did someone muck with the backend here

Re: Advisors

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As TtaM noted in the mots thread, AWB has said a lot of very smart stuff at the other place on this. In the interest of preserving her pseudonymity, I'm not going to grab an excerpt from her posts, and I'll say that if someone wants to introduce one of her points, just paraphrase judiciously and attribute appropriately vaguely.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 6:37 AM
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One trope I've seen over and over again in academia-Twitter commentary on this is that, while Ronell's behavior is obviously bad in a kind of extreme way, it's bad in a way that is continuous with the general badness of academia and advisers of grad students. At the risk of seeming naive, though, in my absurd journey through academia thus far I've observed this kind of boundarylessness (let alone sustained harassment and abuse) to be VERY much the exception to the rule.

For example, in the department I got my PhD from, there were no faculty who were known (at the level of e.g. "common knowledge" or whispered rumors) to be unscrupulous or have problems with boundaries or anything. I've since been a VAP in two larger departments where I've never heard the slightest hint of anything like that, either. I'm new in my current department but, again, faculty-student relationships seem pretty healthy here too.

Is that just my white-dude privilege speaking? Maybe among those couple of dozen colleagues (I'm in a small field) there were actually some who really sucked but the incidents of their suckiness were kept REALLY quiet, not even mentioned among close friends, etc.? Totally possible.

I'm partly concerned that reducing episodes like Ronell to an opportunity for academics to engage in a "Who can be the most cynical about academia?" contest makes it tougher to hold people accountable for doing bad things. I can't really accept that academia is all power relations and status competition.

Or else I'm super naive, oblivious, privileged, etc. I don't feel like I am--I worry about this stuff constantly and am always keeping my eyes open for when one of my colleagues might be acting unprofessionally around a student. But maybe I am. Anyway, I'm observing a disconnect and it weirds me out.


Posted by: Brodysattva | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 7:48 AM
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What field are you in?


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 7:49 AM
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Music. Some of my training has been on the performance side, but my PhD and academic career are in music theory. Incidentally, I should clarify that I do know of a handful of cases where faculty harassed students (or, at a minimum, observed less personal distance than would have been appropriate), and for obvious reasons music conservatory culture can lend itself to that. But those cases are much less common than the jaded, "don't hate the player, hate the game" commentary I'm seeing a lot of would tend to suggest.


Posted by: Brodysattva | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 7:58 AM
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The most interesting commentary I've seen so far are Tim Burke's observations on how this behavior connects with the "star system" that grew up in tandem with Theory. Bill Benzon has taken up some of the same points over at crooked timber.

There seems to be some difficulty in convincing outsiders that the 80s and 90s vintage "Theory star" really is a different animal from a generic "famous professor". I ultimately went into science but I have some exposure to Theory heavy areas of the humanities and I'm convinced that the difference is a real one.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 7:59 AM
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5: Oh yeah. Actually now that I think about it, the most famously Theory-adjacent music scholar (like critical theory, not music theory!) is actually somewhat well known for having openly behaved in a not-un-Ronell-like way, at least earlier in her career.


Posted by: Brodysattva | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:03 AM
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5,6: This is really so bizarre. Are there any Theories to explain this?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:07 AM
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Yeah, agreed. The main complaint of most of my PhD-having friends, when they were graduate students, was not "oh, god, I really wish my supervisor would pay less attention to me!" They tended to complain more about the way they saw their supervisor once every three months, when they happened to be briefly in the right continent.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:17 AM
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5 would explain this: most normal professors don't harass their graduate students because they have more important things to do that take up most of their valuable time. Critical theory is basically pointless and no one cares about the output, so they have lots of free time to molest students.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:19 AM
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I wish my advisor had talked much more slowly.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:20 AM
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10: "I think my advisor made repeated offensive and explicit comments but she talked so fast it was really hard to say."


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:23 AM
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Are there any counterarguments against 9?

