Monthly Archives: May 2013

Tres oraciones en treinta minutos

This is to say that inclusivity does not resolve the problem of racial difference but functions to mask or render unspeakable the mechanisms of exclusion and hierarchization which still persist. The elasticity of the category Hispanic does stand in contrast to the less flexible categories that have operated in the United States or South Africa, enabling José Martí to posit in 1891 the existence of a specifically Latin American cuture where “[n]o hay odio de razas, porque no hay razas” and “El alma emana, igual y eterna, de los cuerpos diversos en forma y en color.” Yet inclusion in the raza hispana does not confer recognition as blanco, as Martí’s own text suggests, and history shows that conflict ensues when mestizaje mounts a serious challenge to hierarchies of lineage and color.

I started with the notes I had made yesterday, wrote and revised this, and decided which of the other points I want to make in the paper follows from right here. This is my old-old composition strategy, developed from the sixth grade forward.

I know this is only 132 words. They were actually written in 30 minutes, far too slow for Trollope. I lazily couched the accomplishment of this work somewhere in four hours, during which I also thought about it, made coffee, read news, and chatted with a former student about teaching ideas and an article of hers.

The Boyceans would say I was procrastinating and should have used my time more wisely but this was how I wanted to do it, and it’s a Friday in summer so I could, and I thought it was all very human, and this is what I like those large blocks of time for, some days.



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Seis oraciones en treinta minutos

The concept of raza is thus not a merely a particular system of classification, but a racial order in which culture and cultural identity have an important role and the meaning of color varies. It is nonetheless administered by the state as racial, and despite its flexibility as a category, it remains inflected with questions of color and descent. The estatutos de limpieza de sangre, created in 1449 to identify descendants of converted Jews, persisted through much of the nineteenth century. In the Americas, they were used to exclude people of African and indigenous descent from access to education and from some government posts. Latin America’s fabled valorization of mixture, furthermore, coexists with racial hierarchies in which European descent is highly valued. Joshua Lund (2012) discusses mestizaje as a statist discourse that hardly moves beyond race, as it has been purported to do, but rather confirms racialization as a state project.


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Some maritime images…

Así es, y los relámpagos cubrirían tus trenzas
y la lluvia entraría por tus ojos abiertos
a preparar el llanto que sordamente encierras,
y las alas negras del mar girarían en torno
de ti, con grandes garras, y graznidos, y vuelos.



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Le projet

I need a really good image of a great ship putting out to sea and I do not see the right one, so you will have to imagine it. I am embarking on a large solidarity project. As I am about to call for one in print, I have to model it. It involves wresting the universities back from the vandals trying to sack them now, and who have almost succeeded.

I am now able to articulate another of the reasons I am so opposed to certain brands of academic advice. In a situation where real jobs are scarcer by the day, people train students to get one of those jobs, one of a certain subset of those jobs. Then they give advice to fit those jobs, which is inappropriate or even irrelevant to most jobs, and then they excoriate those for whom such advice fails — when the problem is the market, and perfection is no protection.

There is everything right about sharing professional secrets but those who think that is all that is needed, say things like “there are always jobs for good people,” and categorize as clearly not good those who fall through the cracks, are woefully and I would say irresponsibly out of touch.

In fan mail today I had: “I am pleased to know someone who had the courage to expose those who do not understand Rabi’s objection to Eisenhower.” I have even more courage than that. In this solidarity project we are not focused on ways of surviving the academic jungle and there is no discussion of who is walking the professor walk well enough.

In this project there is solidarity across ranks and positions, for the university, against its sacking by the corporations which will be its end if we do not change our attitude now. Step one for everybody in this, my no-credit MOOC, is to stop getting on the cases of graduate students, adjuncts, and post-academics who speak up about the situation. Step two is to stop saying you are going to retire and let the next generation sort this out.

Step three is to stop saying you wish you could do something, but that it will be more important for the world if you get out one last book before you die. Step four, for some adjuncts, is to stop saying research is not important and only makes people unhappy. Step five is to stop saying you are too frightened to speak up or too busy to do anything. Step six is to close ranks and look at the actual enemy. Step seven is to meditate and consolidate the new gestalt you will take on as you follow the syllabus I lay out here.

