Monday, October 31, 2011

the step-12 program for academic success!

The 12-Step Program for Academic Success
Step Three:

Go On -- Take Drugs!

The initial euphoric and mind-expanding effects of intoxicants are often considered beneficial by liberals and other perverts.

But the serious aftereffects of long-term abuse of dangerous and mind-altering drugs -- bipolarism, paranoia, mood swings, death, and chronic withdrawal -- these are the true benefits.

Whereas in most fields of endeavor these personality problems are a major source of difficulty in securing a future, in academia they are a positive boon!

We heartily recommend at least four consciousness-addling binges a week for maximum effect.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

the step-12 program for academic success!

The 12-Step Program for Academic Success
Step Two:
Hire Out Your Emotional Life

The pressures of Big Time Academia have crushed many otherwise happy marriages and relationships.

Your perpetual motion of publishing, conference attending, hustling, and schmoozing will inevitably destroy your soul.

The process is painful and can cause skin irritation.

But you need not suffer, or indeed feel anything at all. The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other trade publications, now offers a convenient classified advertising service, operated on the same principles as telephone personal ads, to match would-be Academic Big Shots to discreet, well trained affective agents.

YOU stomp all over the likes of Richard Rorty, Joe Margolis and Daniel Dennett,

THEY feel the guilt, angst, and yawning spiritual emptiness!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

the 12-step program for academic success!

Back in grad school, I wrote this satire, mainly as a response to some rather overly careerist behavior I witnessed. I'll post one step per day for the next, let's see, how about twelve days? I won't change name or dates, because there are no innocents, and some of this stuff is clearly dated (for instance, the antiquated references to something they used to call the philosophy "job market").

Without further ado,

The 12-Step Program for Academic Success
Step One:
Writing A Grant Proposal

The following example should give you some ideas:

Chris Nagel
Philosophy Department
Duquesne University
Pittsburgh PA 15282

Chair, Grants Committee
National Endowment for the Humanities
Washington DC 20031
May 5, 1995

To the Chair of the Grants Committee:

Enclosed please find the text of my grant proposal to study "Phone Sex Lines in the Postmodern Context."

My research work will fill a gap in the body of our understanding of sexuality. It's hard to get good, hot information from the usual sources, since phone sex is spreading so far so fast. We can only get what we need orally. In my work, I will push and push for more and more clarity. I am already thrusting into the field, but I crave the chance to mount a more systematic study.

I know the NEH has a reputation for being quite stiff. But I'm sure you will feel the pressing nature of my work. You can give me the tools I need to touch the depths of telephone relations. Then it will be my job to reveal the naked truth.

Thank you very much,

Chris Nagel

Friday, October 28, 2011

why i won't get published

I have just now submitted an article on body/embodiment to Studia Phaenomenologica. I am fairly confident I won't get published, and here are some reasons why.

1. What I wrote is a critique of the orthodoxy in the field. This might be publishable, except that...

2. I do not have sufficient academic clout to publish something critical of the field's orthodoxy, plus

3. I do not have a lengthy... resumé... of academic achievements, which, in English translation, means that...

4. I have not paid my dues, in as much as I have never published anything telling the world how great the orthodoxy really is, plus...

5. All that I have achieved in my academic field has been overwhelmed by scholars working tirelessly to contribute to the orthodoxy.

Besides which,

6. I'm not sure I'm right, and I don't have a strong argument making my case, and in addition,

7. really, nobody's ever heard of me, and

8. you can't just criticize academic shibboleths, because, what are you, nuts or something?!

Yet I've submitted it because:

9. I happen to think I'm right, and

10. I have nothing to lose.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

philosophy jobs panic

Before coming to school today (and installing my new column - check it out on Facebook!), I collected a couple days' worth of mail from our box. In it was my copy of the American Philosophical Association's Jobs for Philosophers. I'll refrain from a lengthy diatribe on the moral cesspool of the academic hustling market, because that wasn't the first thing on my mind this morning.

In fact, the first thing on my mind this morning was that the APA has finally noticed that I'm a dues-paying member. I've had a long-standing feud with the APA. I pay membership dues, and they stop sending me publications. I complain. I stop paying dues, and they start sending me publications. I don't complain. They stop. Undeterred, I continue not to pay. Coquettishly, they start sending me every other publication, leading me on, and I succumb, and pay my dues. They immediately stop sending me anything.

