Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Blogging and Social Exclusion

Intelligent remarks over at the Working Notes blog [here], explaining why it's being closed down (though not deleted):

'I feel the blog is a good place for people who don't have anything more concrete to do on the intellectual level to just do something, put things to work. That's pretty basic, but I think it's true, and, far from being a testament to the laziness, etc. of such people--I don't mean to say this at all--it testifies to the absolutely incredible inability of our current society to make something of people's intelligence, skill, time, and desire to be useful: we have to ask ourselves what is going on when our society has to create a massive virtual repository for less professionally oriented intellectual work, give it none of the material benefits of the actual world of letters or make it subject to the same restraints or regulations, and then even have the gall to call it "self-publishing." [...] I also just want to recognize, on more of a human level, how lucky I feel that I'm one of the really, really fortunate ones out there now who has more concrete things to do intellectually.'

I agree with the drift of this - after all, a main reason why I never got a blog for the first seven years after being made unemployed by the University of Westminster was that I was still clinging to the idea of my intellectual work being 'professionally oriented'. I was too proud to get a blog: it seemed like an admission of worldly failure. But I would seriously question whether activities in the real world are necessarily 'more concrete' than activities in the virtual space of the blogosphere. I produced my PhD over the period 1995-2001 with basically no access to the internet, and I am certainly very glad that I had the opportunity to engage in intensive, library-based study over those years. But since becoming more addicted to using the web, particularly in the past couple of years, I do feel that I have acquired a breadth, or range (if not depth), of knowledge that I could never have acquired in twenty years in a 'concrete', real-world university. Seminar rooms and syllabuses can actually be quite constrictive - sure, at least you get to talk to people (the only thing I miss about academia), but what are you talking about? Academic institutions are very defined by their cognitive 'restraints' and 'regulations'....

This is precisely the attraction of Jaspers' existentialist advance from mainstream academic neo-Kantianism: it represents a liberation from epistemological reification. (In his review for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews [2002.08.03; here] of Thornhill's study of Jaspers, Alan Olson describes Jaspers' 'existential rescue' of Kant from Rickert et al. as 'a truly unique and not well-understood chapter in the history of early 20th-century German philosophy'). In less abstract terms: perhaps society might become less unfairly hierarchical - and the academic field less intrinsically paranoid about falling into the misfortune 'out there' in the wider society - if academics were to get out more, de-reify their working practices, and be less 'professionally oriented'. I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen, however, and can only strive to continue to be less professionally oriented on this blog - in emulation of classic works of 'creative scholarship' (para-academic cognition), such as Charles Olson's Call Me Ishmael, Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson, or Iain Sinclair's 'Nicholas Hawksmoor, His Churches'.

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