That is your project for summer vacation. A friend writes:

I would like to survey faculty at UCSD to draw attention to the cooperation that ladder-rank faculty give to the corporatizaton of their home institutions. We should be forging firm bonds with the fastest-growing category in our midst instead of setting ourselves apart from and above them. We are all aware that our fate is tied to the fate of adjuncts and that our separate futures would be far more pleasant if we stand firm with them now. But I think we know that we will not. Better to burnish our progressive self-image by baying at the moon (on this and other list servs) even as we help campus administrators slip the dagger between our collective ribs.

Truth is that ladder-rank faculty are growing old and we are not prepared to pick this important fight with our administrations or UCOP. We are edging towards retirement, counting our beans in our pension funds, and just holding on until we escape amidst encircling doom. Safe in retirement, many of us will tut-tut and speak of the halcyon days when ladder rank faculty were little gods with real rights. 

I am much more apprised of the unflattering assessment that adjuncts/non-tenure track/contingent faculty have of ladder-rank faculty because several of them sit on the Steering Committee of the CA-AAUP. I have become acutely aware of, and grown very ashamed of, the way ladder-ranks treat the nameless Other. As Stuart Hall summarized an analogous arrogance back in the ’80s, it’s “The West versus the rest”.

Read the whole thing.



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On academia and cultural exceptionalism


This is Mark Griffith. I had a class from him in translation as an undergraduate and then later, in graduate school, a reading class on Horace. He is a good professor but what makes him unique in my life is that he was the only person, student or professor, who without need of persuasion signed our petition asking for health insurance for TAs. I expressed amazement and he said:

◊ yes, many people object to health insurance in general, but he did not, and
◊ yes, many faculty refuse to act in concert with students, but he did not see the institution that way, and
◊ yes, many faculty and students believe they will ruin their careers if they speak up for rights in any way, but he doubted that were true and in any case believed one should speak up for rights.

Almost no other faculty member signed on grounds that it was “not their issue.” Many graduate students declined on the grounds that having done so might, years later, prevent them from getting academic jobs. 

That is why Griffith’s reaction so stood out. Everyone else had ideas about “appropriateness” and most importantly about how academic work was not a job and should not be defiled by having health insurance connected to it. Professors were saying this while enjoying some of the best health coverage in the land.

That is what all these people so dedicated to the life of the mind were up to. They said they were above material needs and were more ethereal than we, who were dirtying our hands with practical matters. Really they were much more materialistic, if they were not bound entirely by material fears. 

They are sitting in endowed chairs now, some of them, and if you do not watch them they will sign away copyright and academic freedom because their eyes are still focused entirely on other worlds.


I got this idea from the Spanish Professor: it is not that academia is a “cult” but that it presents a strong narrative of cultural exceptionalism. One of the things I do not like about these narratives is the number of sacrificial victims they require.

I will say it one more time. The people who do not get jobs and who then say a few things about the nature of the system are not the ones responsible for the current crisis. They may unsettle one’s belief that one “did it all oneself.” If one is new to the liberal professions their discordant speech may make it more difficult to absorb the official narrative about what we are doing, with which we do all need to be familiar.

That is, they may unsettle our narrative of cultural exceptionalism. But those actually responsible for the current crisis are people it takes energy to contest and we need to “protect our time.” We are also above mundane matters. Instead we can ridicule people who did not get jobs. Then we can call miserliness and cruelty, outrage on behalf of a saintly vocation.

I know people sometimes engage in this behavior in a misguided effort to identify themselves as part of an in-crowd. It is unpleasant, if common in middle school. Many grow out of it by high school. It is entirely inappropriate after that, although I do understand we are in an environment where it continues and it is sometimes difficult to resist. Still, it is to be resisted. And now I am finished speaking on this matter.


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How to read

Here is a good article on The Great Gatsby, the movie.

Here is a fact from it that I did not know: “an ethnic-American man like Gatsby (born Gatz) would not have been considered “white.” Gatsby is German. I knew Norwegians, Swedes and Finns were ambiguously white, almost as ambiguously so as the southern Europeans, but I did not know Germans were nonwhite like the Irish.

This explains why my father is not white. He has some British descent, his grandmother was a Beecher (you know, Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe), but otherwise he is German and Russian with touches of Jewish and French. From what I have been able to gather his parents were not trying to whiten (or did not expect to “pass”).

It also explains why my maternal grandmother, half German and half British and then marrying my all British grandfather, was constantly guarding against any activity that might seem ethnic. And it means I am a saltatrás, a step back, because I am less white in these terms than my mother or my grandmother or her English grandmother for that matter.

