excellence

I have something to say about universities and what writers outside them think they are and what writers inside them either get or are able to ignore. I am not sure what it is yet.  You really do have a lot of freedom to do with your work what you want. I really never see anyone not get something like tenure or even a merit raise (these tiny $ amounts we anguish over) b/c their work is (subjectively) lousy– all the tests/standards are pretty straightforward (even as they inflate) and the rest– which is either nothing, b/c people like you just fine, or everything, b/c they don’t– is about people and their ideas about the glory of the institution or the glory of themselves as it’s wrapped in the institution. It’s called “excellence” and it is measured x whoever has the power and people who have power in universities are pretty much the same amount good, bad, meritorious or not as anywhere else. The old power was of course patriarchal but it was also supposed to be something like moral. Now it’s still patriarchal, if less exclusively rich white male, and it’s also unabashedly capitalistic in its values. Somewhere in there is the idea that argument is pristine and shields one from the vagaries of morality. I skipped about a thousand steps in there but I was thinking about these things in relation to the mechanized systems that keep requiring me, in my job as cw director, to change what we people down here are trying to accomplish in order to, like, conform to the available choice option on a census survey.  Example, the mechanization of things like admissions and hiring. It’s online now.  It makes the process easier (yay! remote access to files instead of reading in a dank room!) and “fairer” (everyone submits to the machine and the machine doesn’t make exceptions) BUT the terms of the machine are determined not by- for instance- faculty, but by whatever corporations the university hired to create the computerized system. I offer this example b/c of its metaphoric reach, not as an unassailable argumentative force. I am against argument, and I am reading Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts– and she is against that kind of argument, too, but she is actually trained in and loves analytic writing, philosophy, and so on, so she’s making a case, trying to slip around with purpose in realms that include analytic discourse and other kinds of discourse like suggestion and evocation.  Analysis– including this not-rigorous pissy bloggy kind– I want all that stuff only inasmuch as it can get me to the next good line of fiction. I still have no idea how to make better decisions about my participation in this society.

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