25 March, 2012

Oh, Academia


These two rather delightful webpages have made a bit of a splash in the UD facebook world of late. Each one, taken on its own, does more to explain why I'm not going into academia than would several hours of lecturing on the "state of higher education." Of course, these are satirical, but the oh-so-true part of it all is that a good half of half the critical articles I read over the course of my undergraduate (in particular those I read while studying Mrs. Dalloway) sounded more or less like this. That is, a good portion of the authors seemed perfectly comfortable with taking a few key words from their main argument, combining them almost randomly, and using them to fairly blatantly pad the writing. I thought we learned not to do that in high school?


Tom said...

These pages are funny! I had known of the postmodern text generator for awhile, but the random sentence writer is new to me.

This is precisely the problem with academia and one of the main reasons that I have decided to enroll in a professional school for graduate study rather than get an MA in my area of undergrad work.

I have often wondered if academics take this sort of writing seriously, or if they only had learn to parrot it themselves in order to advance their careers. It's so very boring, too! I can't see how anyone could have such an interest in analyses of power, which is really all they want to hear.

In my youth, I used to carry around an anthology of the British Romantic Poets. They moved me in a deep and passionate way, and it offered me what was probably my first sense of true aesthetic joy (although I have since modified my views on them, and Romanticism in general). What I can't see is someone really feeling a passion for Marxism, post-colonial theory, feminism, postmodernism and the like in a way similar to how I felt drawn to Keats or Byron.

Why do they prefer yammering about "subalterns" or the stifled voices of women writers to the myriad of utterly beautiful literature?

Therese said...

I certainly wonder myself whether it's taken seriously. If an undergrad can see through it, one would assume the average professor can. Of course, a self-interested preoccupation with the "topical" concern on which one has based a career may make one a little myopic, I imagine. The fact that these papers get published is also less-than-heartening, although I can imagine that one of the reasons the publishers themselves accept them is the knowledge that anyone's career advancement, as you say, including their own, depends on this sort of writing to a degree (no pun intended).

Therese said...

I also think that beauty in literature is currently considered far too "subjective" to be a valid point of discussion. And as far as "truth" is concerned...well, don't even bring up truth, because "truth" is fascist.

I can see some validity in the above complaints, but contemporary academia certainly tends to take them too far.

Tom said...

One problem with the notions of subjectivity is just how the academy approaches it. They are obviously motivated by hatred and a desire to "discredit" or at least disparage almost everything that European/Christian society has produced up until not long ago. This puts them in a unique category; they can't be classified as just any old school of thought. Even beyond the fact that they, unlike most schools of aesthetic thought/criticism, have a clear political and social vision, this vision wants to do away the culture that has come before. This culture is not something valuable in an organic way, or even artistic sense. At most, it is a museum of the folly and evil of our ancestors.

It would be one thing if the contemporary academics merely objected to whatever standards and posited something else; but that is only ancillary to their main perspective. People have argued and disagreed over aesthetics and the beautiful for centuries. However, this notion that the humanities are a vehicle for casting aspersions on hitherto existing culture in a thoroughgoing way is quite new.

It's a cynical game. Again, it's anyone's guess as to whether they genuinely believe their own jargon-ridden nonsense, but the effect is the same.

What puzzles me is how they come to adopt their views. One can appreciate a pastoral poem for its pleasant lyrics and vivid imagery, but one can also say it serves as propaganda to present the rural poorer classes as content with their lot. Someone can take pleasure in a painting of a pretty nude, or else they can say that the subject is being oppressed by the gaze of males who look upon it. Even if one were to say, for example's sake, that both views here are equally valid, I can't see where the aesthetic satisfaction comes from in the latter option of the two examples I offer.