recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : lioneltrilling   4

On Having Roots in More than One Place | The American Conservative
"I’m reading Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton right now, and in a particularly interesting passage he — writing in the third person, as he does, annoyingly, through the book — explains why he wrote The Satanic Verses:
The strange truth was that, after two novels that engaged directly with the public history of the Indian subcontinent, he saw this new book as a much more personal, interior exploration, a first attempt to create a work out of his own experience of migration and metamorphosis: To him, it was the least political book of the three.

(The other two books being Midnight’s Children, set in India, and Shame, set in Pakistan.) The Satanic Verses is, in its author’s view, “a personal, interior exploration” in this very important sense:
It was unsettling not to understand why the shape of life had changed. He often felt meaningless, even absurd. He was a Bombay boy who had made his life in London among the English, but often he felt cursed by a double unbelonging. The root of language, at least, remained, but he began to appreciate how deeply he felt the loss of the other roots, and how confused he felt about what he had become. In the age of migration the world’s millions of migrated selves faced colossal problems, problems of homelessness, hunger, unemployment, disease, persecution, alienation, fear. He was one of the luckier ones, but one great problem remained: that of authenticity. The migrated self became, inevitably, heterogeneous instead of homogeneous, belonging to more than one place, multiple rather than singular, responding to more than one way of being, more than averagely mixed up. Was it possible to be — to become good at being — not rootless, but multiply rooted? Not to suffer from a loss of roots but to benefit from an excess of them? The different roots would have to be of equal or near-equal strength, and he worried that his Indian connection had weakened. He needed to make an act of reclamation of the Indian identity he had lost, or felt he was in danger of losing. The self was both its origins and its journey.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and maybe I’ll get a chance to unpack it as I continue reading the book. But let me just note two things right now:

1) Nothing is more important to the modern self that to possess, or to feel that it possesses, authenticity. This manifests itself in a lot of ways, including, most obviously and perhaps superficially, choices about food. For many people there’s no higher commendation of a restaurant than to call it “authentic.” (This used to, and probably still does, drive the great food writer Calvin Trillin nuts. To the claim that a restaurant is “authentic” he would typically reply “No it isn’t.” But then he would ask, “Who cares? What matters is: Was it good? Did you clean your plate?”) A deeper problem is that nothing could be less authentic than thinking about authenticity, as Lionel Trilling noted forty years ago when he wrote a book on this topic that’s still deeply incisive, Sincerity and Authenticity.

2) The question of whether it’s possible to be “multiply rooted” — not rootless, but rooted in different places — is an increasingly insistent one not just for immigrants but for all kinds of people in a transient and mobile world. I have lived in Illinois for much longer than I lived in Alabama, but don’t feel rooted here: is that inevitable? Is that my fault? Have I somehow failed to put down the roots that I should have? Is just being an American, whether in Alabama or Illinois, a sufficiently rooted identity? (Few would say yes. Why not?) Can online identity provide roots? (Some people surely believe that it does.) And why does a felt lack of rootedness bother people, including me?

Things to think about…."
salmanrushdie  writing  identity  culture  authenticity  rootedness  roots  2012  lioneltrilling  food  thirdculturekids  belonging  unbelonging  modernity  alanjacobs  calvintrillin  sincerity  unrootedness  online  web 
october 2015 by robertogreco
[Essay] | The Neoliberal Arts, by William Deresiewicz | Harper's Magazine
"I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

A spatial structure, the sentence also suggests a temporal sequence. Thinking clearly, it wants us to recognize, leads to thinking independently. Thinking independently leads to living confidently. Living confidently leads to living courageously. Living courageously leads to living hopefully. And the entire chain begins with a college that recognizes it has an obligation to its students, an obligation to develop their abilities to think and live.

Finally, the sentence is attributed to an individual. It expresses her convictions and ideals. It announces that she is prepared to hold herself accountable for certain responsibilities.

The second text is not a sentence. It is four words floating in space, unconnected to one another or to any other concept. Four words — four slogans, really — whose meaning and function are left undefined, open to whatever interpretation the reader cares to project on them.

Four words, three of which — “leadership,” “service,” and “creativity” — are the loudest buzzwords in contemporary higher education. (“Integrity” is presumably intended as a synonym for the more familiar “character,” which for colleges at this point means nothing more than not cheating.) The text is not the statement of an individual; it is the emanation of a bureaucracy. In this case, a literally anonymous bureaucracy: no one could tell me when this version of the institution’s mission statement was formulated, or by whom. No one could even tell me who had decided to hang those banners all over campus. The sentence from the founder has also long been mounted on the college walls. The other words had just appeared, as if enunciated by the zeitgeist.

But the most important thing to note about the second text is what it doesn’t talk about: thinking or learning. In what it both does and doesn’t say, it therefore constitutes an apt reflection of the current state of higher education. College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.