In the sciences it's different. You get sexual harassment and bullying but attempts to control your life are merely attempts to get you to be in the lab 14 hours a day, not cult-like mind control.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:29 AM
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Theory and Classics (at least Plato-style classics) seem to be adjacent in both bullshit and abusiveness.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:33 AM
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12: Plato was all about cult-like mind control.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:34 AM
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Hmm... There was an active grad student-faculty affair/relationship while I was in grad school, and the pair later married. There were two married very successful older faculty whose relationship started when the man was the grad student of the woman. There was a third marriage between professor and grad student that broke up pretty quickly. There were a lot of fireworks around some sort of relationship that went very bad involving a male professor and female grad student. I never did get much detail about that one unfortunately. I know the theme of the OP is more power/abuse rather than intimate relationships, but what the heck, boundaries of a different sort. It makes the bunch of scientists I knew sound very promiscuous. But...aside from one bad relationship (and the department stepped in to make sure the student got a fair shake and graduated), generally these relationships seemed like positives things.


Posted by: elodea | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 8:51 AM
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This is taking place in a world of not just "star" professors, but a nearly nonexistent job market for the students encouraging them to spend as long as possible in the ABD state, and then forcing them to spend what feels like a whole career in short-term adjunct positions, all the while continuing to be an acolyte of the professor forever. It's a nonsensical and decadent situation.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:09 AM
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I feel like decadence should involve things like luxury and hedonism.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:11 AM
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17: What is more decadent and luxurious and hedonistic than to force your boy-toy graduate student to read you Derrida in his underwear while you lie naked in a bed in a hotel in Paris?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:18 AM
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I think Ned was talking about the students.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:22 AM
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19: Oh! Yeah, I guess you're right. That seems more nonsensical and less decadent.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:23 AM
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I was aware of multiple abusive advisor relationships when I was in grad school in multiple departments. The one I heard about the most (a friend was the subject of abuse) was entirely verbal as far as I know. Then there was a case spoken about in vague terms, almost a rumor except it was known that the professor had been suspended for multiple years so it was definitely not nothing. I later learned from reading about cases of abusive advisors that it was rape.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:33 AM
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I can't think of any similar things when I was a graduate student.

I can recall academics who were arseholes, and could verge on being bullies, in the sense of taking no prisoners and making students look like idiots in seminars. Although I can recall many more graduate students who were like that. I found my own advisor really quite unsympathetic to pragmatic problems I was facing: money, the need to work multiple jobs while also writing up, etc., and interpersonally he could be a bit of a prick.

But I don't recall anyone who was either really sleazy -- in the harassment/inappropriate relationship sense -- or abused power to make graduate students run around at their beck and call. That's not to say it didn't happen, but it certainly wasn't something I was aware was happening. Although given the gossip/grapevine -- which was full of other stories/rumours -- I'd think I'd probably have heard a sniff.

I did know one person who formed a romantic relationship with an academic in the department they were studying in (when they were an undergraduate), but they transferred to a different institution once that relationship got serious and they remained together for years. The academic was not their tutor or supervisor. They met at a party. It probably wasn't appropriate for the academic to be dating a student in their department, of course.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:44 AM
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But there are two different discussions in the Ronell case, one about the advisor-advisee relationship, the other about the letter from stars in defense of another star. The star system conversation seems more particular to humanities but the abusive advisor relationship does not, even if the nature of the abuse might be different (not disciple/acolyte-ish in sciences, I guess). Whether abusive advisors are more common in some disciplines than others I'm not going to guess


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:44 AM
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wTwo members of my Law School class married professors within a year or two after graduating. In both cases they asserted, not very convincingly, that the relationships began after graduation, and after the guys' divorces.

At that point there were five faculty wives who had been their husbands' students, in a department of about 20 professors. One of the older student-wives had subsequently joined the faculty, and had risen to dean of the Law School.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:45 AM
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It seems like the story combines two aspects -- (a) the hierarchy in grad school creates a situation where abuse of power, including sexual, is pretty easy (b) critical theory is more or less a giant scam perpetuated by preposterous people and literature departments are full of ridiculous people claiming esoteric false knowledge. Both points clearly have some truth, but they aren't obviously closely related to one another.


Posted by: French Montana | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:46 AM
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However, several famous academics who were also sleazy, sexually harassing arseholes are from my discipline. So it's not the case that I think there was anything special about it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:46 AM
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I'm tempted to reactivate my Facebook account but I've been out of it so long I'm pretty used to not using it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:47 AM
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25: I speculate that fields built on ridiculous (but intricate) scams may attract more than their share of clever but amoral people.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:01 AM
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Said the professor to the graduate student.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:01 AM
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To 27.last.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:01 AM
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This is taking place in a world of not just "star" professors, but a nearly nonexistent job market for the students encouraging them to spend as long as possible in the ABD state, and then forcing them to spend what feels like a whole career in short-term adjunct positions, all the while continuing to be an acolyte of the professor forever. It's a nonsensical and decadent situation.

