The Politicization of the Universities, Driven by Careerism

The Politicization of the Universities, Driven by Careerism. By William Deresiewicz.

Loving books is not why people are supposed to become English professors, and it hasn’t been for a long time. Loving books is scoffed at (or would be, if anybody ever copped to it).

The whole concept of literature — still more, of art — has been discredited. Novels, poems, stories, plays: these are “texts,” no different in kind from other texts. The purpose of studying them is not to appreciate or understand them; it is to “interrogate” them for their ideological investments (in patriarchy, in white supremacy, in Western imperialism and ethnocentrism), and then to unmask and debunk them, to drain them of their poisonous persuasive power.

The passions that are meant to draw people to the profession of literary study, these last many years, are not aesthetic; they are political. …

Graduate school prepares you for the politics:

The first week of my first seminar — it was a “proseminar,” designed specifically for entering students — the professor said this: “The most important thing for a first-year graduate student to do is to figure out where they stand ideologically.

“I know where I stand ideologically!” the young man next to me burst out. “I am a marxist with a small m.” He was pounced upon by two or three of the women. “But Marxism has nothing to say about feminist issues!” one of them said. “That is why I am a marxist with a small m!” he replied. The professor smiled benignly; her pupils were apt. I cowered beneath the table (metaphorically), understanding immediately that, like a dissenter in a marxist (small m or large) regime, I would need to speak my true beliefs behind closed doors, and only to those I could trust.

Gradually, over the next few years, I got the lay of the professional terrain I’d entered into. It was marked not only by a relentless animus against the works of the past (and the “dead white men” who wrote them), but by a constant effort to enlist them in contemporary battles; by an enthrallment with jargon, a commitment to verbal opacity, and a suspicion of clear, conversational prose; by intellectual dishonesty and flabbiness and sloppiness, all implicitly excused by the alleged rightness of the cause; by an adolescent sense of moral superiority; by a pervasive atmosphere of ideological surveillance.

Careers uber alles:

But what disgusted me the most was not the intellectual corruption. It was the careerism. It was the sense that all of this — all the posturing, all the position-taking — was nothing more than a professional game. The goal was advancement, not truth. The worst mistake was to think for yourself. People said things that they obviously didn’t believe, or wouldn’t have believed if they had bothered to subject them to the test of their own experience — that language is incapable of making meaning, that the self is a construct—but that the climate forced them to avow. …

Oh, the conferences. You fly across the country to sit in airless ballrooms, scented with the odor of professional futility, listening to airless talks. You shuffle from panel to panel, with your name tag and your conference folder and your shoulder bag, like a middle manager at a sales convention. You give your presentation — your tiny little contribution — only to have it picked and poked at in the Q&A. (One interlocutor, whom I’d never met before, began her question by announcing that she was going to “torture Bill.”) That is, when anybody’s even there to pay attention. I went to a single conference in graduate school, where my panel was attended by five people, two of whom walked out before I gave my talk because they’d only come to hear their friend’s. …

The problem with spending time with students, or on students, or writing book reviews or essays, is that none of those activities do anything for you professionally. Academics are rewarded for one thing and one thing only: research. Scholarly publication. Nothing else counts; anything else is a step toward professional suicide.

Such is the training of the ruling class in the methods of control and propaganda. They are taught to jeer at truth and people who don’t get postmodernism. They know nothing about physical or economic reality, only power and manipulation of people to get ahead. Successful at gaining power, but complete idiots at exercising that power wisely.