Christina Crosby

Now we will take notes on Christina Crosby, “Writer’s Block, Merit, and the Market: Working in the University of Excellence,” College English 65:6 (July 2003): 626-645. Perhaps I shall cross post these notes at my seminar.

* Why do professors have trouble writing, and suffer with it?
* Because by writing they enter into a complex network of relationships that engages them in a process with a multitude of ends. These ends may interact with each other, contradict each other, and so on. An important problem is that university professors now have to conform more and more to the logic of the market.
* There is a book by Keith Hjortshoj, Understanding Writing Blocks.
* Crosby, like Hjortshoj, is interested in the effects of the logic of capital on writing. She is reconceptualizing writer’s block not in terms of work ethics, psychological problems, or in social terms, but in terms of the logic of capital.
* Like capital, writing is required to increase. And the profit motive intensifies as capitalism advances.
* But since writers are in language and engaged with other writers and texts they have an ethical obligation which is fundamentally at odds with the dictates of capital and the imperatives of the work ethic.
* Writing is an open ended, relational process which engages one with others. This creates an ethical obligation not entirely congruent with the social relations necessary to production for the market. Writing and teaching are subject to capital, but not reducible to market logic. Herein lies hope for the blocked writer in the contemporary university.
* Robert Boice tells us to use Anthony Trollope’s work ethic. But note that Romantic theories of artistic autonomy form a counterdiscourse to Trollope’s methodology.
* Trollope recommended discipline and pointed out that it made him money.
* But inhibiting blocks are not cured with discipline, and there is much bibliography on this. TAKE NOTE OF THAT … I AM APPARENTLY FAR FROM THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS SAID BOICE DOES NOT ADDRESS BLOCK.
* Crosby points out that Boice reiterates Trollope almost to the letter, although without Trollope’s judgmentalism. Both Boice and Trollope have as their organizing concept the market. The Romantic counterdiscourse rebels against this but is also imbricated in the market. (Crosby has very interesting information and bibliography on this.)
* In academia one is writing to create knowledge, not to produce as many saleable novels as possible, and we are living on salaries, not honoraria … and yet we are judged by [essentially] market criteria.
* There is a book by Bill Readings, The University in Ruins, which criticizes the contemporary “University of Excellence” (which is follows a corporate, not a traditional university model).
* In the “University of Excellence,” Readings says, teaching is the administration of information. THIS POINT IS KEY AND IT IS ELABORATED UPON ON PAGES 641-42 of Crosby’s article.
* Writing is part of teaching and part of thinking, and if we reconceptualize it this way instead of in terms of production we will free ourselves.
* She says thinking and writing are not part of [instrumental reason]. This is the problem, she suggests. She implies we should stop insisting upon that kind of practicality and rationality, in which (she does not say, but I do) inheres a dangerous tendency to meaninglessness. Instead of thinking in terms of production, she implies, we should think in terms of participation.


14 thoughts on “Christina Crosby

  1. Time to read Benjamin. Consideration of the receiver blocks creativity. And aren’t women brought up to believe that they must put the audience first?

  2. We are about to have a faculty meeting in which we will vote on the revised criteria for awarding “merit” for the purpose of determining which subset of the department will get raises and which will not. This is because the College has prohibited us from saying that everyone is doing a good job and therefore should receive a raise (which is a percentage of their base pay, hence those who are paid more get larger raises and their salaries increase more rapidly anyway). As new people are hired at “market rate” they are paid as much or more as those who have been here longer, so that even if you have been doing excellent work, your salary can only be higher than those of your newer junior colleagues if you get an outside offer, ie: compete on the open market. The result is that some people make twice and even three times as much as others, often for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the quality of their written work, their values as colleagues or teachers, or their willingness to shoulder the collective burdens of administration. As I have lived with 15 out of the last 20 years of this process also having been rigged in the most outrageous ways to benefit some and punish others, now that we have a rational set of administrators and a potentially rational process, I find that I am filled with rage because there will never be, and there has never been, an acknowledgment of the harm this has done. I stopped writing years ago and am completely unable to write anything more than a conference paper now. I have no interest in participating any more in the University of Excellence, especially as I see my particular University being Driven to Despair (TM) by the same kind of delusional leadership that has created the economic crash. OK, this is becoming a post, not a comment, but I am highly tempted to make a brief statement about this at the meeting, except that I don’t want to demoralize my as-yet untenured colleague who is a wonderful person. we are being forced to conduct all the work for a search which in all likelihood will not be permitted. We will have to beg to continue it by justifying our existence to the dean and the provost. We have been begging for years; why will they chang their minds about our value now? They can get maximum benefit (student-credit hours from language classes) with a non-tenure track workforce that is twice as large as the t-t faculy and much less expensive. Who gives a shit if we have 500 majors, 1000 minors and only 13 professors? It’s a fucking joke.

