obviously, from the posts nearby, i am in a hyper-intense process of actually experiencing my whole life, which can seem way too dangerous while it's happening. you might not think so, but i am also doing this from a place of happiness and peace: first time in my life. it has been hard up here in my head, whatever it may have looked like on a given day. one thing i've realized. i actually do want out of academia, whether i get disciplined over that post etc or not. it has never given me damn thing except continuous restrictions, tests where i really had to bow and scrape and beg and falsify myself, myriad meaningless hoops that have distracted me from learning and writing, loving and living, a thousand times where i smiled and pretended to agree with things that i had already decisively refuted, that were entirely incompatible with my belief system. i could do the whole story, but just, you know, look me up on amazon or in the philosophers' index and then realize that my career has ended me as an associate professor at a small liberal arts college.
i don't need these fuckers to write. in fact, i need to get rid of these fuckers if i'm going to write at my best. there is no reason that a convenience-store clerk with my background shouldn't publish a new system of philosophy. that would certainly, certainly, obviously, be a more credible system than one produced by an associate professor. not that i'm quitting monday of course: still a chickenshit at heart! trying to see what other plans might be out there. to philosophy professors (i've got some nice exceptions, but i'm going to skip them): fuck all y'all, you fucking mediocrities.
no one ever took my political positions seriously, even if i literally proved them decisively over and over. all they knew: you disagree with us. you must be a republican=incomprehensible monster=fascist. you are a threat to our completely irrational consensus. we will have to confront that about ourselves unless we can open up your job to a national search, hire someone else, and put them in your office for the year we'll let you linger.
i tried to make it part of my little act: oh i just disagree with everyone because that's what i do. it's pathological! no, son, it's because i started trying to read everything and think this through seriously and responsibly when i was twelve. i knew what i thought about a lot of stuff, and i had my basic orientation, by the time i went to grad school. i fully expected many people to agree with me about many things, or to be able to persuade some, or to be persuaded. none of that ever happened whatsoever. the only question was: what is the most powerful group, so we can conform to its opinions? the most powerful group was definitely never me.
i'm serious about this: this is what the profession you have made is like: there can immense, career-defining social pressure on you to accept a particular theory of truth. never mind whether it's obviously wrong. or take this approach: i've got my own theory of truth! then you are incomprehensible and subject to universal ostracism. is that, on reflection, where you want this thing that plato started or whatever to fetch up? too late, it has. disband.
i swear to god i would just sit here and type in a list of names. but even now maybe i'm not really wanting to look at every detail. and reallly, only nixons or clintons make actual enemies' lists. sadly, my enemies coincide with my friends, mentors, and so on. that would not be your ideal professional context. i bet a good convenience store is pretty pleasant! the staff is struggling, but maybe the smiles, when they come, are honest smiles.
i resisted, but then i didn't really have a career. that's why. but i did also compromise every time in ways that felt, every time, like terrible self-betrayals. looking back on it, academia never gave me anything but torture, but of course i could have hopped off at any time; it was me groveling. i came to despise myself in the process, even as i desperately hung on. amazing how your kids' health insurance or tuition can compromise your whole life. not blaming them though; the choice to stick through the ridiculous pc abuse and so on was mine. so, now i am contemplating other possibilities. been a long time since i tried anything else. but this academic thing has been for me nothing but isolating, meaningless psychic destruction. they tried to destroy me intellectually too, hour by hour for decades since i arrived. i am really extremely proud that i held on to that part. those are pretty honest, voicey books. that's why you can't read them, little bitch.
i arrived at tenure in my mid-fifties, and despised myself for needing it even then. you would not believe how hard i want to not need anything from you. but actually, i didn't need that at all; i was under some delusion. i came right up on the edge of not having a job next year several times. it was like a miracle that something came through in june or whatever. hard to tell the miracles of god from the miracles of satan sometimes. those were moments when i had been completely abandoned; all i had to do was abandon you right back. it would have been easy. i do not know what i could possibly have been thinking.
