Sunday, March 04, 2007

Academic Love

Perhaps I can connect my current departmental troubles and its impending demise and all the rest of the small but troubling and time consuming academic politics I find myself constantly immersed in with that interestingly perverse reading of evil as emerging out of love. It is that notion of love as itself an imbalance that unjustly selects one particular thing in the world to be its object out of all the other possible objects in the world. This is the riff on the evil and violence of love used by Zizek, and the one I've written about before in connection with technology and the war.

In this case, the love at stake is the love of truth, standards, and academic rigor. I don't despise these things. However, I'm always wary of their champions. The most generous reading of the damage being done to myself, my colleagues, and our students is that it is not the result of any specific malicious intent by upper level administrators directed against our small, non-traditional academic unit of interdisciplinary teachers and scholars. Rather, it is their love of the ideals of the academy itself that motivate them to love its most traditional and disciplinary parts above all others. In moving to express that love, then, an injustice is done to those programs that live in the cracks and crevices of mainstream, disciplinary academic life and thus fail to bask in the full light of their budgetary beneficence. The evil and injustice of destroying a program is done out of love.

Of course, my own particular academic loves are no less unjust or violent. They ardently embrace some things and passionately exclude many, many others. There is no help for this. It is the nature of love. Hence, the irreducible need for politics. Noticing the production of inequities and injustices and addressing them directly and meaningfully is what political struggle is about. I'm pretty good at this most days. But it is always easiest to engage in this struggle when the fact that it IS a struggle is kept clearly in sight by all parties involved. Then the contest can move more or less along the lines of "fight hard, but fight fair." It is those terrains which try to define themselves as outside of politics in one way or another that always become the most difficult places to address the politics still lurking there. The academy, home of truth, is one of the very worst offenders on this front. "Truth is never political." That is an axiom vexed at every level of its formulation. Like Nietzsche's "'All truth is simple.' Is that not a compound lie?" the view that "Truth is never political" is actually an example of the most spectacularly political lie ever told. Sadly, the dismantling of my department has politely taken place on a terrain where the intrusion of politics is viewed as simply bad manners. This has been depressing all on its own. The opportunity to fight hard, but fight fair was never really possible, and so even the dignity of losing a battle well fought is also not possible.

Perhaps I'm being too subtle, though. Even the links between love and aggression don't require much effort to uncover. After all, it's really not all that hard to tell the difference between being loved and getting screwed.


  1. Great post, and true! And the video is divine. No brilliant thoughts to add but ... this post needs to be read, I think I'll advertise it by linking.

  2. Thanks! And thanks for the link too. And since you enjoyed the video, I went ahead and embedded it at the end of the post.

  3. I am assuming you know Nick Cave, "The Secret Life of the Love Song?"

  4. Thanks for the link. I never would have guessed Nick Cave had a lecture on melancholia and love songs. And it's certainly true for me at work right now, that love hurts.