John Protevi gives a Deleuzian analysis of a life anecdote, recounted by Brian Leiter, concerning a rejected candidate for an academic job who wrote a letter in reply that contained a “sarcastic” sentence. Protevi does a very good on the pluralist aspect (anti-essentialism, perspectivalism, multiplicities, networks) but I feel does not do as well on the “becoming” aspect. I will attempt to supplement his analysis as best I can.
Analysing a job application is an interesting case study in terms of the asymmetry of power. However, the anecdote that Protevi considers is a little one-sided. It is told from the point of the view of the rejectors, and is needlessly hostile to the rejected candidates response. It may be interesting to compare this event with a similar anecdote recounted by the applicant. In my last post I commented the rejectee’s reply as perhaps being more than a simple retort out of resentment, but an act of resistance. I will consider the case of Paul Feyerabend who tells us about one candidature where he was accepted, whereas he was rejected for several others.
Feyerabend, in Stories from Paolino’s Tapes, recounts a job interview which came at a decisive juncture in his life, at the beginning of his career. He remarks that had he been rejected he could easily have ended up a homeless drunken bum in Vienna, instead of being hired as a university lecturer and going on to become a world-renowned philosopher. (In Deleuzian terms, demolition is always a possibility on any line of life). Feyerabend tells us how he submitted to the interview process, and had to suffer the nastiness of someone noted for his vicious and bullying behaviour. At the end he said “Stop! You ask me a lot of questions, now I want to ask you some questions”.
Thus he decided to resist the temptation to passivity, to break with the asymmetry of the interview situation and to speak to his interviewers on an equal footing. Even here in this little anecdote we can see Feyerabend’s lifelong engagement in favour of immanence, and his refusal of the asymmetries of transcendence. According to him this act of enunciation, plus recommendations from Schrödinger and from Popper, got him the job. Elsewhere, Feyerabend tells us that he was rejected by two other universities, but the committee at the University of Bristol “was impressed by Schrödinger’s recommendation and by my big mouth” (KILLING TIME, 102).
An interesting Deleuzian note here is Feyerabend’s awareness that he could have become a “drunken bum” instead of a philosopher. This resonates with Deleuze’s declaration that in his books and in his seminars, and in his daily life, he was very careful not to say or to do anything that could make someone take a turn towards demolition rather than creation, and turn into a wreck (ABC Primer, D for Desire). As a job candidate Feyerabend had his own network, including positive intercessors such as Popper and Schrödinger. But he refused to reply passively to a set of questions posed by the others, and asked his own questions. This was to take a risk, as this behaviour could also have provoked rejection; Indeed we may ask if his “big mouth”, as he called it, was responsible for his rejections elsewhere. An act of enunciation is a pharmakon, both toxic and medicinal, capable of poisoning us (demolition) just as much as curing us. Could opening his “big mouth” have been perceived as “sarcastic” by those other hiring committees? Leiter seems sure that speaking sarcastically will get around, and do you no good. However, this is not the only possible outcome, and Leiter should perhaps have stayed with enouncing probabilities.