i never lost a job, i believe, except because i wouldn't join a party, or i said something a feminist might construe as objectifying or something. they leave you speculating at the time, but sometimes you learn what happened. i believe i lost the job i really wanted at vanderbilt (true, true, i desperately loved nashville), because of my crazed, palpable anti-semitism. they did not give me a chance to say meet my great grandfather. on my mother's side. they missed my daughter's bat mitzvah. somewhere in the process i picked up the outlines. i hope i managed to convey that i was jewish. then it was sort of: we learn to hate ourselves in our oppression; sometimes jews are the biggest anti-semites! not talking about you, of course...but they did hear one of the counter-examples i used in my job talk, and were retraumatized from the holocaust. that's 1992, y'all. much worse now. the next month, the same paper appeared in the journal of philosophy. the first version was written for a graduate epistemology seminar. prof thought it was amusing, gave it a B+. the next semester i was in the chair's office begging for an extension of my assistanceship. i see what i'm doing wrong! i'll do better! then i just went on trying to work my voice or opinions into something that could possibly get me out of here. i borrowed 60k, to live with a young family. i have been paying monthly since 1990. i owe 27. then when i went to get a mortgage in 2012...
i wrote three completely separate book-length manuscripts under rorty. it took awhile, though i am the fastest, easiest writer you ever saw. [overall comment on my first draft (i've got em all with his comments of course): notably well written. that was definitely the high point, though he was generous and fast getting stuff back with elaborate comments, ( he did it on the plane as he went to debate his old buddy, jurgen haberas; right when i knew him he was at his most meteoric rise), and always like a deeply sweet man. he was a pretty damn good writer for a philosopher (egads i have spent my whole life reading literally some of the worst writing our species has every produced, both the classics and, most excruciatingly, the average release from oxford. then you get to the end and it does not amount to a hill of beans.) anyway, that was enough to keep me going through the next draft; i might have cared more about that than anything.]
let's say he brought more critical acuity to attacks on than to defenses of him. although most of the attacks were in fact silly, or just rage or 'you said the wrong thing'. swear to god he loved them; he was working on contingency, irony, solidarity when i was working with him. one day in the middle of lunch the phone rang and he said 'hold on a second', then he launched into an elaborate description of the project and a lovely assessment of where his work was at and how wildly it was changing, and how he was so far beyond mirror of nature, ready to kill the world. i did not know what he was actually working on at the time. it took me literally 15 minutes to spin out that it was richard bernstein. ok, not a lot of grad students get that experience! then he's off and i started arguing with him about this 'literary turn' nonsense. he did not respond to my attacks except to give me the in-process bibliography. i read it all. i can't find that one! i must have chucked it when i was done.
one thing he did: read aloud a couple of the most vicious criticisms of himself, which were on his desk, as he and bernstein cackled.
the first paper i really published, a couple of years before the degree, was an attack on arthur danto in the journal of asethetics and art criticism. he wrote me back an amazing hand-written letter, which i also don't have, patiently explaining how i had misinterpreted him, and also seriously working some of the points. then he asked if i ever came to new york. imagine this now! when i saw him, i pressed my case. i still think he was obviously wrong, or just straight wacky. that's how we connected. wait am i absolutely sure i don't have it? i had misinterpreted him in important ways, as it turned out over the years, and he withdrew a number of overbold or unsupportable formulations in the face of my years-long critique. both of us came out believing fundamentally what we believed going in. also, we came out friends. every time i asked him for a blurb or a letter i hesitated, sometimes i just left him out. i didn't want him to think i had been working him. i hadn't been.
when danto died, i had this unbecoming thought, which i shared with everyone but philosophy professors: well, now there is no doubt who is the best writer among philosophy professors. maybe i doubted that '95, but it was so danto; it took me awhile to read it all. honestly, he told me exactly that after i effusively praised his writings all the time, but i couldn't quite tell if he was serious. he was a generous man, had many friends, allies, proteges, etc at any given moment. damn that kept me for some years, though, either way. when randy auxier (right i will introduce a couple of allies) came to me for a piece in the library of living philosophers, he wanted a paper about sex. thought i'd be perfect. i just sent him an essay on danto the writer. i'd poured it out to danto years ago over dinner, but i'm better if you let me edit for a few minutes.
