Friday, April 02, 2010

Sunday (Am I Really) Radical Roundup: The Resurrection And The Life Edition

Continuing Concerns About My Politics Department: Click here for more concerns about whether I am really radical or not, discovered when I was Googling the Marc Bousquet reference cited in the previous post. It bears repeating occasionally that the Tenured Radical thing is meant to be understood in an ironic, oxymoronic, culture-warsy kind of context. But why waste an opportunity to talk about myself at length? Particularly on the Day that Our Lord rose from the dead, proved that there is hope for all of us, and encouraged the creation of the first, rudimentary group blog (currently also available as an iPhone App)?



It is my view that being a radical academic is a tricky, and perhaps impossible, proposition. Academics are inevitably hewing to one kind of convention or another, even when we are in resistance to -- well, whatever. Hence, one is always stumbling over one's own hypocrisies as a "radical academic." Case in point: it is well-known that I abhor the effects of tenure, its filthy rules, and its tendency to make young intellectuals not more daring, but more conventional and in-groupy. I would like to see tenure abolished. Conversely, I participate in tenure cases, perform the due-est diligence I can, and have been known to run them. It is how we academics construct our workplace, I like to see people get a fair shake when I can, and it seems perverse (not in a nice way) to throw people I like to the dogs because of my own silly rules.

Not so radical is it? So many compromises, so little time.

A more serious example of the difficulties inherent to academic radicalism is attached to what we produce: written words, in combinations intended to be legible to others. Academics are all engaging in literary arts of various kinds. If you don't adhere to some kind of recognizable genre, no one understand what the frack you are talking about or who you are talking to, and you have no audience. Occasionally someone does something startlingly new that shifts genre and/or convention, but it is rarer than you might think.

Here I would cite as my example of the forms of "virtuous convention" that counteract radical intent the queer intellectuals at Bully Bloggers (where you can read an excellent post by Columbia Law Prof Katherine Franke raising questions about the efforts by pro-gay marriage funders to force funding disclosures on the opposition.) I make an example of them because these folks (with whom I am acquainted) are as radically queer as they come: smart, successful, fun and everything good. Furthermore, several have contributed an idea or two that is so startling new that it has leaked out of queer studies to alter other fields entirely.

This is what radical knowledge is supposed to do. That said, queer studies has developed its own conventions over time: it adheres to unwritten rules of style, language, subject matter and argument, even as it often improves on these conventions. It is, as we say, now a field.

You might argue that what then allows queer studies to still claim radical ground is its refusal of normative cultural and political paradigms, and you would be right. But to come back to convention: is refusal, in and of itself, not itself a convention? Is refusal enough to persuade us that the phrase "radical scholarship" is not an oxymoron when queer studies is simultaneously creating disciplinary paradigms of its own inside the academy? Refusal, as Dick Hebdige put it so well, always "ends in the construction of a style, in a gesture of defiance or contempt, in a smile or a sneer." These "signals [of] Refusal" are "worth making...even if, in the final analysis, they are...just the darker side of sets of regulations, just so much graffitti on a prison wall.(Subculture: The Meaning of Style, 1979; p. 3).

More About Me Department: The title is not mine, and I didn't do the drawing, but you can read an op-ed by yours truly on intimate partner violence in today's Hartford Courant. You can see me in person as a panelist, April 27, at a Key Issues Forum to be held at Zenith University, "The Person You Think You Know; Signs and Solutions of Campus Violence." I am there to provide historical context, as you may have suspected.

Historiann Would Have Rocked Sterling Cooper: I don't know whether it is more fun to watch Mad Men or to read Historiann's critique of Mad Men. We are not going to tell her that there are some big unexpected changes in the last disc -- but it doesn't change her right-on analysis of the lumbering plot and almost antiquarian take on gender, sexuality and race in the 1960s.

I confess, part of the pleasure I get from the show is utterly pornographic. I thrill to Salvatore Romano's closet, as I recall dashing in and out of my own in the 1970s; I want to be Roger Sterling -- and now empathize strongly with his error in judgement in ditching his wife for a much younger, more expensive ball and chain; and I stood up and cheered when Betty Draper, in the last episode, when she -- oops! Almost told.

Have fun Historiann, and for crying out loud, get a better cable package so we can do this in real time this summer!

7 comments:

Historiann said...

