FOLLOW YOUR INFERIORITY: for non-academic freedom

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”?

NEO-LIBERAL POSITIVITY

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.

COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE

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.

AGAINST HAUGHTINESS

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.

NON-ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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.

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7 Responses to FOLLOW YOUR INFERIORITY: for non-academic freedom

  1. JH says:

    It was rather surprising for me to hear from one professor that the 20th century French philosophers we study today, Deleuze, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, etc, were excluded from being taken seriously by the academic philosophers even in the 60s and on. It might not really matter whether they were accepted in the university discourse, but now I wonder whether consciously staying outside of the academia really helps now. Can we not penetrate academia? What are the academic philosophers trying to do?

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    • terenceblake says:

      There is no right or wrong place to be. Lyotard was an academic, but he affirmed he was at war with the institutions of his own mind. I do not call to leave academia, or to depreciate it. The problem is the arrogance and the refusal of real discussion, on a basis of money, status, power, and an ethics of cronyism. Many academics work to make the university an open society, including in their own practices and relations to others.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Linnewho says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic zero.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: NO MORE ALPHAS: confessions of an eternal “beta”. | AGENT SWARM

  4. S.C. Hickman says:

    The most perfectly distilled attack upon institutional philosophy is probably that found in Schopenhauer’s Parerga and Paralipomena, in its section entitled ‘On University Philosophy’. By the end of this text Schopenhauer has argued that the university is inextricably compromised by the interests of the state, that this necessarily involves it in the perpetuation of the monotheistic dogmas that serve such interests, and that the consequent subservience to vulgar superstition completely devastates it; degrading it to a grotesquely hypocritical sophistry, fuelled by a petty careerism spiced by an envious hatred of intellectual independence, and articulated in a wretchedly obscure and distorted jargon that allows its proponents both to squirm away from the surveillance of the priests, and to hypnotize a gullibly adoring public. It is scarcely surprising that he comes to conclude: if there is to be philosophy at all, that is to say, if it is to be granted to the human mind to devote its loftiest and noblest powers to incomparably the weightiest of all problems, then this can successfully happen only when philosophy is withdrawn from all state influence [Sch VII 200].

    This distaste has been fully reciprocated. One need only take note of Heidegger’s remarks on Schopenhauer to get a taste of the university’s revenge upon its assailants. The crass dismissal of Schopenhauer’s aesthetics in the first volume of Heidegger’s Nietzsche lectures is a quite typical example, and others can be found in Introduction to Metaphysics, his Leibniz lectures, What is Called Thinking, etc. What is at stake in both cases is not argument, however rancorous, but the relation of mutual revulsion between the academy and a small defiant fragment of its outside. Neither recognizes the legitimacy of the other’s discourse; for the university considers its other to be incompetent, whilst the part of this other—admittedly a very small part—that has seized and learnt to manipulate the weaponry of philosophical strife, considers the voice of the university to be irremediably tainted by servility.

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  5. The democratization of thought, the avoidance of expert call-and-response positioning, an aversion to bureaucratic modes of discourse – all of this is worth the effort. A defiance to prevailing attitudes is a sign of, or an achievement that cultivates, intellectual stimulation and breeds more engaged actors ready to pursue their goals with more resolve. I’m only now starting to wonder and do some critical self reflection on the merits of such a commitment to “democratic” or autonomous intellectual discourse though. There is a pretty clear line of demarcation between authoritative academics (but also politics and economics, etc) and the rest of us without a wide audience. People just have this issue of Trust in a name that takes time and often prestige to foster. Blogging has been a wonderful outlet for philosophers and other explorers of thought, but I’m left wondering whether one can be an influence on a grand scale in this way. Many won’t care and pursue their own enrichment well enough, but I am positive amongst many of us that there is a desire to change the world (or rebuild it or create a new one or what have you).

    Democratic activity (which is the key word of the era but ‘populist’ fits better I think) has a kind of burst of energy that burns bright but not long, institutions carry it forward but in a boring way. Democratic modes usually ignore or oppose authority, but without authority we lose our world and can get lost down some “dark” paths. I’ve been a part of some of these organizations that attempt to carry all of these truly great and principled modes of activity forward (in person) and watch in amazement at how easily bitterness, group-think, and dejection settle in. At times the expert or the superior (Nietzsche) must be defended against the ones critiquing in the name of anti-power or anti-authoritarianism. Philosophers have long warned against the mob and the horrors it can produce and I think similar effects can be felt but mentally or discursively. The toxic atmosphere of many comments sections for instance (although mostly from non-philosophical web-sites).

    I guess what I’m trying to articulate is that having an authority isn’t so bad and that there are negatives to democratic styles behaviors. I like the way you straddle the line between academia and the wider-public Terrence, both sides must be able to communicate. Maybe that’s what this is all about.

    Liked by 1 person

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