anyway, lord the rort had some critical acuity when he wasn't just shrugging at an auditorium full of people. he kicked my ass all day every day for what? like six years. in doing that, he showed me exactly what the highest level really was, what you had to know to toss off apparently casual provocations, how much machinery was underneath his performance art. i had been reading harder than anyone i ever knew since i started. i didn't hardly see how knowing what he knew was even possible. but i knew it would take me a long time. he actually hated academic philosophy. ('yo dick, i found something we agree on! carnap was totally wrong!' a: 'yup and he was kind of seeing that partly when i studied with him.' heavens!) i have never even told some of these stories, because at meetings people only wanted to confront me about rorty and how stupid he was. then they didn't hear it when i said: stupid? whatever, dude. definitely wrong though. ok you can be in our group! but you make no sense. yes i do, man, i am a disciple of richard rorty.
my best friend was a junior prof, and on my committee (well, i was 30). rorty: 'if we don't let this one go, he'll just write another.' that, i am told, was more or less the entirety of the meeting after my defense. and that assessment, i'm also told, was reflected in his letter for me, long since abandoned on the road by pointed advice, never seen. i never wanted to publish anything from my dissertation or see it again. i swore i would, if nothing else, write the way i wanted for the rest of my life. i have come pretty close. but i have paid a hideous price. i thought he'd kind of despise the followers who were trying to get him on their committee. but i thought i was emulating him: bold provocateur, bad boy of philosophy. i thought he'd see himself in me as soon as i started disagreeing with him; just the right person to carry on. but at least i did really disagree with him: each iteration was an attempt to subtilize, deepen, make irrefutable the critique. all indirectly, of course. i didn't mention him except in the effusive acknowledgements. i did try to destroy some of his heroes - gadamer, for instance - on aesthetic matters: the image, representation, realism in the visual arts. i was not ready to do that with any effectiveness.
while i am doing that, hans-georg gadamer puts in a surprise appearance in rorty's seminar. we watched as rorty and gadamer sparred with absolute pleasure over rorty's interpretation of gadamer. it started 'dick! sounds great! makes sense! you've got me completely wrong!' rorty laughed until i thought he'd cry, maybe a high point of his life, come to think of it.
now i am richard rorty. man you definitely don't know what that takes. and you definitely don't know what that takes when you're working at six different schools with no sabbaticals, not a single person who agrees with you about anything, and no support or social back-up at all. i hit it between 52 and 54, while in the middle of the most absurd meaningless academic nightmare of my career, during which i got tenure somehow. big new theories of all sorts of things were falling into my hands like plums from the tree i'd planted. it'll all be in entanglements, but i'm afraid i set this off just as the contract is set to be executed. it was an excruciating period, and an ecstatic one, the first attributable only to you, the second only to me. i don't care whether you read it. anyway, he's dead; it was oedipal; ok we heard a grad student say that! rorty punched me in the ribs. who cares? well i still do. i knew i could get where i am now as a philosopher if i never stopped writing, reading, working. (i am actually not a particularly fast reader.)
i thought he'd be delighted by my disagreement. he was, intermittently; we ended up having the best philosophical debates i ever had, through seminars, convention appearances, dozens of one-on-one hours. one thing he did clearly let me know: i was no robert brandom. my first vague hint was sitting at the big meeting with the pile of paper = second dissertation. he looked up at me with his oddly shy smile and said 'well, you're no robert brandom.' ok just going to admit it, i've been reading robert brandom enviously ever since. i think i've never footnoted him? vengeance is mine! i'll give him that. but who is an rb? and rorty one way or another taught me an incredible amount. you might not know this but he was incredibly learned. how many times are you going to make me say it? in so many things. i was not going to win the argument when i was 25! and boy he killed that continental-analytic thing completely. i thought he'd also admire my wide-openness. i was really seriously trying to read everything as i worked on drafts, so i could kick his ass next time. i found all sorts of stuff to love on both sides. i'll always be incredibly grateful to richard rorty for myriad dimensions of my development, in other words. i think he was wrong about everything.
