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Sunday (Am I Really) Radical Roundup: The Resurrection And The Life Edition

April 2, 2010, 1:01 pm

Continuing Concerns About My Politics Department: Click here for more concerns about whether I am really radical or not, discovered when I was Googling the Marc Bousquet reference cited in the previous post. It bears repeating occasionally that the Tenured Radical thing is meant to be understood in an ironic, oxymoronic, culture-warsy kind of context. But why waste an opportunity to talk about myself at length? Particularly on the Day that Our Lord rose from the dead, proved that there is hope for all of us, and encouraged the creation of the first, rudimentary group blog (currently also available as an iPhone App)?

It is my view that being a radical academic is a tricky, and perhaps impossible, proposition. Academics are inevitably hewing to one kind of convention or another, even when we are in resistance to — well, whatever. Hence, one is always stumbling over one’s own hypocrisies as a “radical academic.” Case in point: it is well-known that I abhor the effects of tenure, its filthy rules, and its tendency to make young intellectuals not more daring, but more conventional and in-groupy. I would like to see tenure abolished. Conversely, I participate in tenure cases, perform the due-est diligence I can, and have been known to run them. It is how we academics construct our workplace, I like to see people get a fair shake when I can, and it seems perverse (not in a nice way) to throw people I like to the dogs because of my own silly rules.

Not so radical is it? So many compromises, so little time.

A more serious example of the difficulties inherent to academic radicalism is attached to what we produce: written words, in combinations intended to be legible to others. Academics are all engaging in literary arts of various kinds. If you don’t adhere to some kind of recognizable genre, no one understand what the frack you are talking about or who you are talking to, and you have no audience. Occasionally someone does something startlingly new that shifts genre and/or convention, but it is rarer than you might think.

Here I would cite as my example of the forms of “virtuous convention” that counteract radical intent the queer intellectuals at Bully Bloggers (where you can read an excellent post by Columbia Law Prof Katherine Franke raising questions about the efforts by pro-gay marriage funders to force funding disclosures on the opposition.) I make an example of them because these folks (with whom I am acquainted) are as radically queer as they come: smart, successful, fun and everything good. Furthermore, several have contributed an idea or two that is so startling new that it has leaked out of queer studies to alter other fields entirely.

This is what radical knowledge is supposed to do. That said, queer studies has developed its own conventions over time: it adheres to unwritten rules of style, language, subject matter and argument, even as it often improves on these conventions. It is, as we say, now a field.

You might argue that what then allows queer studies to still claim radical ground is its refusal of normative cultural and political paradigms, and you would be right. But to come back to convention: is refusal, in and of itself, not itself a convention? Is refusal enough to persuade us that the phrase “radical scholarship” is not an oxymoron when queer studies is simultaneously creating disciplinary paradigms of its own inside the academy? Refusal, as Dick Hebdige put it so well, always “ends in the construction of a style, in a gesture of defiance or contempt, in a smile or a sneer.” These “signals [of] Refusal” are “worth making…even if, in the final analysis, they are…just the darker side of sets of regulations, just so much graffitti on a prison wall.(Subculture: The Meaning of Style, 1979; p. 3).

More About Me Department: The title is not mine, and I didn’t do the drawing, but you can read an op-ed by yours truly on intimate partner violence in today’s Hartford Courant. You can see me in person as a panelist, April 27, at a Key Issues Forum to be held at Zenith University, “The Person You Think You Know; Signs and Solutions of Campus Violence.” I am there to provide historical context, as you may have suspected.

Historiann Would Have Rocked Sterling Cooper: I don’t know whether it is more fun to watch Mad Men or to read Historiann’s critique of Mad Men. We are not going to tell her that there are some big unexpected changes in the last disc — but it doesn’t change her right-on analysis of the lumbering plot and almost antiquarian take on gender, sexuality and race in the 1960s.

I confess, part of the pleasure I get from the show is utterly pornographic. I thrill to Salvatore Romano’s closet, as I recall dashing in and out of my own in the 1970s; I want to be Roger Sterling — and now empathize strongly with his error in judgement in ditching his wife for a much younger, more expensive ball and chain; and I stood up and cheered when Betty Draper, in the last episode, when she — oops! Almost told.

Have fun Historiann, and for crying out loud, get a better cable package so we can do this in real time this summer!

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