Only got ten minutes to save the world...

Between the new baby and the Ph.D., this grad student only has ten minutes a day to philosophize culture. Bear with me as I tell you how to think...

all within a ten-minute writing limit.



The Activist Academic and the Problem of the Circle Jerk.

If you're an academic, you've heard it from the haters: lovers, perhaps mothers, friends, in good will or in attack will ask, "So what exactly do you add to the world?" (or to "society," or "culture," or any other vague but heavy-sounding abstraction)....

Once, a boyfriend--a person with whom I was incompatible in every important way, but a boyfriend nonetheless--said to me, in an argument, "I make things. What do you make?"

 My grad student friends and I talk about how sick we are of defending our work. How we work all the time but no one believes us. How what we do is important.

But we also joke, and worry, and wonder why and how the Hell we got into this and what the Hell we're gonna do now. We've wondered it ourselves: Just what do academics do? What do they make?

And probably more importantly, Why do academics have to make something?

And probably even more importantly--will I ever be able to get a job? 

But I digress.

The stereotype exists both within and without the academy--grad students, professors, lecturers, writers, people who think and talk about theories and abstractions a lot of the time--are participating in merely a self-perpetuation: the continuation of the academy, reproduction in the form of protegees and mentees, of a relatively small group of people, complete with their own jargon, speaking through journals of little fame as they compete with and congratulate each other in a circle jerk of intellectual masturbation. But none of this reading, writing, thinking hard at night, matters, does it? None of it matters if it doesn't somehow make a difference.

If academics only talk to each other, then what's the point?

 Or: What has Foucault done for you?

I believe they do something; really I do. But I've been trying to figure out the nature of that something they're doing, of that something I hope to be doing--and the furthest I've gotten is this:

Another stereotype: academics and activists have a contentious relationship. It's complicated, but basically it's something like, academics think activists are dummies and activists think academics are ineffectual.

And while this stereotype plays out in real life sometimes, like all stereotypes must, as an academic, when I wonder, How do I make myself matter--not in esoteric language among a small group of people who are, like myself, privileged in more ways that is in any way fair, as we discuss, usually, people who are less "privileged" than ourselves as we try to change the world--how do I make myself matter in a way that will actually not only theoretically "figure out" the problems I care so much about figuring out in discourse, but out in the world with my friends and pals who, like most people, don't read much literary theory and have never clicked through JSTOR on a beautiful Saturday night? In short, how does the academic become an activist?Is this academic an activist?

Perhaps the solution resides in the cross-over the dialogue between the supposedly contentious camps. Any group of theoretical experts have activists among them. And any group of activists possesses theory and experts. They inform one another: the academics muse upon and develop theoretical plans-of-action for the activists and those that populate the situations activists attempt to improve, while the activists practice execute these plans, often with their own twists, out there in that damned mysterious "real world" among those damned mysterious "real people." A sort of trickle-down intellectualism. Sounds sinister, somehow.

<minute ten.>


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