if you read my books with that in mind, you'll see that i probably turned that corner in end of story. it was really quickly written and kind of disintegrated at the end. but i definitely wasn't worried about actually refuting the view after that. or macyntire's, or ricouer's. they were, i thought, baldly false views, not seriously entertainable ( i had been killing them in my head for years; i wasn't really going to try the full 400 pager. no one was listening anyway.)
oh heavens i remember a number of good-natured but devastating arguments with macintyre over the years. gonna say i found the whole thing repulsive, and the writing is wretched, alright? he might have been the only one i actually knew who knew more than rorty or danto. i ambushed him at an apa. i had been teaching confucius in asian phil for undergrads. i had never heard him write about anything in that vicinity, plus i thought multi-culturalism was an objection to his position. dude he started drawing ideograms on napkins, explaining why lau's translation was faulty. he read chinese fluently!?
since dick's death there has been a reassesment of the man who came to be called both the best-known philosopher of the late twentieth century, and the person i fucking never heard anything positive said about until the tribute at the apa. but man, i will not hear reverence either. that is a deep betrayal. i have never heard anyone say anything positive about rorty (or not till whenever that was); i have never known how to talk to people like you about him or my relation to him. i told my non-philosophical romantic partners or whatever. you didn't even want to know. there was no way i could talk about him honestly and make sense to you. but i have sat through three-hour banquets where people were ranting about how wrong he had dewey. the next morning, it's at the coffee table. how did i just not run or attack? after that gadamer thing, how do you take that? what if the senior person in what you take to be your field (mcdermott, to be precise) does that specifically in your face for years because...you were a student or rorty's? what is the response? all those years i tried a knowing smile. it was like i didn't even know rorty. and then i forgot some of these stories or repressed them because survival.
so say you were listening to people spit the worst sort of bile at your mentor/greatest enemy, and the most they got to was the first couple of things that had occurred to you that were too lame to even try on him? right on, brother? or do you expect me to sit here and engage in a defense? i have actually been caught in the vice at damn near every conference i have gone to since 1984 or whatever it was.
lord i'd love to sign off adios, see ya in the afterlife. dude there are five anarchist profs in the world or something. they kicked my out because i wasn't sufficiently bakuninist. well, even anarchist profs came through grad school; that's just what this thing is, soup to nuts. little cults, mindless social pressures brought to bear on your hyper-general theory of truth, are you continental or analytic: utterly meaningless claptrap that never helped anyone think about anything, but which many people have allowed to render them unfit to think at all. no one ever read my books because they were slightly unconventional, or because i was just obviously not the right sort of person. true. i am just obviously not the right sort of person. i see that clearly now.
i have been a professor of communications, political science, 'humanities,' 'art and art history.' not because i wanted to migrate disciplines, but because no philosophy department wanted me whatsoever. what in the world did i do it all for so desperately? good heavens, man!
i have loved and been close to many of my students. but undergraduates now are measurably, pollably, more totalitarian every week. if it doesn't happen next week it'll happen soon. boycotts of my classes, racial harassment charges, someone lobbing a bladder of pig's blood at my head (which, admittedly, i'd regard as an accomplishment). i'd like to stay and fight. but not against teenagers, you know? e.g. the editor of the school newspaper recently argued that 'make dickinson great again' on t-shirts (which she never even plainly asserted actually existed) was hate speech in virtue of its resemblance to a trump hat, and of course there is no place for hate speech on our ohsosafe campus. sorry, wrong planet!
there was never any place for me in academia; i knew that two weeks after i got to grad school. it's been ridiculous ever since. i kept thinking i had to find a niche, some support. every time i had a group, they extruded me because of what i regarded as a trivial or fun disagreement. every time i had a mentor, they straight ditched me because i disagreed with dewey's philosophy of history or something. you are not in any way truth-seekers, just peer pressurers and status seekers. you can dismiss me this way and that, but you have got to admit that i know your world as well as anyone. i certainly know what it is better than you do. anyway, that's how this got so entirely thoroughly false and boring.