I could not publish my article on Gloria Anzaldúa in Signs because they said white people should never criticize anything people of color write, as our criticism would surely stem from unconscious racism or at least appear to do so. They assumed I was white based on my name. This is how I know peer review is not blind.



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Revenge is mine

A national magazine is taking my piece. Certain local officials did not know who they were dealing with at all, at all, and I am not finished yet.



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La semaine

I have to work on my NEH Letter of Intent this week. I am saying this because when I shut this computer down I will have to close the document, I am likely to forget about it. I have to remember IILI and LASA deadlines as well.

Here is a lesson in logic by the coldhearted scientist. I may have a few more.

1. You cannot both say you know you are one of the last tenured professors and excoriate an unsuccessful job candidate 20 or 30 years younger than you for pointing out that this being the situation, the old training is no longer adequate and the old advice is no longer true.

2. Also, trying to say that had they just understood the old advice and used it better, they would have gotten into the meritocratic club, makes no sense if the old meritocratic club is no longer taking applications for membership, and you know it, and you have just said so.


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Writing group post

Since we started I have written and submitted a 5600 word article but it is not the article I will write for this group. I will write that article next and I will do it right. To write the present article I did not apply Boycean reason. I went into a complete binge, and I also spent a lot of time reading the news and posting different paragraphs to Facebook while I wrote. Yet I wrote fast, did not worry about perfection, attempted to be as brief as possible, and kept the hope of finishing soon firmly in mind. I point these things out in case anyone imagines I do not know how to get things done.

I will let this matter rest soon but still I want to say that certain senior faculty should note that every graduate student and adjunct you berate so as to reassure yourself that you really are superior, is going to have to get a job. Some of those jobs will have to be in para-academic firms. Their projects can bury you–or if not you personally, at least the desempeño of your métier in many institutions. Try to at least be civil, because these companies will flatter the people you alienate now, and it will be balm for old wounds.



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Symptoms of neoliberalization and complicity

Warning! For the past four years I have not been invited to vote on tenure, fourth year review, or hiring. I am not the only one and I had decided not to take it personally. When I am on these committees they tend to vote my way, not because I have the power to force anyone to do anything but because I am articulate and sensible. Since the dean, assistant dean, and chair decided that I and some others were dangerous for these reasons, they created a small, select committee to make these decisions–or so I thought. I am against that for reasons having to do with institutional governance and faculty power but since I thought it was personal, I decided to ignore it and not take it personally.

Now, however, the dean of the graduate school has resigned to go back to his department and apparently it is in part because the administration does not let him make academic decisions on academic grounds. Someone asked whether, in this situation, it were even worth even having a dean of the graduate school, and the general answer appears to be no. Nonacademic administrators are insisting on doing the job anyway, so one might as well let them, I am told.

Do you see what this means? Faculty losing power in hiring, retention, tenure, promotion; academic deans losing power in academic decision-making. “Be mature” and “don’t let it get to you” are the standard advice in this kind of situation but are bad advice now. I have to start asking other people what kinds of powers they used to have, but no longer do, and also what kinds of secretarial work they used not to have to do, and are now doing.

Also: does your university keep sending you surveys to do now? Do you think the work we put in doing the surveys is giving us voice, or is just diverting state money to the surveyors?

Next point, on complicity. It is politically correct to be supportive of adjuncts but I have some real doubts about parts of this. First of all, the truest support would be real jobs, not just invitations to lunch and the usual ways we are exhorted to be supportive. And:

a) Many of them are not willing to move, and in some cases they are not willing to finish their dissertations. That is to say, they would like real jobs and they resent people who have these, but at the same time they are not willing to do the things that the people who have them have done.

b) Every adjunct you support and cement in as an individual is occupying a job that could have been tenure-track.

c) I once actually got an adjunct’s job upgraded to Assistant Professor. Her husband, who held an endowed chair in another department, called me up asking me to cease and desist. He did not think she would be competitive in a national search, he said, and he wanted her to have the position, so as a favor to him could we just keep her downgraded? He actually wanted our department to give up a tenure line. The university was supporting him very well, even giving him extra perks, and this was what he wanted to do to it.

Discuss. What is the best thing to do for and with adjuncts, given that they are on the one hand exploited, and apparently most faculty are really mean to them and see them as untouchables, yet at the same time they are in at least some situations the loyal foot-soldiers of the neoliberal paradigm? What to do?



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