thinking and writing. The thought of teaching fills me with dread but I suspect that, over time, I’d come to love that too. So, I’m also rather sceptical of those who make it seem as though academics and grad students are the most put-upon, oppressed workers in all of capitalism. Plainly nothing could be further from the truth — academia is, compared to most of the alternatives, a great place to work.

    However, given all these problems, given that the intellectual and the academic are increasingly antonymous, is it such a bad time to be a ‘para-academic’? If, on the contrary, it’s actually a very good time to be thinking and writing outside the academy then the dismissive connotations of that phrase are surely misplaced.

    And, in actual fact, my soul destroying, low responsibility, relatively low paying 9-to-5 job gives me considerable free time to pursue my own interests — much more than my Teaching Assistant, PhD-chasing friends seem to have. People talk about academic publishing being archaic, a remnant of the days before information technology (never mind the Internet) — and they’re right — but couldn’t something similar be said of academia as the hallowed seat of the intellectual?

    It’s an open question but I’d argue that if academia does still dominate intellectual discourse then it needn’t do so. Self-consciously philosophical, political, critical, theoretical kinds of work can just as easily carry on elsewhere — maybe they could even flourish outside the strictures of academic bureaucracy.

    I was reading the other day about the composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass who, when they weren’t able to make a living from their music back in the ’70s, started a furniture removals company together to pay the bills. Both had offers from academic institutions to teach and research but they chose manual labour and working on their music in their spare time. Can you imagine many would-be philosophical radicals doing something similar? And yet isn’t this precisely the kind of conclusion that their ideas should reach?

    For the better part of two thousand years, in the Western tradition, intellectual debate was dominated by aristocrats and clerics. For the past century or so it’s been dominated by university employees. This model continues to be relevant, but is it always and everywhere appropriate? Given near universal literacy, hyper-abundant texts and almost zero participation costs isn’t the sociology of intellectual discourse bound to evolve sooner or later? And wouldn’t this be a good thing? Wouldn’t the rather stifling ecosystem of the academy be much more productive if it opened out, seamlessly, onto a civil society that was fully capable of carrying on similar debates under its own steam?

    Maybe if academics were made to observe themselves not as de facto intellectuals — granted such status by dint of their profession — but rather as ‘para-intellectuals’ — actually hamstrung by the contradictions of their professional status — then the whole discourse would come to have less to do with the bitter, jealous feuding of professional fiefdoms and and more to do with having some new bloody ideas for once.

    Ah, one can dream.


  2. dmfant says:

    I spent a lot of time caught up in the hopes of the academy as a place of active-imagination but gave up on that pipedream years ago, it would have been better if institutions of higher-ed had changed themselves before the deep colonization of market-powers started to do it for them but I take this not so benign negligence as yet another symptom of their being toothless.


  3. arranjames says:

    I’m also someone who has a weird relation to academia. I got part way into an MA in critical theory at Middlesex University before deciding that it wasn’t for me. I had a vision of the path of the Academic and didn’t want to walk it. I wanted to do something a bit more hands on (I’m a psychiatric nurse). Failing to see the revolution around the corner, I thought it better to get a bit more modest with what I hoped to achieve.

    These days, I keep considering a return to do some post-grad work but I can never be sure. John Laschs’ vision of the embedded philosopher is appealing to me, as is the idea that a philosopher who doesn’t live his ideas is fraudulent (by this I don’t mean Marxists should be making revolution ex nihilo, just that they should at least be engaged in projects beyond critiques of some hegemonic figure or other).

    At the moment I’m enjoying being someone who makes use of philosophy, who doesn’t really need academic approval if I can put thought to use in helping people (myself and others) more able to cope with being alive.