you know, i sat in an american society for aesthetics session and literally listened to someone, jim carney, read back a paper i wrote and sent him a couple of months before. i just talked to him outside; he purported to have a neurological disorder. you know when something like that happens, it strikes you that if you just happened to hear that there might be others. never tried to check. here's what i told myself: i've got plenty to go around, and i am opposed to intellectual property (although definitely not opposed to crediting your sources, particularly if one of those sources is the author of your paper). i think i actually emailed semi-politely with carney after that. after a couple he asked me what i was working on, would i send it along? he promised, not this time! neurological disorder!
alexander nehamas was also a friend of danto's. our books on beauty have the same epigraph, i'm assuming he gave it to us both. nehamas writes to revive a more erotic, desire-based conception of beauty, just precisely what i had done for routledge 5 years before, without the elitist obfuscation and excruciating taste. also infinitely less pretentiously and more beautifully. i found this out the hard way when i ordered the thing sight unseen (i think on danto's recommendation) for my beauty course. oh yeah we both published books titled the art of living. let me see if i get this right? mine was 1993 from suny after going through several publishers. his was 2000 from harvard (oops i checked it: california, as low as alexander nehamas ever sank on the publishing pecking order), ecstatically received. let me see, what is his academic position? he does read greek, though. i had concluded long before his book appeared that 'the art of living' was a lame title, so go for it, man. go try to find a single review of mine, though. wrong publisher? definitely, but thank the good lord for suny press. in mine, i actually gave a new theory of art. now it needed some refinements, but it got the spirit of what art is.
oh yes, just for the hell of it, i invented the swamping problem - which, i'm told, is one of the major problems of contemporary epistemology and also a decisive refutation of reliabilism - in cargile's epistemology seminar in 1987. the first thing i did with it was refute reliabilism. i think that one's in a box under my house. B+ dude. are you beginning to get the picture? i couldn't get the book in which i did that, which would have been my first book, published, put it on amazon decades later. at publisher after publisher they sent it to the people who had already laughingly, with such bad arguments, slapped me down. right. william lycan. that's when i quit epistemology. i tried to catch up a bit. i think the swamping problem revolutionized epistemology when linda zagzebski invented it in the late nineties. i am in the footnotes. very same paper. but not in the swamping bit.
by that time, i guess, i was so dead in academic philosophy that people just felt free. well, nature needs carrion feeders, too. i comfort myself with the fact that i am a much better writer than nehamas or zagzebski, which admittedly is like saying you're taller than marco rubio. not carney, though. we are equals. what happens when in an exploratory way you email alexander nehamas or linda zagzebski, both saying and not saying you are biting me. we should connect! our work is so similar! we work on the same issues! well, i'm not sure exactly what happens; i only know you will never get a reply.
it's amazing to me how the discussion of race keeps (to my ear) presupposing my early work on whiteness. but i think we're still a couple of years from realistic plagiarism, the point where people will be able to get it. i have admired george yancy's work, quoted it many times, contributed to his anthologies. i thought 'dear white america' was important. before this blew i was trying to say just that in a tls review of the stone reader thing. they love the review! can you take out the jokes? i also don't think he gets there without me, though that is certainly racially presumptuous, and you'll have to ask him about that. and i would, sincerely, recommend that you believe what he says. anyway, here is the actual paragraph, still under consideration?
The Stone began in 2010, and already many excellent pieces have appeared in it that might have come too late to make the volume, for example George Yancy's long series of interviews with various thinkers on race, and his own "Dear White America." I hope that the thing persists long enough to produce a series of volumes, perhaps focusing on sub-disciplines or particular issues in philosophy. Such a thing might indeed by an extremely useful text for a course on ethics, or philosophy of religion, or critical race theory. Given the blog's relative popularity, that is likely.
i haven't seen a philosophy book come out of american academic philosophy in twenty years that i really just flatly thought was good. [update! i just thought of a close one. philip pettit's republicanism.] (i review philosophy books, or i used to, for times literary supplement). what counts as originality is slight adjustments or refinements of the most famous two theories or your prof's work or something. i will give you one just unbelievable example, parfit's earth-shaking, gigantical whatever it was called, the greatest advance in ethics since epictetus: he has sort of shown that teleological and deontological ethics are not quite as incompatible as you may, for all i know, have thought they were. yeah, epictetus was trying to figure out how to live. alright, we abandoned such questions in 1923. but whatever a thousand-page synthesis of sidgwick and kant might be, it is definitely not original. on the other hand, it is completely unreadable. i read it anyway, lord knows how. on the other hand, you were right. it is breathtakingly, earth-shatteringly original in the context of the academic philosophy books in english of this period. i can't actually believe anyone thought it was that great, much less original, important, etc. well, stick the right name on it and people establish their credentials by competing in their absurd hyperbolical praise. if i had written that book, it would never have been heard from at all. i would have run it through every academic press, then self-published it on amazon, and it'd be ranked 3 trillion.
