PROTEVI’S DELEUZIAN ANALYSIS OF ACADEMIC REJECTION (3): quantitative mimetic masters, becoming, rotting, and sacrifice

John Protevi wishes to talk about those who meet with academic rejection, and undertakes a Deleuzian analysis. He talks about the “job lottery” and about the ” injection of sheer luck into placement and advancement”, but we have seen that this is not the full story. It may be luck, in the sense of good fortune, but it is not “sheer luck”, it is not a game of chance but of reticular compatibility. We all know dull plodding eager-to-please-those-in-power spirits who have succeeded against wilder talents. Deleuze, in talking about sport, gives a lesson that can also be applied to academia. He talks about those who have obtained a form of quantitative (number of publications) and mimetic (the right sort of publications, i.e. the right sort of quality), and how they are so often better placed than those who attempt a qualitative leap (the “wrong” sort of quality). Quantitative mimetic masters can be found everywhere, they profit from previous models and are readily identifiable as good reticular subjects, yet they are often, while competent, completely uninteresting.

My problem is one of becoming: What do those rejected for any length of time become? I don’t think that they stay the same, but just live in circumstances that are less favorable to intellectual production (even if that is not always the case). I don’t think that it is just a case of less opportunity to actualise one’s philosophical qualities. Not only does one have less opportunity to actualise, one has less opportunity to cultivate and improve those powers, and they begin to change. In part, they rot, part of them dies. In part, they become something else.

My second question is: what sort of, and what degree of, sacrifice is needed to succeed academically despite these difficult circumstances? If the price is too high, many people who are willing to work hard and well may not be willing to sacrifice the bulk of their life to getting it back on the (academic) success track. It may be possible, one may know people who have done it, but it may not be desirable for many people who were capable of it. As Deleuze says, noone notices an absence.

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6 Responses to PROTEVI’S DELEUZIAN ANALYSIS OF ACADEMIC REJECTION (3): quantitative mimetic masters, becoming, rotting, and sacrifice

  1. Dunno. Whilst a lot of what you’re saying is very easy to agree with (“no-one notices an absence”, rewards to plodding over wildness) — this essay seems to frame academia as “the” goal in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

    Why is the normal world a worse generator of ideas than academia?

    Why are those in academia the ‘winners’ and those outside it the ‘losers’?

    The story from Joangdze comes to mind:

    “I believe there is a sacred turtle, offered and canonized three thousand years ago, which is worshipped by the king. Wrapped in silk it lies in a precious shrine on an altar in the temple.
    What do you think?
    If you were a turtle, would you prefer to lose your life and leave your dead shell to be an object of worship shrouded in incense for three thousand years?
    Or would you prefer to live as a plain turtle that drags its tail in the mud?”


    • There are also obvious examples from art, showing that the great and the lauded of their time don’t correlate to “long-term quality” — as measured by postmortem popularity.

      There’s a famous quotation of F. Scott Fitzgerald saying how he knew what he was making was quality, which would outlast the great-and-good of the Wall Street of his day.

      And in mathematics nobody today has heard of Pringsheim (and we would regard his self-importance as ridiculous) whereas “wild ones” revolutionised thought……which is not to say that a professorship was not very helpful to those who got it; just not always forthcoming. (I believe Heaviside never held an academic post, and indeed he didn’t profit from many of his inventions. Something similar could be said about Tesla.)

      Lastly, I would add that those in power necessarily face more dangers of egotism than the meek. If the world is telling you you’re worthless there’s that much less danger of an overblown ego ruining your work.


  2. terenceblake says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The original post on Leiter’s blog is written from a subjective position of identifying with the winners, as defined by the academic game. Protevi’s take is a little contradictory for me, as he thinks that there is some bad metaphysics going on, here I agree, and he tries to give a “Deleuzian” analysis, which I think he manages to carry out only incompletely. He gets the pluralist part right, that “our” qualities are not properties of a subject, but positions on a relational matrix. But he still maintains the unquestioned privilege of the (tenured) academic job as the place where philosophy is done, and he does not see how one’s positioning in the network affects not just the actualisation of our powers, but those powers themselves. So strangely he conseves a sort of essentialist identity of the person. But where you are performs who you are. So I find him lacking on the notions of identity, becoming, and performativity – all of which are key Deleuzian notions.


    • What does

      “our” qualities are not properties of a subject, but positions on a relational matrix


      Thanks for your comments; interesting way to learn what “Deleuzian” and “metaphysics” can mean in practice….


  3. terenceblake says:

    Yes, there are many examples. And I find it a shame to blog presupposing the primacy of academia, instead of seeing that blogging has the potential to weaken and relativise the hegemony of the university model in the definition of the flourishing intellectual life.


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