Monday, January 19, 2009

Tomorrow's Clerks

The strong and stable institution is that which can sustain dissent from within—like the strong body that can withstand bacteria, viruses, and other toxins more readily than a body with a weak immune system. The exceptions are pyramidal institutions whose structures are made to allow for a downward cascade of authority (corporations, militaries).

Though I am aware that the New York Times tells me little of consequence, I read its content anyway. Some of it. Like some of you surely did, I read Fish's self-satisfied write-up of Frank Donoghue's book, The Last Professors. I get the same bewildering discomfort reading accounts like Donoghue's as any other young academic does. So if the liberal arts as we know them are in jeopardy (and boy do they always seem to be in jeopardy!) how do we humanities scholars survive?

The great university systems of the modern world existed within power structures which were national, protected and differentiated in both cultural tradition and laws of the state. The universities existed under the dominant paradigms of the system which enveloped them, and as with all capital, resources, and intellectual manpower, the game is rigged in favor of the owners. The great civilizations always maintain some activity for the advancement of leisure and learning. In some of these civilizations these activities are codified and restricted so that a great deal is the prerogative of the elite classes of people.

If tomorrow's age (which is already underway today) is that of transnational capital, will tomorrow's haven for dissent from within—the space it allows for a scholarly spirit of disinterestedness—be sustained by these very corporations and their for-profit institutions, operating through webs of virtual space and "global cities" and English (or some other lingua franca)? And I wonder if, as a corollary to this, the future of a strong liberal arts (or equivalent) education will revert to the privilege of a few or will remain viable on a relative mass scale.

More broadly: will that very scholarly spirit of disinterestedness remain or will it evolve into a new and unrecognizable thing altogether (i.e., in less optimistic words, die out)?


Anonymous said...

"Though I am aware that the New York Times tells me little of consequence, I read its content anyway."

Have you read Paul Krugman?

ZC said...

Yes, I read Krugman from time to time.