I want to be Roger Sterling too! (Is that wrong? I mean, the minstrel scene was seriously creepy.) Otherwise, I love Roger and the actor John Slattery who plays him.

I can see why the women's bodies felt wrong to you in the Mad Men-ize yourself game, but I'd like to point out that you're much cuter in RL (although of course still boyish!) Thanks for the link.

Acilius said...

Thanks for the link, Claire!

I feel constrained to point out that when I captioned "Tenured Radical" as "doesn't seem particularly radical to me, but whatever," I wasn't expressing a very weighty concern. I think you're too good to need a label to validate what you do.

Furthermore, I do remember that book. It was part of a movement that spoiled some interesting New Left/ Old Right conversations I was involved in back in the 90s. So I replaced the "doesn't seem radical" tag with "Tenured Radical, who takes pains to ensure that everyone recognizes the title of her first-rate blog as a reference to a second-rate book."

Sophie said...

Dear Tenured Radical, I have been reading your blog for about a year now and haven't ever really needed to leave comments before, but I thoroughly enjoy reading it! I do want to tell you that you give me hope for my own future in academia, despite the hypocrisies you've noticed. I feel like I agree with all if not most of your thoughts about academia and how it is run. I am a young recent graduate with a B.A. (History and Humanities). I had the most fulfilling experience in my undergrad. I could have pursued a masters earlier than now and I still can, but something in me really despises the system of academia as it is right now. I suppose the constant pressure by advisers to apply to ten schools immediately is a huge turn off. Not because of the work and effort it would take (not to say the hassle it can be for my wonderful references), but because I hate selling myself. I want a mentor as special as the one I was lucky to have as an undergrad. I want a program that fits me like a glove. I want to be a historian someday (in a naive sort of way), but right now I feel like there is hardly any wiggle room to explore my eccentric interests and find my own place in academia if I were to pursue a career at such a young age. I guess what I'm wondering, now that I just spewed an icky amount of personal dialogue out on the internet for all to see, what would you recommend for someone like me? I am passionate about my studies and would love teaching, researching, and the work load. Yet, I hate the pressure to hurry through graduate school, a top tier graduate school, land a job, and for what? To be unhappy with the way things are run at the university level when I finally get where I want to be? I'd appreciate any of your insights and advice. Please be honest!- Sophie

Tenured Radical said...

HIstoriann: Thanks for the props -- yes, there were simply no options for me on the women's side of things (which I remember from the early 1960s too.) But the hair, nose, and even the glasses are wrong. By the way, the JWH is pleased.

Acilius: No offense taken -- I have been mulling this for a while, and your post helped me pull it together. The conservatives who comment here (and at least one of my senior colleagues) *do* think I'm radical, which is cute, given my home-owning, pension- constributing, tenure-voting, salary level-ing ways.

Sophie: This is a longer conversation *but*: you are correct to wait. Sounds like you are a Harvard person with the history and lit degree, and if so -- or if you are in another major city -- get a job, either in an archive, a museum, teaching history, a publisher or literary agency, as a researcher in a law firm -- anything to give you time to read, think, and acquire the self confidence you will need to do exactly what you want in graduate school and be the scholar you want to be. One of the most fabulous grad students I have ever known (that's you, Robin) managed to live a big chunk of life before going back for the Ph.D. and it shows. And btw? The best grad schools prefer that you stay out a while; Yale brings people in in their mid-thirties, and they do very well.

Historiann said...

Thanks, TR. Interesting thoughts on what "radical" signifies, and how it means different things to different audiences. I'm much, much less radical (being a married heterosexualist and all) than you are--and a very conservative person in my personal life in other ways too. And yet, even women like me get read as dangerous in my work environment! Part of me likes that--yes, my pretties, you SHOULD fear me!--but for the most part I have to just roll my eyes in disbelief. If I'm "radical," that's a mark of just how narrow and impoverished our imagination is for the range of political and personal identites.

And, now--I've got to go get dressed in my double-strand of pearls and my Betty Draper dress!

Sophie said...

Thanks for the honest advice! I feel much better waiting, despite the pressure I am under, because I have confidence will be more fullfilled (rather than past my prime shelf life). I want to wait out the recent rush to grad schools because of the economy too. I appreciate your response. I'm just going to have to stick to my gut feeling and live my life. Love the blog! So many students forget their professors have minds, opinions, and senses of humor like any other humans. I love to hear your perspective, thanks!

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