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<nettime> Re: Re: New Media Education and Its Discontent
daniel perlin on Fri, 10 Oct 2003 12:14:15 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Re: Re: New Media Education and Its Discontent


I have been very excited to see that these questions of intellectual
representation and the roles of the university systems within contemporary
'American' culture have come to the fore here in Nettime. It is a sign of
responsible self-reflexive critique. However, I feel that it may be taking a
tack which may be deflating the energies that come from such a critique,
which is why I have chosen to respond for the first time to this list.

Edward Said once wrote
    "Intellectuals are individuals with a vocation for the art of
    representing, whether that is talking, writing, teaching, appearing on
    television. And that vocation is important to the extent that it is
    publicly recognizable and involves commitment and risk, boldness and
    vulnerability..."

However one may (an should) critique Said, it may be stated that he was a
public intellectual working through the institutions of American academia.
However, his recent passing further enunciates the continued marginalization
of the role of the academic within the public media spheres.  One is left to
ask, "who will speak now?" and more importantly, "who will listen?" I will
address the latter question later. First, the question of who is or could be
speaking.

Morlock Elloi boldly states
>The guild of "intellectuals" is extinct. This has nothing to do, of course,
> with free-thinking independent individuals that exist across the board, in all
> classes and castes.

This iterates, in a different fashion, what I am going for here. It is that
the role of the intellectual has been transformed. I would argue, though, by
no means has the intellectual become extinct. For quite some time, Academia
provided a certain safe-haven, relatively free from direct public invasion
of capital etc.. There is no denial that this too, this protective haze of
tenured liberty, is also diminishing, causing insidious and insipid
infighting, continued competition for underpaid labor, and outlandish
pressure for both publication and specialization. These pressures cause most
'academics' to hide behind their degrees and specialties, cowtowing to a
hungry band of administrator/fundraisers.

But a critical distinction needs to be made between what an intellectual is,
and what is an academic.

Here are some givens for my system:

Professional is the opposite of amateur.

Amateur = Ama + dore in latin.

Ama = love

Dore = work

One who loves their work is an amateur.
A professional does not love their work.
I claim that an intellectual is an amateur.
 

It may be argued that American academia has always already served it purpose
as a trainer and discipline machine for the masses. However, within every
system, there are aberrations, those who take, as Said points out, RISK.
There remain risk-takers within the boundaries of academia (and, I would
argue, in every institution), whether American or other academies.

It seems to me that pressures within American systems to create works which
sell only further drive such a desire to take risk. However, perhaps the
lack of visible 'academic' intellectuals is not due to the lack of their
presence within the institutions, but only serves as an articulation-point
within the critical issue facing any producer within the US.
Distribution. 

It is here, it would seem, that the post-vietnam voice of the academic as
amateur (remember, Chomsky got his job as a Linguist) has fallen to deaf
ears, for lack of megaphone.

I would argue that intellectuals have looked elsewhere to have their voices
heard, and that risky, amateurish production takes infinite forms. However,
have academics become wimps? Afraid to speak out? I should say not (nettime
is proof positive)! Where, then, is the media that will respond?
Have the american media monopoly machines won? Is that how nettime was
formed? 

What inspires students, what drives intellectual production, is RISK. Do
professors risk? How many professors profess to  'not know' something, to
get out of their leagues, to fuck up, to make an ass of themselves, or point
out the nature of the spectacle of the academic machines which provide their
paychecks. This is what makes Eminem popular, so why not try? Or perhaps,
instead of selling their lectures in overpriced video collections, buying a
server (or using a university's server) and putting it online each week, for
the public. Demystify American Academia and make more mistakes. Sure,
conferences are cool-- and even better when you get the Paul Miller or KRS
One-- but wouldn't it be great if you created a public archive, maybe even
actually used that TV/Radio station most universities have access to?

American academia, as all professions, is hyper individuating and
specializing.  But that does not mean that students, or the public,
necessarily loathe intellectuals. I do not agree that, as Tbyfield has
stated, that there is a "tradition of anti-intellectualism" here in the US.
However, anti-academicism, perhaps. Didactic professionals are not that
interesting to me either. Perhaps, with a re-examination of the pressures
that are shrinking academia's abilities to provide space for amateurish
behaviour is necessary  (see Bordieu, in  Homo Academicus).

Human Being writes
>thus to summarize, it would be that the term intellectual
>itself is absurd in the .US context, given Bill Gates is
>considered 'the smartest' person in the country (and
>world

I don't see why being smart is necessarily being intellectual. And
furthermore, I have never heard anyone call Gates an intellectual. My point
is that rather than succumb to the pressures that we all feel as producers,
perhaps we could encourage "professional academics" (often conflated with
'intelligentsia') to use their power to take risk. Yes, New Media
departments are nebulous. Yes, they don't 'know what they're doing' etc.,
but isn't that what we hope for? To 'know what you are doing' seems to
signify the 'skills machines' which have always been capital's desired roles
for the student in the information age. Useless knowledge is a beautiful
thing. 

To sum up, yes, I see academia trying to refigure itself, because the
external market for skills has transformed. But more interestingly, I see
the conditions of possibility within these institutions for
interdisciplinary action, for failure, for the ridiculous, a space for
continued de-specialization. Students love to learn that professors are
people too, amateurs, in the most vulnerable and public ways.

 
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