PRACTICE IS THE MEASURE
To understand the sociology of academia, do not pay much attention to declarations or to (self-)publicity: follow the books and translations, follow the conferences, the talks, the reviews (like in the crime series: follow the money trail).
Look with your own eyes and see who is talking and to whom, and who is being listened to, see how far the dialogue goes, who and what is being excluded from the conversation. Do not confuse declarations of intention and actual performance. “Performance” is not a free pass, but must be evaluated in all its aspects.
AGAINST PAY UP AND SHUT UP
People are meant to buy the books, but they are not supposed to talk back to the authors and their friends, except to praise them. The bulk of the readers are not peers, and so are treated like cattle. Human cattle are not supposed to give their opinion, but just to buy, to pay up and shut up.
They are treated to a theatrics of disinterested thought, to a dramaturgy of performances of “Nietzschean” contempt for the sterility of the negative, of the critic compared to the supposed fecundity of the creator (i.e. to the publish or perish imperative of the writer of academic articles and books, not a very Nietzschean example of creation).
The academics’ texts are distributed to be bought and to be read by a large proportion of people who do not themselves write and publish, who are not university professors.Free publicity is given by friends and allies, or just sympathetic or curious readers, on the social networks, but any attempt at critical discussion on these same thought-friendly networks is discouraged, and the foolhardy commenter is stigmatised or banned.
Is the ordinary reader supposed just to cough up the cash, to read, to enthuse or to keep silent, and to stifle any critical thought, because he or she is not a “creator”?
Viewed in the context of the market the proud slogans against the negativity of “critique” have a more sinister import, transcribing, repeating, and imposing the image of thought of the neo-liberal era: just buy and enjoy, consume and applaud, let us do the thinking for you.
“It” thinks for you, so you can remain in your assigned place of (cultural) consumer. Many academics naively find it natural that students agree with them or defer to them in debate. My Althusserian teachers, who I have criticised severely on fundamental theoretical and political points, had a better attitude. They pointed explicitly to the material conditions of academia not just in general but in their own case. Some even admitted that university professors and students were class enemies. Such honesty is rarer today.
DEMOCRACY OF THOUGHT
The internet is potentially an amazing place for the practice of a contributive intellectual economy, allowing discussion free from the master-slave dialectic of the university, and the jostling of academic lobbies. Everyone is a peer, that is the democracy of thought. Not the academy of peers and the public of serfs.
TYRANNY OF THE EXPERT
Some academic philosophers just cannot make sense of this new potentiality and practice. In their view, either you’re a peer, and you don’t rock the boat, or you’re a student and you agree or defer. The rest are cattle to them, the vast majority of their readers. The “death of God” is the death, not of the expert, but of the tyranny of the expert and of his monologue.
Other academics embrace the new creative possibilities of democracy of thought and of collective intelligence. Bruno Latour tried to take this embrace of collective intelligence even further, with his AIME project and platform. It was an impressive achievement. The flaw was in the overly stringent vetting process, that stifled dialogue, and that replaced democracy with diplomacy. But it achieved so much more than many other attempts.
Where I disagree with Latour is that he thinks that we are in a period where the institution needs reinforcing. Bruno Latour himself is Professor at Sciences Po Paris and the scientific director of the Sciences Po Medialab. I do not think this venerable institution particularly needs reinforcing.
ANNOTATION IS NOT ENOUGH
Bernard Stiegler is another thinker who has tried to embrace and make creative use of this collective intelligence, by means of his online courses and seminars, and with his Summer Academy. His mistake is to consider that the student’s annotation of the videos of his courses constitutes a significant pedagogical action. This model is too centralised on one person, and does not favourise discussion. Once again, as for Latour, the democracy does not go far enough – but it goes very much farther than most.
The haughty academics who point proudly to their bibliographies should ask themselves what it takes to create and maintain a constantly active and evolving blog, enregistring a thinking-in-progress. A haughty Laruellean, who in his writings decries the principle of philosophical “sufficiency”, is a performative self-contradiction. “Suffisance” in French means both sufficiency and arrogance.
Substituting performance for representation is no guarantee of infallibility. Performances, even of philosophical thought, can be bad, they can be incoherent and self-contradictory. Although taking performance serously may be the first step to a new image of thought, it does not free you from all requirements of virtue, quality and coherence.
FOLLOW YOUR INFERIORITY
Against the self-posited superiority of this arrogant sufficiency, Deleuze and Guattari say in effect “follow your inferiority”. This is James Hillman’s advice too. Leave superiority to those who need it and cling to it against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Deleuze constantly cites Rimbaud on “I am of inferior race”. Superiority belongs to the paranoiac position that represses schizophrenic desire (this is the lesson of ANTI-OEDIPUS). The position of superiority counts itself twice, taking itself both as the measure and as the best example of the measure, thus defining itself as the majority and everyone else as the minority.
THE ACADEMY IS NO PARADISE
We have all seen people who have succeeded in academia with not much to contribute, because they were lucky (and I include social luck, and economic luck) and because they worked on achieving that success as an important task in itself. As non-academic thinkers we are probably forever in the bind of seeking recognition from people whose very status of being able to accord recognition (or not) seems unjust to us. Intellectual individuation does not stop extra muros, outside the walls of the academy nor does it begin intra muros, inside those walls. The thinking individual is not the academic subject, and the democracy of sharing is not the same thing as the conversations of cronies. I miss the academy for the access it could give me to libraries, people, and ideas, but when I was in the academy I did not find it to be a place of pure intellectual freedom nor of universal open exchange.
My blog is the expression of my “inferiority” in this sense. Not in the sense of the socio-economic calculations of those who want to consign me to the fantasmatic place of being inferior versions of themselves. They are free to do as they like, as am I.
I would certainly never tell anyone what, for whom, when, where, how and why to write, or to read, or to think, or to live. This is not the case for the academic lobbyists, cronies, and careerists, who do not hesitate to tell me to talk about something else of my own rather than to raise objections or express reservations about their promoted favourites.
There is great freedom in the non-academic ordinariness of thinking and of expressing oneself. And I am not the only one to avail myself of such freedom. There is no room to maintain such ideas as “I will publish my real work in a more serious place”, because a blog is a very serious place indeed, and you are read and judged by very demanding, very surprising, singular and unformatted, non-professional eyes and minds.