colin hood on Tue, 9 Feb 1999 17:56:59 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Impaedia - breaching the academy

                A tale of two books

                     I was feeling a lot better. This wasn't as bad as I
                     thought it would be. I guess I must have smiled.
                     Scotty responded with a laugh: "But then, and that's
                     the best part of all, you showed no mercy when we
                     were wrong. And you were right. We were wrong.
                     Hell, I was wrong. And you made that fact very very
                     clear. Even I could see it."

                     I must have looked awfully confused. Maybe even a
                     bit nervous. About the only thing I knew about Scotty
                     the person, not R. S. MacNeish the bibliographic
                     entry, was that he had put himself through Harvard
                     many many years ago by means of a boxing scholarship. 
                     This fact, right or not, was widely known - even by 
                     PhD students.(1)

                              David Rindos

                Once again I return to my reading of novels in the
                campus genre. I begin with Plato's depiction of the
                pedagogical styles of Socrates: perambulatory ironist
                (The Phaedrus), table talking prick-tease (The
                Symposium ), boring advocate of credentialised, on site
                apprenticeship (The Republic).

                I jump a couple of millenia - into the 1960's with John
                Barth's epic (campus cyber pastoral bildungsroman),
                Giles Goat Boy. I was thirty years old when I first
                picked up this great lump of a book; thirty years old
                when I finally decided to supplement my meagre art
                education with a philosophy training etched in Sydney
                sandstone; thirty years old when I bought my first
                computer (word processor).

                It was only then that I found myself able to write in a
                manner befitting a mature authorial ego ideal; only then
                that I could imagine a place for myself - in the academy
                as different (distinct in function and form) from the
                art-world. And even then, I never could quite measure
                the gap - passing from (a qualitatively different) one to
                the other.

                The novel, Giles Goat Boy (The Revised New Syllabus)
                lays claim ( expressed from the body of the story) to
                being an unauthored memoir (We are never quite sure
                how it arrives to pre-publication in the first place). It
                opens with a series of letters from the four editors of
                the manuscript, each expressing different views as to
                the formal and aesthetic qualities, and the commercial
                viability of the book.

                From the author line-up, the reader may pick between,
                Giles (,) Stoker, the son of George Giles, the university
                computer, or simply pass over into compliance with the
                text's self management in mythopoesis. We arrive at a
                "literal truth" possessed of no authorial mission save the
                editorial clipping of its lexias and reels (a reference to
                the faithful transcription by the "mighty" WESCAC
                computer, but also, perhaps, to the cinemascopic cast
                of authors who populate the manuscript.

                Five moments in story managment fall about between
                endpapers: 1/ editorial disclaimers 2/a cover letter to
                editors and publishers by the "regenerate seeker after
                answers, J.B." (presumably Barth 'himself') 3/ the
                (alleged) computer transcript tapes 4/ principle
                character's 'post-tape' 5/ J.B.'s postscript to the
                posttape. It ends up figured like the true text of the
                Torah, written in black figures on white fire, too old to
                be believed, archaic - evanescent:

                     Supposing even that the scroll were
                     replaced by these endless tapes, one day
                     to feed Him who will come after me, as I
                     fed once on that old sheepskin - what
                     then? Cycles on cycles, every unwinding:
                     like my watch; like the reels of this
                     machine. (Giles Goat Boy) (2)

                For a moment, twelve years ago, I leapt in (between
                tentative tappings of fuzzy green text on to the screen
                of my new Amstrad) judging the work a shaggy dog
                campus story in the spirit of Laurence Sterne. Today
                (and only for a moment or two - as I shred and
                recompose this text through successive HTML editings) I
                will ackowledge (but never quite come to grips with)
                certain libidinal configurations around the scenes of
                teaching and learning.

                As I transpose characters and story-tellers from 'real 
                life' campus yarns rendered (irrudicibly dialogic), new
                tensions open up around the use and exchange of
                knowledge. And as I unwind the reels of "analytic
                pedagogy" - melodramas of pedagocal eros, sundry
                modernist mini-dramas of exclusion (something like
                Beckett's Act without words), the victims change into
                aggressors, into commentators, again into perpetrators.
                No time to put a stop to it at all. Who would want to?