This is not to dispute your overall point, but one ridiculously trivial thing I noticed, and continue to be flummoxed by, is that Reitman apparently got his PhD in *three years*. (The legal complaint has him in school from 2012-2015.) In this particular case, it seems like something about this dynamic wound up pushing him through faster. I'm just relieved to have a place where I feel like I can express bafflement about this trivial thing.

Ok, now real value: there's a known-to-be-abusive scientist (I guess on the border of social and biological) at my old grad department. Not sexually abusive, just psychologically. She's a woman of color. My impression was that the main force protecting her was that it was never in anyone's individual interest to complain, but merely get away from her influence.


Posted by: Tia | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:11 AM
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In my experience, yes and no? Until this year, I would say something similar--my advisors have clear professional boundaries, and if anything are too busy to pay proper attention. OTOH, I did have my advisor yell at me in a pretty abusive way earlier this year and threaten to tank my (nonexistent) career. Luckily I have two advisors (one of whom is supportive), a large committee, AND a committee member (a white man) willing to directly confront my abusive advisor and tell her to knock it off.*

I was affiliated with our gender studies center, and through that I met a lot of grad students who were in more "theory" related fields. Lots of them worked with famous "feminist" superstars, and the stories they told differed in degree but not kind from Ronell.

One faculty member would have parties at her house with a select group of her favorite grad students that went all night. She'd do students' hair, lend them her clothing, and let them sleep in her bed. One student remembers getting really drunk and waking up in the advisor's bed. These parties were rewards, and students knew where they stood based on invitations. One week you'd get invited, and the next week you wouldn't. If you weren't invited, then you'd have grovel until you fixed whatever slight you'd committed.

Another superstar "theory" faculty is also notorious for playing favorites with her grad students, a status that in large part gets rewarded for doing vast amounts of unpaid, uncredited work while she makes them feel uncomfortable in inappropriate ways. She loves to "co-teach" with students (she trumpets this as breaking down hierarchies), which means that the student does all the work designing the syllabus and setting the assignments. They "teach" together, which means the professor sits back, has the student do most of the work, and then undermines the grad student or tries to make him/her look stupid. The undergrads lap it up, because she's a famous "theory" star, the sort of person they're paying 5 figures to hob nob with. She talks about her sex life and asks students about their sex life and accuses them of being "uptight" if they're uncomfortable.

Another professor is famous for picking one female student to make her "pet" and then systematically turning her (the student) against all the other female students who work on the same topic/region. She doesn't do this with male students. If you're her pet, you're basically her companion/emotional support, and she expects you to accompany her and run errands for her on her schedule. She'll invite you out to lunch miles away from campus and expect you to show up 15 minutes later. I had a friend who had to jump in a taxi to meet her for lunch in another part of the city, only to arrive on time with a $50 taxi bill and then be forced to wait 2 hours while the advisor was "busy." She makes you look after her psychotic dog that has bitten multiple people (it's tiny, so no one has called animal control), which can involve living in her house for weeks while she's away. She made one student fix her broken toilet. Another student had to tutor her children. She'll call and expect you to talk to her when she needs to.

Obviously #notallwomen, but yes, the system is rotten and needs to burn.

*The result is she's basically checked out from my project, but she's willing to sign off on everything. At some point she did turn one of her former students against me, so now I have enemy who is a (tenured?) professor at an elite university. This women (the former student) is ridiculously strange and petty so on a personal level it's just weird and irritating, but it could potentially be a problem at some point if I decide to stay in academia.


Posted by: Vaguely Anonymous | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:11 AM
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Graduated w coast prestige law school in early 2000s, as 1L went to school event (talk + reception) attended by kozinski, was warned beforehand by several women to keep my physical distance from him, when mentioned this to male colleagues (am practicing in context where many colleagues have checked, judges swimming in social circles etc) as news broke recently they were to a person utterly incredulous how widespread knowledge of his MO has been for years and years and years among women, so i would exercise v healthy skepticism if you are not the target population that if no one warned you-you heard no rumors it didn't/isn't happening.

And yes he was gross when i was intro'd to him.