Yes, the APA is a filthy, and unfair, whore. But we already knew that.

(Oh, and a further diatribe on the incredibly snotty conversation I had with an APA person one year when I had - she swore, though I knew better - failed to check the box indicating I wanted to receive the JFP on my dues notice, and so, she explained, I had irrevocably refused to receive it and this problem could not be fixed until dues were paid for the following academic year.)

So, I got the JFP in the mail, which must mean I haven't paid my dues this year. It's exactly like Arthur Dent's relationship to the utilities service.

I haven't opened it yet. I've barely smelled the newsprint. It's in my backpack on the floor of my office (with newly installed column), tell-tale-hearting at me. I can't face it. When I consider applying for an academic position, I am faced with the certain futurity of my own death. Truly: for me, applying for an academic position has always been a moment of insight into the uncanny, in the Heideggerian sense - a moment of authentic Being-toward-death. So I'd much rather idly write a blog post about it...

Will my so-called academic career survive? Will I survive my so-called academic career? Will anyone survive my Bioethics class, set to begin in ten minutes' time?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

pregnant drug-users and other fun ethics topics

Today with my classes I'm reading a 2003-ish article about public policy and ethical responses to pregnant women who use illegal drugs and alcohol. The main line of argument is what the author deems a feminist approach, focusing on the experience of the women instead of applying abstract rationalistic ethical principles on their cases. What this reveals, she argues, is the states of oppression the women undergo.

This morning, what struck me particularly was an example of a prosecution of a woman for failing to get adequate bed rest and to refrain from intercourse during her pregnancy. The author makes the point very succinctly: these are not actions totally under the control of women. Moreover, these kinds of prosecutions are directed more toward minority and poor women, who often lack social support networks, or are undergoing various conditions of instability and deprivation, and, oh yes, are also being discriminated against in the law.

Then she says something splendid: blaming the drugs, or worse, blaming the women who use the drugs, is a convenient way to hide the conditions of oppression under which these women turn to drugs. I sometimes ask my classes, "what kind of pregnant woman suddenly decides to use drugs?" to point out how bizarre it is to consider the drug use a simple, straightforward, totally rational, perfectly free "choice."

This morning, I'm remembering one of the experiences I've had that has made me more sympathetic to this than a lot of my students say that they are. In my senior year of high school, I quit my Spanish class (for reasons I won't pursue here), and started to have a Study Hall during that period instead. I spent the hour in the library reading absolutely anything - though mostly religious texts, Freud, Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Stoppard. One day - for some reason I remember I was reading the Koran - another student approached me and asked if I knew where he could get some drugs. He was a skinny, twerpy black kid, I was a skinny, long-haired white kid, so I guess he figured, the dude in the ripped jeans and the flannel shirt will know. I didn't, because I wasn't interested in drugs, and I told him so.

We got into a long conversation about drugs, poverty, hopelessness, and the future. We were on more or less opposite sides of the educational spectrum of that school. He was one of the ghettoized black students in my nominally desegregated Southeastern high school, and I was one of the ghettoized white honors students (roughly 95% of all the black students took all their academic classes in one wing of the school, and roughly 90% of all the white students took all their academic classes in another wing; the school also basically policed the honors program such that only a handful of token non-white students were part of it). We had both learned some terrible lessons in social justice by then. But we shared two attributes: we were both hopeless about the future, and we were both very bright.

I tried to argue with him that it would be stupid for him to escape into drugs, as he wanted to do, because he was smart and could do something better with his life. I think that's valid, to this day. He argued back by referring to our social situation, the inherent injustice and oppression he was experiencing, and made the case that, objectively, there wasn't a lot for him to hope for. Damn if I don't think that's valid, too.

We didn't reach any consensus. Eventually he gave up on the argument, because it wasn't getting him any closer to his goal, and asked what I was reading. I showed him the book's spine, and he said he read it, or large parts of it, and he liked it better than the Bible. Then he turned and walked back over to the table occupied by his friends, and I noticed they'd been snickering at us, and they laughed and jostled him when he reached them.

Monday, October 03, 2011

sure sign I'm trying to work on an article

I went on a brief walk just after my office hour this morning, since I had been reading about phenomenology of the body and wanted to clear my head and re-orient myself. Plus, I wanted to see if I had something right in my own analysis of the way the lived body "disappears" from awareness.