  4. terenceblake says:

    As Philip says the path of the intellectual, or of the philosopher, is not necessarily the path of the academic. I am an English teacher in a technical college in France and sometimes it is incredibly tiring and frustrating, but sometimes there is amazing freedom. And I don’t identify with my role. This is one of the dangers of academia, believing you are your role. Yet I still need some sort of approval or recognition. I need encouragement to keep on, to go further. Sometimes just a little gesture or sentence suffices. Lyotard’s approval got me to Paris and helped me to bear up under very difficult circumstances, Kenneth White’s approval allowed me to maintain my noetic connection to philosophy when I left Paris for Nice, Bernard Stiegler’s approval let me persist in saying what I wanted to say despite my non-academic status. Yet I am not the disciple of any of these thinkers, nor did they demand that of me. Many people have made kind comments on this blog, on facebook or twitter, and so I push on, and I encourage you here to do the same. I have no idea “what” I am and any name, such as “para-academic” doesn’t quite capture it. But there are many people who have no idea what they are and that’s what individuation as a process is all about. I agree with the image of “embedding”, but I say no embedding without prior extraction. Active imagination is going on constantly, and that is how I people my blog with so many conceptual personifications.


  5. “The path of the intellectual, or of the philosopher, is not necessarily the path of the academic” is a very important insight. Elsewhere i called this other path “low theory”, altho’ Philip’s objection might appear to apply to that too. I think Terence is beginning to articulate some very useful things about the reflective life in our times.


  6. arranjames says:

    I like that very much: “no embedding without prior extraction”. And yes, I have a similar list of names that have encouraged me along the way. Many of them would probably not even remember me, but I remember the tiny happenings that extended to me a kind of ‘go on’.


  7. I was just about to post something here, but then you accepted my friend request on facebook (thanks!) You might see that I’ve made a longer conversation in that comment stream from Mackenzie Wark’s link. So, for everyone else reading this blog post and not reading comment streams on facebook, I provide a link to the presentations I gave at NYU and the New York Public School that discuss the conditions that seem to have contributed to the introduction of this phrase “para-academic”:


  8. Helmut says:

    This one stark image sums up the ethos of most/all of the philosophy whether secular or so called religious that is taught in the anal-retentive academy (necropolis)



  10. xixexe says:

    If the notion of sub-cronies in contrast to para-academics is convincing, it is for me because it is linked to a way of living while (and no doubt beyond) thinking. It is about life, not the one chosen but choosing it continually in the course of thinking–thinking from the core of everything. As you show, if not tell, we see that when there are choices, there are a group of other thinkers, materials/substances out there. Either to converge into or diverge from. I went on to discover your emphasis on ‘death in life’ stemmed from DWF’s ideas here: Whether we assimilate into or differentiate from another substances, of thinking or of living, the event of encountering itself (situating oneself within the chaos) requires ‘death’, that is: conversion into a new moment of life; diversion from the last moment in life. One of your deaths in life, if I could imagine it at best, would be the diversion from a group of university thinkers the Althusserians, the Lacanians, and then to the conversion into (not just an individual thinker but) individuating thinkers such as Lyotard. I doubt you are in anyway comfortable with my expression of “conversion”. After all, you wrote, “So I don’t like in-group discussions or meetings of cronies, but I am willing to converse with all sorts of people.” I deciphered your remark beyond the expression of resilience, nonetheless. You are willing to be in dialogue with living/thinking substances regardless of their living/thinking conditions. From this perspective, if, as I wrote so far, the notion of sub-cronies can be extended to conversion and death in life, it is perhaps because it is sustained by the way of living–living again and again while dying again and again. Reincarnation seems too big a word to describe this life/death condition, then I’d have more work to do around my previous post concerning your Radicalising Non-Philosophy:

    with respect

    Liked by 1 person

  11. terenceblake says:

    I think that the sub-cronies are the habitual content of what is called “para-academics” and so are on the side of a synchronic alienation or chosen life. The non-academics avoid this alienation by a diachronic “dying” to the alienations and so valorise more plasticity, resilience, and as you say choosing life. There is no absolute opposition, each way of life contains both tendencies. But there is a question of dosage, or of primacy. I wonder if you have read this post, where I talk about this in terms of reincarnation. Ideally, conversion/diversion and conversation go together in a larger dialogue, each serving to loosen up the possible dogmatic solidifications of the other. As Jung said, we cannot individuate alone on a mountain-top, we need the interaction with others (although to varying degrees).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Dying To The Alienations | mouth of the thread

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  15. xixexe says:

    Reblogged this on mouth of the thread and commented:
    Terence Blake Para-Academics vs Sub-Cronies


  16. Pingback: Dying to the alienations 3 | mouth of the thread

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