Posted by: anon portia | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:26 AM
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Clerked, not checked


Posted by: anon portia | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:27 AM
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I think fear of faculty abuse (I had heard loads of stories) contributed to my badly miscalculating how available I should make myself to anyone in a position of authority. I got my PhD four years ago, and I'm not 100% sure anyone there would even remember my name. (I managed to drop out and get the PhD at the same time.) Again and again, when I hear these stories, I think about the students' basic assumption that they need to spend an arbitrarily large amount of time with faculty and that there would be a real benefit to socializing outside of classroom hours. I never assumed that -- in fact I assumed the opposite -- which was, in hindsight, really impressively idiotic.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:30 AM
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Did you at least get in some decadent wallowing in luxury on your own time?


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:33 AM
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You fucking bet I did. The library armchairs were great for wallowing.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:34 AM
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Just to be safe, it's probably best to never have sex with anybody who has a Ph.D.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:36 AM
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that there would be a real benefit to socializing outside of classroom hours. I never assumed that -- in fact I assumed the opposite -- which was, in hindsight, really impressively idiotic.

I don't know. Seems like a heads you lose, tails you lose, situation.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:38 AM
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IYKWIMAITYD.


Posted by: OPINIONATED ADVISOR | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:40 AM
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Or who owns a dog.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:42 AM
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I know a bunch of questionable faculty in my field of science. Of the 'inappropriate sexualization' and the 'just a bully' sorts. I'm pretty sure the men I work with wouldn't know about the former men, or they've forgotten.

I actually wonder about the most egregious example (from my undergrad and fired (removed?) for cause last year, 15 years later) who threw a punch at his male PhD student. I was warned about him when I was in his class but when I tell the story, everyone including myself, treats the 'throwing punch' as the shocking bit, not that the punch was thrown because the male PhD called out his supervisor for only thinking with his pants or that all/some of the females had been warned about his behaviour explicitly.

Anyway, agreeing on 'if you're not in the harassable group, you may not be trusted to know'. I know I send out little trial balloons of mildly shocking things and if I don't get a 'what the hell?!', I'm not going to both sharing the worse things I know.


Posted by: hydrobatidae | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:55 AM
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both --> bother


Posted by: hydrobatidae | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 10:56 AM
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32 Jesus.

33 I have no idea why people (especially including men) are unable to accept the unreliability and limitations of their perceptions. I lived in/near DC for 20 years and never saw anyone buying, selling, or using crack cocaine, so obviously all those stories from the late 80s to the late 00s were just fake, right? I think it's true that over 40 years of adulthood, no married friend of mine has told me (or otherwise manifested in a way that I can see) that they were having an affair. The choices are (a) an amazingly virtuous bubble or (b) no one having an affair thinks telling me about it is a good idea.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:21 AM
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Do you dress like a narc?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:26 AM
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Or project a pearlescent bubble of virtue?


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:27 AM
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|| Yes, the air is bad. No, the smoke is not the entire reason it is so very dreary out there. We are dealing with a combination of cloud cover and smoke cover, which means the sky is gray and the light we can see is filtered through the smoke and is therefore extra weak. Smoke is basically the sun's kryptonite. I could get into a whole narrative about how the smoke is the product of the sun's unrelenting heat on the landscape and it has risen (literally) from the ashes to challenge its creator, but really. That would be silly. |>


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:28 AM
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So not pearlescent.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:31 AM
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47: Quoted without attribution!


Posted by: Sarah Coefield - Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:35 AM
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At a party, I was once witness to a former high school acquaintance talk about how "this" (holding up his wedding ring) doesn't plug any holes. I didn't think to say, "It does for those of us whose penis isn't that small."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:40 AM
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Ronell studied with and was famous as an acolyte of Derrida. She's interviewed in the Re/Search Publications book Angry Women, mainly alongside late eighties radical artists of the Diamanda Galas ilk, where she fits in poorly.

"Theory" is interesting and not especially fraudulent, provided that you don't try to, eg, contend that when Foucault talks about early modern France he is actually describing some universal experience of early modernity.

Theory-the-discipline is godawful, and I'm going to differ with everyone above and say that while there are no jobs, the result is not so much a culture of desperation as a culture of rich, spoiled students and rich, spoiled professors, and then the resulting intrigue, pettiness and general grossitude. Sometimes someone who does not come from an affluent background ends up doing Critical Theory, and IME they get marginalized or driven out pretty quickly.