Naturally, I spent a lot of the time mentally critiquing the university's entry signage.

A few years ago the new administration announced it was getting rid of the old "books-S" logo.

The admin thought it was corny, which it is. I never thought much about it until it was gone, and in retrospect, it says something about this institution: it's humble, simple, unassuming, and in a direct way says something about education. The new logo, which I won't link to, is a generic Your College or University Here design that could be from any institution from a county community college to frickin' Harvard.

Underneath it, on our entry signs, is the name of the institution, in Palatino font:

Cow State University, Santa Claus

(I hope you have Palatino installed on your computer, or at least Microsoft's commissioned knock-off, Constantia, so you can see this thing.)

Now, I adore Palatino. It's one of Hermann Zapf's two masterworks (the other being Optima), both of which involve a brilliant resolution of contradictory elements. Like Optima, Palatino owes a large measure of its design to Romanesque, monumental fonts, like the kind of thing chiseled into stone. The pointy serifs on the capital C and S have a three-dimensional depth and weight to them that's most noticeable, for instance.

But these aspects are almost totally overcome by the humanist elements, like the varying weights on the uprights and the cute little tails on the lower-case uprights. This makes the font approachable and warm.

Yet it works to brilliant effect. That may be why Palatino was the font of choice for 1990s post-structuralist publications (check it out iffin you don't believe me): humanism and anti-humanism somehow co-exist.

As a font for brass lettering on a red brick sign outside a small comprehensive public university in the middle of the Central Valley, they are totally inappropriate, even obnoxiously so. Because Palatino was commonly used, including in university documents, until the dreaded Calibri epidemic began, the font on the sign looks like it was copied and pasted from an old memo. Yet because it has those monumental aspects, it looks like it's out to be grand, but can't be, left there as a mere caption to the proudly displayed Your College or University Here emblem. In this usage, Palatino is in a losing battle with itself, Zapf's perfectly balanced resolution - or better, Aufhebung - is split into impotently struggling thesis and antithesis.

(Don't even get me started on the siting of the sign at the main entrance, where it occupies what might be the geometric/linear center of the span of the roadway, but is permanently off-kilter in the visual field of a driver or pedestrian approaching the campus.)

You might be wondering if I have a recommendation for changing the font, if I'm so smart. And I do. Comic Sans.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

long time, no blog

After bouts of stomach flu and grading, I'm having an average weekend.

Following a gratuitous Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet reference, I shall return to struggling with my conscience and my philosophical consciousness over whether and how to proceed with writing a paper to submit to Studia Phaenomenologica's special issue on "the phenomenon of the body/phenomenology of embodiment." Submissions are due November 15, which essentially means I have to write it this month, because this November will be taken up with organizing, rallying, picketing, and other union activities, and, just maybe, a new National Novel Writing Month project.

This may be insane.

I may also have little hope for publishing something in this special issue, especially given my predilection for iconoclasm. In this specific instance, I'm thinking of re-working a lot of the text I wrote in August, which I now call "the goofy paper," that says that "the body" is the fetish of existential phenomenology. I started writing it intending it to be my submission to SP, but soon I was basically just venting about Michel Henry.

I believe that the chance of being published in a serious academic philosophy journal is inversely proportionate to the quantity of snide dismissive remarks one makes about honored members of the academic establishment. So, a lot of what I wrote directly about Henry will have to be redacted. Also, I'll probably follow my friend Valerie's advice and change the section heading that currently reads "fuck" (even though I cite my source for the term in a footnote, which gives it a proper academic setting).

I'm having trouble getting over the idea that I would be trying to get published and doing what people think of as scholarship. I've always had misgivings about academia, but was pretty active in a few circles for a while, largely because I felt I had to be. But I gave up on being anything like the usual type of scholar in 2002 when I was screwed out of a tenure-track job, and I haven't tried publishing anything in a peer-reviewed philosophy journal since then, either. I like to think this was in part a matter of principle, since so much of academic philosophical writing does nothing for anyone but the authors themselves. Not having a real academic career, I told myself, I don't have to make any Faustian bargains with the academic world.

It's hard, too, to face the fact that I need to be more visible in that world, in case I suddenly find I need to scramble for a job - a job I know I'm an increasingly poor candidate for as 1996 fades away in the distance. Ph.D. degrees have freshness dates.

As usual, or a little more than usual, another major obstacle to getting started is that I can't settle on a font.