goddammit, i'll throw a paragraph at mica, a place that was beloved to me before i ever got there, having lived around the corner and fantasized the whole time about teaching philosophy to art students. they don't have tenure. they brought me in with the understanding that i was permanent and there were no issues, they were lucky to get me. i gave up my tenure track job teaching journalism and media studies and advising the school paper at penn state harrisburg. this is what i'd always wanted. then i re-wrote the academic curriculum, working it through dozens of different constituency groups and finally marching it through the board of trustees. well, then you alienate everybody, including the guy who hired you, chris shipley, because you tried to pry one of his absurdly over-inflated english credits and move it to social science. ok he's literally arguing that life is a story and so literature is obviously the only humanity. it was the worst parody of rorty i ever heard.
i was on campus the day after 9:11, and i had already recorded a spot for all things considered. they were looking for someone who would express any sort of anger, could not find one among their staff or usual contributors, i gather. (maybe my timeline is too compressed here, it must have been a few days.) i had been talking to my (now-deceased) brother jim, who was an unbelievabale cynic, raconteur, and artist of the hyperbole. 'i want to fly over the middle east and see nothing but piles of smoking rubble.' i started there. you know, i too want vengeance. in fact this distinction between justice and vengeance is complete horseshit, just a way of pretending you don't want revenge, or collectivizing responsibility, effectively offloading it from everyone entirely. i had three minutes, years of argument behind it. then i said: but even if it is legitimate to take vengeance, you are morally obliged to take your vengeance only precisely on the perpetrators. no burning rubble, my brother, without osama & co inside it. only them.
next day, a senior colleague in the hall (i have repressed the name, will dig up on request). said "that was disgusting!" the next words out his mouth were 'osama is a freedom fighter!' i felt a marked cooling toward me and rallying around him after that. then for whatever evil political reason, they put my job to a national search. i did six names of beauty as the talk, just or soon-to-published. i was easily obviously exponentially the best scholar at the place. anyway, it defines beauty as 'the object of longing.' then i put up my childhood crush emma peel. then i went on to buntings and roses and the universe as a whole. a first year (lit) prof hopped up and started saying my whole thing was just (paraphrasing) coming from the dick. i seem to remember her saying isn't two millennia enough or some such undereducated nonsense.
ok then, they loved me, but they had an unprecedented opportunity to hire an unprecedented genius (in literature). she turned out to be literally insane, did not want to be in baltimore, was...sleeping in her office. and calling me (really, i am not making this up), for survival advice. maybe only lasted a year. you could have happily had me for life, y'all! this one's a little closer in time,; i don't even want to see names and pictures. i definitely thought that was the end of my career. but they gave me an extra year, moving her into my office, me to the adjuncts area. i mean, i just tried to keep a positive attitude. my last relapse coincides, but then again i was floating into the marital disaster of all times with a real drinker.
why was i ever here? how did i even survive? no idea, but just as you can enslave yourself voluntarily, maybe you can escape, gnaw off your leg and last another few minutes, but free. when i do get free, it will be my tribute to richard rorty.
i think that necro/vinnie/immortal tech song is the best hip hop song in awhile. it is a beautiful celebration of hip hop arts, some of the most vital arts of our culture and world cultures over the past - yo! - getting to be 40 years, the best art that is on offer these days, more or less. also it is important political discourse: tech's verse is unbelievable. but they are the last lingerers; there's going to be no taking hip hop back. to the american hiphopical association: hip hop is dead. stop your twitching.
i wonder whether suny would take this! it is my phenomenology of spirit. but better-written. taller than marco rubio!