Ronell acts as she does pretty much for the same reason that Trump acts as he does - no one has ever been in the position to say no to her before and she's never known lack, except in the Lacanian sense. (Wikipedia informs me that she is the child of two diplomats and had a radikewl stint as a performance artist before entering the academy.)

Of her defenders, I can say that Jack Halberstam has always struck me as super sketch, and has done a lot of hand-wringing over those awful, awful politically correct students based on pretty transparent lies about the students in question. Also, TBH I don't think he's very good on gender. People hand-wave this away because he's trans, but it bugs me about his work.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:43 AM
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she's never known lack, except in the Lacanian sense.

Can you explain that to those of us who lack Lacanian sense?

From the bit of the complaint that I was able to make it through, I sensed that Ronell was definitely lacking something.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 11:52 AM
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"Theory" is interesting and not especially fraudulent, provided that you don't try to, eg, contend that when Foucault talks about early modern France he is actually describing some universal experience of early modernity.
My admittedly very limited encounters with Theorists is that this exact contention is the first premise of basically all their work.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:01 PM
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Theory-the-discipline is godawful, and I'm going to differ with everyone above and say that while there are no jobs, the result is not so much a culture of desperation as a culture of rich, spoiled students and rich, spoiled professors, and then the resulting intrigue, pettiness and general grossitude. Sometimes someone who does not come from an affluent background ends up doing Critical Theory, and IME they get marginalized or driven out pretty quickly.

Thanks, now it makes sense to me why "decadent" seemed like the appropriate word.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:02 PM
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I've never knowingly met one. Is there a bar or something?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:03 PM
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There are words all around you right now, Moby. You just need to take the trouble to get to know them.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:04 PM
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At a party, I was once witness to a former high school acquaintance talk about how "this" (holding up his wedding ring) doesn't plug any holes.

Ick. (Reader, we elected him.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:06 PM
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I only see disconnected letters.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:06 PM
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52: I have read, like, a tiny bit of Lacan and a moderate amount of Zizek on Lacan, and none of that was more recent than ten years ago and it's not my thing anyway, so take this with a grain of salt: IIRC, the subject comes into being through lack and the subsequent desire. Like, we constitute who we are as "person who doesn't have"...we don't have the Father, we don't have the Mother, we don't have, god knows, the imaginary or symbolic phallus. None of these are things you actually can have, because they are all kind of imaginary. But the desire to possess them (or other Important Non-Real Things That You Can't Actually Have) and our sense that we are incomplete are the basic terms of being. Even Ronell can't actually have the Imaginary Father.

We make a lot of very heavy-handed jokes about that one Ikea coffee table whenever we go.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:07 PM
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57: He had a brief political career decades later and was elected to office as a Republican.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:07 PM
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In re Theory-as-Discipline: Also, "Theory" attracts - or used to attract - all the people who would have been super doctrinaire Maoists or whatever prior to 1989.

And also, I think Theory attracts the kind of men who don't want to be called out for misogyny but also don't want to take feminism seriously. Back in the day, I used to hang about with a really rather horrible comp lit/critical theory graduate student crowd, almost all straight men, who were all such incredible bro-ish assholes to each other (and to me! especially to me, because I was not a cis man or a grad student!) in really competitive, stupid, authoritarian, mean ways. Just obsessed with creating a hierarchy, being macho, etc. (I have a couple of funny stories, or at least they're funny in retrospect.)

It was when I dropped out of that particular circle that I actually grew up, at least to the extent that I have grown up. Memories!


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:13 PM
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"Theory" is interesting and not especially fraudulent

Theory-the-discipline is godawful,

I was reading Bourdieu's "Distinction" and realized at some point "This is Theory! even though it's actually an interesting book, not written in baffling obscurantism full of neologisms! Wow!" But I don't know what in the last 40 years has followed in that tradition. Being an academic discipline it is of course going to accumulate more and more jargon over the years. And being a godawful discipline would not help make that jargon easily distinguishable from bullshit.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:16 PM
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Any sufficiently advanced jargon is indistinguishable from bullshit.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:19 PM
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"Theory" is interesting and not especially fraudulent, provided that you don't try to, eg, contend that when Foucault talks about early modern France he is actually describing some universal experience of early modernity.
My admittedly very limited encounters with Theorists is that this exact contention is the first premise of basically all their work.

Yep. I'm in a discipline of which parts have been taken over by Theory, and people definitely do this. The worst is that given our specific discipline people should know better.

