Wednesday, September 30, 2009
This cultural studies kerfuffle comes at an especially bad time for me, since (as I will now admit on this blog for the very first time) I was nominated this year to run for the post of Second Vice President of the Modern Language Association. This is, in effect, a presidential election, since VP-2 in 2010 becomes VP-1 in 2011 and President of the MLA in 2012.
In July, a spokesperson for the White House indicated that there was a good chance Obama would not honor his secret promise to replace Joe Biden with me on the Democratic ticket in 2012 (yet another betrayal, and this time it’s personal), so I decided to accept the MLA nomination. My opponents, it turns out, are Kwame Anthony Appiah of Princeton and David Damrosch of Harvard, each of whom hails from the profession’s A list of distinguished professors, whereas I’m just some guy from Penn State with a blog. I am clearly a very, very long shot for the post, and for weeks my advisors have been telling me that my only chance at closing the gap is to spread the rumor that Appiah was born outside the US.
But that was before I published that essay on cultural studies. Now, I hear, faculty and graduate students in the modern languages are gathering across the nation to demonstrate against my “death panels” for cultural studies programs.
This is a grievous misunderstanding, and I want to try to straighten it out right now. I called for plenary panels on cultural studies, not death panels. As I have long argued, the problem with cultural studies in this country is that people wait too long to see a cultural studies theorist, and only when their perplexity becomes acute do they show up at one of our understaffed and overworked Emergency Centers for Conjunctural Analysis. There, they get the historicization and contextualization they need, but it’s mostly triage, and it’s very costly. This state of affairs is intolerable—and, over the long term, unsustainable.
As MLA President, I would move quickly to form a number of committees to study the crisis. Some of my colleagues have urged me to support a “public intellectual option” that would allow people to seek out introductions to Žižek and Butler at a fraction of the cost of private-university tuition; this is but one of many options on the table, and I pledge to honor the objections of MLA members who will not support such an option if it doesn’t have enough support from people who oppose the option, as well as members of my own party who will not vote for it on the grounds that it doesn’t have enough votes, even if their own yes votes would be more than sufficient for its passage. There remains the possibility of forming cultural studies cooperatives, as was done to great effect in the Birmingham Centre itself.
I hope I have made myself clear.
And now, at long last (ten days later!), it’s Jamie’s birthday party!
Two pix first. The group:
And Jamie and Alek:
Unfortunately, we had to penalize them 15 pins for excessive celebration. Showboaters.
Eight kids of various ages and abilities joined Jamie for the big event, which was great, because last year, when we threw him his first party since 2003 (we were afraid teenager birthday parties would be too infantilizing—eh, what did we know?), precisely two people came. Apparently, a lot of invitations in the backpacks of members of his peer group never made it to the parents, which is kind of an occupational hazard with this peer group. So this year, I showed up at school during Jamie’s lunch period and handed out invitations personally and talked to his teachers about how to get in touch with people who aren’t in his classes, etc. Though some kids had conflicts with the date, we had a fine turnout and a fine time. Which is both a joy and a relief.
So here’s a pan of the crowd–
– and the Moment of Cake:
No, I have no idea why Jamie did that with the Penn State shirt he’d received as a present. 18-year-olds are weird. But he had fun, as did everyone else, and my advisors tell me that’s the important thing. Thanks to everyone who sent Jamie congratulations and good wishes!