Monday, February 06, 2006
Warning! Warning! Danger! Danger!
At least two readers want to know how I feel about being named one of the 101 most dangerous professors in America by some guy named David Horowitz. “Congratulations, Michael!” writes my mysterious friend Tristero, in the course of dubbing me the Keith Richards of academe. “No false modesty now, you’ve earned it.”
But listen, everyone, I don’t care about these accolades and awards. False modesty made me what I am today, and I’m certainly not going to change now. Look, if I went around thinking I’m an emperor just because some wingnut with a website lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!
Besides, truth be told, this “101 most dangerous professors” thing is a complete sham. It’s a travesty. It’s an outrage, I say, an utter outrage.
First of all, Horowitz didn’t even bother to rank us. In his promotional email for the book (sent to me last week by the invaluable Rick Perlstein, but you can read the whole thing at Gisela’s corner), Horowitz catalogues some of the reprobates and miscreants I’m in with:
At Cal State-Long Beach: Ron Karenga is a Professor and Chairman of the Black Studies Department. He’s also a convicted torturer and inventor of Kwanzaa. [Emphasis in original.]
Hold the phone! He’s a what? You’re thinking, “golly, isn’t that a little like saying ‘he’s an arsonist and the creator of Grandparents’ Day?’” Well, yes, it does sound a little odd. But remember, dear friends, that most of David’s readership thinks torture is just fine. Kwanzaa, however—that’s downright un-American.
Moving right along:
At Brandeis University: Robert Reich is a Professor of Social and Economic Policy. He was Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary and is a multi-millionaire. That doesn’t keep from [sic] telling his students that the U.S. has “fallen under the sway of radical conservatives who, by the malicious application of intolerant moral precepts, intended to secure the ‘reign of the rich’ at the expense of most Americans.’”
Seriously, folks. There’s no way I’m in the same league with former U.S. Secretaries of Labor who go around saying true things. (Apparently Reich is also a traitor to his class. Hang ‘im high, David!) In fact, I happen to know that until I got myself this here blog and began driving David into spittle-flecked frenzies, I wasn’t even in the upper quartile of the country’s most dangerous academics. Although when I have my pruning knife I’m in the top twenty. Or so say some of the local flora.
OK, so that’s one obvious reason The Professors is an outrage. Here’s another. According to my contacts at the American Association of University Professors, only 23 of the 101 are members of the AAUP. What the hell is the matter with the other 78 of you? Consider this your wakeup call, people!
Last but not least, the “book” is apparently just a bunch of reprints of David’s “Discover the Networks” pages. You probably remember what mine looks like. It’s pretty feeble stuff, really. Here’s how it works. I write something like this, from an old essay on postmodernism:
There really are some remarkably salient differences between the prewar and the postwar world, between the financial crash of ‘29 and the computer crash of ‘87, the phonograph and the Internet. Though some critics prefer 1945 and some prefer 1973 as postmodernism’s Year One, there seems to be a fitful consensus that something like postmodernity does indeed exist—and that it involves the incomplete, deeply contested globalization and digitalization of capitalism.
Postmodernism, in this sense, is based on an electronic global economy and what David Harvey, the geographer and cultural critic, famously calls “the regime of flexible accumulation”—by which he means a world in which part-time labor, adjunct professors, and just-in-time production lines supersede the Fordist logic of modernism, in which laborers were assured wages high enough to allow them to buy the products they made. The important question for cultural critics, then, is also an old question—how to correlate developments in culture and the arts with large-scale economic transformations.
And David summarizes it like so:
Believes in teaching literature so as to bring about “economic transformations.”
At least he’s succinct! Or I write something like this, opening a review essay in the journal American Literary History:
Four new books on the state of the academy, and not one of them elaborates a line of argument that bisects any of the others. One gets the eerie feeling that this kind of intellectual noncoincidence is no coincidence, that one could review 20 new books on the state of the academy (if one could take the necessary time away from one’s “normal” academic work) and discover the same result: the contemporary university is so amorphous that it can be described as the research wing of the corporate economy, the final resting place of the New Left, the last best hope for critical thinking, the engine room of global technological advance, the agent of secularization and the advance of reason, the training ground for the labor force, the conservatives’ strongest bastion of antifeminist education, the progressives’ only bulwark against the New Right, the natural home of intellectual isolates, the natural home of goosestepping groupthinkers, and the locus of postmodern skepticism and fragmentation. Perhaps Clark Kerr, whose influence on David Damrosch and Bill Readings seems to me one of the few common threads in the books under review, put it best when he remarked, in a phrase as felicitous as it is cynical: “I have sometimes thought of [the university] as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.”
And David summarizes it like so:
In a 1998 essay called “The Abuses of the University,” Professor Berube described the university as “the final resting place of the New Left,” and the “progressives’ only bulwark against the New Right.” Critics of this definition—in particular those who failed to regard “feminist or queer theory as a legitimate area of scholarship”—were only perpetuating “ignorance and injustice,” he wrote.
Now, I could dilate endlessly on the random-access technique by which Horowitz cut and pasted those last two phrases into his account of me (they occur near the end of the essay, and have nothing to do with each other), but I think you get the point by now. Horowitz can be a fairly clever guy when he wants to be, but here he’s not even trying. This is genuinely stupid stuff. I mean, Michelle Malkin quality stupid. Personally, I’m disappointed.
Still, there’s one little thing about The Professors that bears closer attention. It’s the front cover blurb by Laura Ingraham: “A thoroughly enjoyable and useful guide to the worst of the worst in the hallowed halls of academia.”
The worst of the worst? I have to say that’s kind of harsh, coming from someone like Ingraham. I mean, this is the woman who, as editor of the Dartmouth Review and comrade-in-arms of Dinesh D’Souza, sent a henchman to tape meetings of the campus Gay Students Alliance, then mailed copies of the tapes to GSA members’ parents—and published the transcripts (along with some of GSA members’ stolen documents and personal letters) in the Review. As Dudley Clendinen reported at the time (“Conservative Paper Stirs Dartmouth,” New York Times, May 30, 1982), “one student named, according to his friends, became severely depressed and talked repeatedly of suicide. The grandfather of another who had not found the courage to tell his family of his homosexuality learned about his grandson when he got his copy of The Review in the mail.” Of course, Ingraham pulled that little stunt long before she became a regular feature of the liberal media—before she was hired by CBS (!) and MSNBC and became a talk-radio star. But still, even though I believe in teaching literature so as to bring about economic transformations, I can’t say that I’ve ever jeopardized the life or the safety of another human being. I’m not that dangerous, after all.