Theory-the-discipline is godawful, and I'm going to differ with everyone above and say that while there are no jobs, the result is not so much a culture of desperation as a culture of rich, spoiled students and rich, spoiled professors, and then the resulting intrigue, pettiness and general grossitude. Sometimes someone who does not come from an affluent background ends up doing Critical Theory, and IME they get marginalized or driven out pretty quickly.

I basically agree with this, although alternatively, I know some working class white guys who've managed to succeed by "passing" as wealthy hipsters* and then using their role as muse/syncophant/protoge to achieve academic success.**


*Wearing mismatching unwashed thrift store clothes, sleeping on a bare mattress, and never paying your electric bill conveniently doubles as trustfund or borderline homeless behavior.
**I know a guy like this who was a definite pretty boy who had a thing with a good friend, and he had serious issues with healthy sexual expression. She wrote it off as his Catholic upbringing, but now I'm wondering about sexual abuse (not that that's mutually exclusive with Catholicism).


Posted by: Vaguely Anonymous | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:22 PM
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Foucault can also be very readable and his work is much more empirically grounded than one might assume. He gets a bad name more for the people who've taken him up, as Frowner notes.

I think Theory attracts the kind of men who don't want to be called out for misogyny but also don't want to take feminism seriously.

This is my FIL. He was a doctrinaire Maoist in the 70s, and then became a theory bro in academia. He loves to loudly proclaim how feminist he is, except he appears to be a sort of feminism that hasn't led to him altering any aspect of his sexist lifestyle or assumptions.


Posted by: Vaguely Anonymous | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 12:33 PM
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one ridiculously trivial thing I noticed, and continue to be flummoxed by, is that Reitman apparently got his PhD in *three years*

I was struck by this as well. Three years for a humanities PhD? Dude must have really wanted to get the fuck out of there. (It also supports the idea that this is maybe not the most intellectually rigorous corner of academia.)


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 1:39 PM
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You can shave a year or two off if you have an M.A. coming into the program, or if you have coursework to transfer from elsewhere... I don't know what his story is -- I haven't gone looking for his CV or anything. I had an M.A. and still took forever.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 1:51 PM
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I took forever and only have an MA.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 1:58 PM
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the kind of men who don't want to be called out for misogyny but also don't want to take feminism seriously

A pronouncedly larger population than the Theory category, surely: e.g., certain political parties.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 2:13 PM
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I guess I only took forever in the sense of being affiliated with the department for a long time. In terms of actual time in residence, I did pretty good considering what I learned and how it's kept me working.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 2:13 PM
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It took me forever and I only got a lousy MLS. But I was working full-time for the whole 5-6 years.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 2:13 PM
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Three years seems insane to me. At my institution, coursework wouldn't transfer and an outside MA would require faculty approval, which may not be easier or faster than simply writing a new one. Three years would mean two years of coursework + MA, and then exams, proposal, and thesis defense all in the third year. I also question the rigor of such a program...


Posted by: Vaguely Anonymous | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 2:26 PM
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The fastest anyone successfully got through my program was 5.5 years, but that involved sleeping with Zizek.


Posted by: Vaguely Anonymous | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 2:28 PM
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This is really so bizarre. Are there any Theories to explain this?

I haven't read other takes on this thread yet, but if you have a worldview in which institutional norms and rational procedures are just power effects all the way down, in which there's no escaping as an individual from being implicated in and perpetuating structures of domination (even by just speaking a language), and in which the best you can do ethics-wise is "ironize" the structures of domination you're clear-eyed enough to see yourself as being a part of...

Like this is a window into the thinking:

https://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/the-full-catastrophe/


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 2:34 PM
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Do any of these theory people need a SAS programmer? Because that's how you get intellectual and moral rigor.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 2:49 PM
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School of the Americas Studies


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:13 PM
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No. That's for rigor mortis.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 08-23-18 9:17 PM
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2 Is that just my white-dude privilege speaking? Maybe among those couple of dozen colleagues (I'm in a small field) there were actually some who really sucked but the incidents of their suckiness were kept REALLY quiet, not even mentioned among close friends, etc.? Totally possible.
yes

13 Theory and Classics (at least Plato-style classics) seem to be adjacent in both bullshit and abusiveness.
also yes


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 12:21 AM
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as all of you know probably, I got hit on/talked about sexually in front of the class (!?) in a terrible way by my roman history prof as an undergrad, which made my bf question my a+ in the class (thanks!). my department arranged to fix my inability to get a letter of support from him (I literally couldn't go be in the same room with him; it was to a humorous chasing you around the desk level, except not humorous) by getting another, bigger name to write me a letter even though he'd never taught me--I did end up having him in my last semester and he felt happy with what he had written. I thought this was all incredibly thoughtful at the time, but awb correctly diagnosed it as ass-covering for him and the department.