                In an Australian newsapaper feature aptly titled "The
                Vanishing",  (3) Journalist Kate Legge sketched a brief
                history of the David Rindos Affair. The American
                Archaeologist was head-hunted for UWA while on tour
                to ANU in 1988 by head of department, Sandra Bowdler.
                Following a stint of acting up as department head, it
                became apparent to Rindos that he held quite different
                views on the finer points of managerial and fiduciary

                Bowdler's petulant, emotional style of supervision and
                staff selection was making it tough for a number of
                graduate students in her department. Rindos acted to
                relocate those students to a less stressful supervisory
                environment; too late to curtail an escalating conflict
                which was beginning to go public every which way.

                Too hard and too late to roll out the heavy sleepers.
                The shonky status quo in Archaeology was considered
                by many UWA executives as just another institutional
                idiosyncracy. Bowdler's network influence within the
                university executive (including the VC) led to the
                miscarriage, and ultimately the termination of Rindo's
                tenure track in 1993. Unemployed and in bad health,
                Rindos continued to fight his case for re-instatement
                while local media sprayed "Uni Lesbian Mafia Consipiracy!"
                headline graffiti over print, radio and TV.

                Rindos didn't merry along with the organ grind of the
                tabloids. He did however network the facts of the case
                to maximum effect, expressing a far more sombre
                opinion of the institution that took offense to its own:

                     I have been denied tenure by the
                     University of Western Australia. At times, I
                     want to shout it from the highest towers.
                     Some days, it has seemed the greatest
                     accolade of my professional career. I have
                     been denied tenure because, or so at
                     least I sometimes believe, I tried to
                     support all that is good, and just, and
                     proper in university life. In doing so, I
                     have done right. I have supported The
                     Academy. Therefore, academia must still
                     be alive and well. Yet, what is academia?

                Rindos died of a massive heart attack in December 1997.
                It is perhaps too soon to lend a sympathetic to this
                keeper of the faith. A book has not (to my knowledge)
                been composed or proposed, no fledgling film script
                sweating for a treatment of this most harrowing (and
                perverse) harassment narrative. Yet right now, the
                facts, fictions and characters of this tragic story
                collect, transform and interact through the efforts of
                Hugh Jarvis at the University of Boston. (5)

                A book is writing itself. Many readers compose and
                shape this thing. It agitates, squirms, shudders about
                the place in a mess of assorted styles, reflections and

                     It arises from the connective synthesis of
                     eye-to-screen, from the institutions of
                     author/reader/text, from the behavioural
                     grammar which emerges across the
                     point'n'click interface ... It is an
                     assemblage arising from the interrelations
                     of a field of forces. It is inherently
                     unstable and in a process of perpetual
                     change. (6)

                As the codex breaks down and recomposes itself in
                cyberspace, so the mediated scene of teaching - to
                borrow Eric Raymond's phrasing - is beginning to shape
                up to a broadcast" [rather than physical] distribution of
                educational goods."(7) In the rush hours of millenial
                hope, there's conflicting opinion as to how traditions of
                scholarship, deference(s) to the canon, and in situ
                meritocracy will prevail (or mutate) in a diverse and
                increasingly technocratic educational economy.

                Whatever it may be - the new academy does not
                passively unfold in the shrinking space of centres of
                excellence; does not joyfully explode in the 'otherwise
                expressed' of an illocutionary mailing list, a mere
                supplement to credentialised speech. A critical
                pedagogy might possess, echoing the words of Bill
                Readings, a "specific chronotope that is radically alien
                to accountable time upon which the excellence of
                capitalist-bureaucratic management depend."19 Content
                in its wasted time and usable (disposed rather than
                merely desired technologies), this learning body, this
                confidence to work and think, will fashion no definitive
                personality along the fresh, beaten, and hitherto
                unused paths from ignorance to knowledge.

                One morning you may wake up stupid again. Well who
                and what will do something about that?


1. David Rindos, "A Far Worse Fate." Found off the main
 menu at
 [last accessed February 6, 1999].

2. John Barth, Giles Goat-Boy or, The Revised New
  Syllabus. London: Secker & Warburg. 1967. p 699.

3. The Australian,October 19/20, 1995.

4. Hugh Jarvis, (once) a doctoral candidate at the
University of Buffalo, is the principal site manager of the
Rindos Affair 'book'. Begin at
[last accessed February 6, 1999}

5.Belinda Barnet, "Reconfiguring Hypertext as a
 Machine: Capitalism, Periodic Tables and a Mad
 Optometrist." Frame (No. 2) , 1998. [last
accessed 18/11/98]

6. Eric Raymond, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar."
[accessed December 20, 1998]

7. Bill Readings, The University in Ruins, Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1996. p 151.


colin hood (
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