At dinner the other day, KK told the story of his recent meeting with a ‘community copper’ on a bicycle who accosted him walking along the street. KK was wearing a beard and a back-pack, and the accusation was “you’e looking a bit serious, lad”. He was in fact thinking of buying fireworks, it being Diwali in England, so perhaps… but no, I think it indicates that everyday life is so much worse than the days when the standard bobby rap of “ere ere ere wots all this then?” would just make us laugh. Times have changed.
And then a former student, now a journalist in Russia, wrote to ask a few questions:
I want to know what you think it’s like working as a lecturer, in terms of motivation, work load, environment and general job satisfaction? Also, I was wondering if you thought there were any qualities that are desirable for people who want to pursue an academic vocation?…
I guess part of me feels a lot of academic research tends to be a bit removed from what’s actually going on now and this may sound a little stupid, but I’m not really sure why or for whom it’s done. But at the same time I’m constantly infuriated at the lack of time for reflexivity in my current job where everything has to be new and glossy so you often seem to churn out the same old bullshit… it would be great if you could give me some idea about what your job’s like and maybe some reasons why people do research in Cultural Studies?
Z, you are asking absolutely the right questions but its almost impossible to reply in anything less than 10,000 words.
I like Gayatri Spivak‘s take on what she does – she sees her teaching as an effort of working to try and change minds – or maybe better said, as Spivak also does (most recently in Naked Punch), as persistent teaching to try to rearrange desires. The first desire that needs rearranging from where I am is the special privilege well-meaning westerners have in desiring to ‘help’ people by intervening in their lives in ways that perhaps do not help so much at all – everyone from Madonna with child to backpackers doing charity work in Calcutta seems to be on a mission… and sometimes (too often) this includes bombing them to ‘help’ them onto the path of democracy. Well that’s a sure fire good example to convince people of the wisdom of our ways…
Does cultural studies help with that? – usually not. But trying to learn to think differently, to think, to think critically, about everything, is the basis of my approach to what I do as well. Or at least as often as I get a chance – in between bullshit production, (blogging; the publication machine) and routinised desk work. Teaching a Marx course that does not look for ‘the answer’ in Marx is a key part of my effort, and I am motivated by, and do enjoy, doing that. Old Beardo says there must be a ruthless critique of everything. This would have to include a critique of teaching too. I mean, how many minds are really changed? There are a lot of people in my class, they seem very enthused, we proceed apace. Yet the Democrats are the alternative to the Republicans in the US and the Tories here in the UK are back on the Immigration warpath. Chavez is only in Venezuela.
And then there is the whole thing about how the university system is a major impediment to any sort of critical intelligence, even as it is perhaps its last refuge. More and more mad administration forms; repetitions of bureaucratic procedure that make triplicate look like the good old days; vocationalisation that turns everything into a line on a CV, a phrase in a job reference, or a network meeting (rather than an exchange of ideas). The privatisation of education is well well well underway. Critical thinking is an endangered species, hidden amidst the overgrowth of accountancy. There is plenty I would like to do, and I write often along those lines in mad experiments which – probably for the better – never seem to work out (see here). But the effort is not unrewarding. I just wish there was some chance to say, sometimes, that things will get better than this. Every now and then it does seems possible – running down the street with a red flag at the head of a 2,000 strong demonstration; celebrating with friends the interventions and minor victories against the horror of mugwump corporate culture (see DisOrient X) … in between there are inspirational talks like that of Michael Taussig’s one on Colour and Terror here last tuesday.
Trouble is that there is never enough time, even to answer let alone ask all the questions (or verse vicer), and I do have to get to the pub, and to get ready for a visit to Sweden to give a talk on the great new Fun^da^mental video, which you can see here.
All good, be well. J.