I might have finished my phd and not had this irritating (to me--they are fine in principle) ma had my advisor not had a huge, obvious crush on me, which meant he was clearly just waiting for the right moment to pour out his feelings. a) you really can tell with that sort of thing b) he said a number of things indicating he was headed that way. this made me have to avoid him despite escalating invitations to meet/go eat off campus etc. then he got hurt feelings as well and things were yet more awkward. he was widely known for this, something I only found out after I chose him as an advisor fml. if I could easily have switched to the aristotelian in the philosophy department all would have been well. (he was almost pale with lack of human feeling and obsession with his subject; it was lovely.) which is sad because philosophy is terrible.

we had a theory-inflected classicist in my department and she was just as described above. favorites, intentional forced shunning of grad students not in the inner circle--particularly female students, parties at her house to whom only the select were invited (and which I repeatedly crashed) etc. she hated me.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 12:30 AM
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In my department, I guess it was possible there were some really sketchy people whose sketchiness was either a thing that just some women knew, or which wasn't common knowledge at all. Given the size of it, and the percentage of sketchy men in the general population, I guess it's pretty likely. Especially given the amount of time spent one on one with tutors.

I was pretty friendly with a wide group of people, but those who point out that doesn't mean I'd have been in the know are right.

But were there any people commonly known to be horrible in some way or other, and whose horribleness was put up with because they were 'stars'? No.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 3:40 AM
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They were put up with regardless of talent because the British suck at assertiveness.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 4:37 AM
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parties at her house to whom only the select were invited (and which I repeatedly crashed) etc.

Not sure this is particularly a feature of theory infected academics. As I understand it Maurice Bowra did the same between the wars, though I've not heard that he encouraged actively shunning the outsiders.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 6:11 AM
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As some folks over at CT have pointed out, what distinguishes the theory star from the garden variety asshole famous professor is the claim to have unique insight into the workings of power, and to be engaged in a project of dismantling or subverting hierarchies.

Then there's the standpoint epistemology derived notion of "lived experience" as an especially unimpeachable source of authority. That might matter when your lived experience consists of behaving like a raving out of control narcissist and treating you students like serfs.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 7:23 AM
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80: yeah, this is essentially the same as the experience (or lack thereof) I attempted to describe in 2, in the three main departments I've inhabited thus far.


Posted by: Brodysattva | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 11:14 AM
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As some folks over at CT have pointed out, what distinguishes the theory star from the garden variety asshole famous professor is the claim to have unique insight into the workings of power, and to be engaged in a project of dismantling or subverting hierarchies.

Then there's the standpoint epistemology derived notion of "lived experience" as an especially unimpeachable source of authority. That might matter when your lived experience consists of behaving like a raving out of control narcissist and treating you students like serfs.

Right. It's terrible when organic chemistry professors do this, but at least they don't pretend to be radical woke leftists interested in dismantling hierarchies and #atonewiththeoppressed. I'm a big believer that your politics reflect your daily life choices and actions. If they suck, then you suck. Judith Butler and Joan Scott are cancelled. (The former surprises me not at all. I wouldn't be surprised if stuff comes out about her. The latter makes me a bit more disappointed, but maybe that's still naivete.)


Posted by: Vaguely Anonymous | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 12:50 PM
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I was at a symposium a few years ago that was filled with Big Deal Stars. One of them read from her new experimental work, which was basically a long navel-gazing live journal entry about blending and drinking a protein smoothie as part of a new weightloss diet. It was framed as "worlding" (don't ask) and writing from "lived experience," and the comments afterwards were OTT syncophantic about how new and experimental and groundbreaking the work was. It was literally contentless narcissistic dribble that would make a 14 year old girl blogging in 2005 blush. Something snapped in me that day, and I've never been the same since.


Posted by: Vaguely Anonymous | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 12:57 PM
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A tone with the OP Press Ed.?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-24-18 1:03 PM
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