  3. I think she means participation in conversation, not the University of Excellence. The problem is that you then have to ignore the fact that you are working for the University of Excellence – right?

    The part I most dislike about the corporate university is teaching to “excellence” … I do not mind writing for the market nearly as much as teaching to corporate materials and goals. I have been given trouble about this in academia since the first day and it is why I so dislike teaching and have wanted to quit since the first week.

    Your departmental problems around ‘merit,’ salaries, and fairness are very familiar. Where we went to graduate school salaries were on the step system and it was very advanced and equitable compared to anything I have seen since.

    We have many more professors per major than you do – if I point this out to our new hire, maybe he will feel better about our understaffing.

    “I stopped writing years ago and am completely unable to write anything more than a conference paper now. I have no interest in participating any more in the University of Excellence, especially as I see my particular University being Driven to Despair (TM) by the same kind of delusional leadership that has created the economic crash.”

    Well, I perceived myself to be studying at a traditional university, not a university of excellence, and to be entering a liberal profession, not business. When I entered the professoriate was when I met all this market driven “excellence” and I wanted to quit instantly. Why *not* go into medicine, business or law and at least make money in exchange for your participation in the corporate world? People call me heretical for thinking this but I call it logical.

    It is terribly irritating to have administrators think that faculty like you who have given up writing are just not “up to snuff” … when they have made your life so difficult and when the reason those who do write, can, is that they have been given every advantage.

  4. Prof. Z: If you are interested, and if you would be willing to give me a mailing address, I will send you the packet of readings I had for my rhetoric course.

  5. Our stationary now has the slogan”Driven to Discover” stamped on every page. Some of us prefer “driven to distraction” but the idea that we are being driven into the ground is quite present to many of us. Millions have been spent to brand the U where I work in the name of some vague idea of excellence, so as to try to squeeze some mythical funding out of the state, and the whole effort has been an outright failure. Watching the harm this has done to staff and faculty who genuinely see their vocation as education and not a rankings game is painful. Our former president is now off in California.

  6. Gracias Hattie – I e-mailed you.

    Joanna – note my friend, a department chair … she is irritated at one of her new hires because he refuses to take out loans to supplement his income enough so he can afford to go to conferences and so on … so he goes to the conferences, but pays for them with extra teaching … she thinks not investing in his so called future with debt will lead to his certain demise because every minute in an extra class can be used to write.

  7. P.S. So the meaning of it all is that what one is upset with most essentially is the corporate university. I’d still like maybe to be in another field and definitely to be at an urban R1, and yes I think these things would make very great differences to my life, but the overarching framework is that corporate thang.

  8. Don’t you think this is where “re-education” starts? My sister wrote a piece about her experiences on Vancouver Island for her freshman English class. The instructor gave her an F because she had not fulfilled the assignment. It was not like a freshman essay. She never wrote a creative essay again.
    Luckily for her she landed in Gary Snyder’s poetry seminar, so she will write poetry. But even so she was permanently inhibited in an important direction. Essay writing, at its finest, is highly creative. Benjamin is a fine example of that.

  9. Perhaps but: were they asked to write a creative essay about personal experience? I could go on and on about these composition pedagogy issues and I am not of the anything goes school … although that Bartholomae essay you told me about really does speak to a problem my training does not address. One thing is writing to a discipline, and another is writing in general, etc., etc. …

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