This is education in the age of neoliberalism. Call it Reaganism or Thatcherism, economism or market fundamentalism, neoliberalism is an ideology that reduces all values to money values. The worth of a thing is the price of the thing. The worth of a person is the wealth of the person. Neoliberalism tells you that you are valuable exclusively in terms of your activity in the marketplace — in Wordsworth’s phrase, your getting and spending.

The purpose of education in a neoliberal age is to produce producers. I published a book last year that said that, by and large, elite American universities no longer provide their students with a real education, one that addresses them as complete human beings rather than as future specialists — that enables them, as I put it, to build a self or (following Keats) to become a soul. Of all the responses the book aroused, the most dismaying was this: that so many individuals associated with those institutions said not, “Of course we provide our students with a real education,” but rather, “What is this ‘real education’ nonsense, anyway?”"



"So what’s so bad about leadership, service, and creativity? What’s bad about them is that, as they’re understood on campus and beyond, they are all encased in neoliberal assumptions. Neoliberalism, which dovetails perfectly with meritocracy, has generated a caste system: “winners and losers,” “makers and takers,” “the best and the brightest,” the whole gospel of Ayn Rand and her Übermenschen. That’s what “leadership” is finally about. There are leaders, and then there is everyone else: the led, presumably — the followers, the little people. Leaders get things done; leaders take command. When colleges promise to make their students leaders, they’re telling them they’re going to be in charge.

“Service” is what the winners engage in when they find themselves in a benevolent mood. Call it Clintonism, by analogy with Reaganism. Bill Clinton not only ratified the neoliberal consensus as president, he has extended its logic as a former president. Reaganism means the affluent have all the money, as well as all the power. Clintonism means they use their money and power, or a bit of it, to help the less fortunate — because the less fortunate (i.e., the losers) can’t help themselves. Hence the Clinton Foundation, hence every philanthropic or altruistic endeavor on the part of highly privileged, highly credentialed, highly resourced elites, including all those nonprofits or socially conscious for-profits that college students start or dream of starting.

“Creativity,” meanwhile, is basically a business concept, aligned with the other clichés that have come to us from the management schools by way of Silicon Valley: “disruption,” “innovation,” “transformation.” “Creativity” is not about becoming an artist. No one wants you to become an artist. It’s about devising “innovative” products, services, and techniques — “solutions,” which imply that you already know the problem. “Creativity” means design thinking, in the terms articulated by the writer Amy Whitaker, not art thinking: getting from A to a predetermined B, not engaging in an open-ended exploratory process in the course of which you discover the B.

Leadership, service, and creativity do not seek fundamental change (remember, fundamental change is out in neoliberalism); they seek technological or technocratic change within a static social framework, within a market framework. Which is really too bad, because the biggest challenges we face — climate change, resource depletion, the disappearance of work in the face of automation — will require nothing less than fundamental change, a new organization of society. If there was ever a time that we needed young people to imagine a different world, that time is now.

We have always been, in the United States, what Lionel Trilling called a business civilization. But we have also always had a range of counterbalancing institutions, countercultural institutions, to advance a different set of values: the churches, the arts, the democratic tradition itself. When the pendulum has swung too far in one direction (and it’s always the same direction), new institutions or movements have emerged, or old ones have renewed their mission. Education in general, and higher education in particular, has always been one of those institutions. But now the market has become so powerful that it’s swallowing the very things that are supposed to keep it in check. Artists are becoming “creatives.” Journalism has become “the media.” Government is bought and paid for. The prosperity gospel has arisen as one of the most prominent movements in American Christianity. And colleges and universities are acting like businesses, and in the service of businesses.

What is to be done? Those very same WASP aristocrats — enough of them, at least, including several presidents of Harvard and Yale — when facing the failure of their own class in the form of the Great Depression, succeeded in superseding themselves and creating a new system, the meritocracy we live with now. But I’m not sure we possess the moral resources to do the same. The WASPs had been taught that leadership meant putting the collective good ahead of your own. But meritocracy means looking out for number one, and neoliberalism doesn’t believe in the collective. As Margaret Thatcher famously said about society, “There’s no such thing. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” As for elite university presidents, they are little more these days than lackeys of the plutocracy, with all the moral stature of the butler in a country house.

Neoliberalism disarms us in another sense as well. For all its rhetoric of freedom and individual initiative, the culture of the market is exceptionally good at inculcating a sense of helplessness. So much of the language around college today, and so much of the negative response to my suggestion that students ought to worry less about pursuing wealth and more about constructing a sense of purpose for themselves, presumes that young people are the passive objects of economic forces. That they have no agency, no options. That they have to do what the market tells them. A Princeton student literally made this argument to me: If the market is incentivizing me to go to Wall Street, he said, then who am I to argue?

I have also had the pleasure, over the past year, of hearing from a lot of people who are pushing back against the dictates of neoliberal education: starting high schools, starting colleges, creating alternatives to high school and college, making documentaries, launching nonprofits, parenting in different ways, conducting their lives in different ways. I welcome these efforts, but none of them address the fundamental problem, which is that we no longer believe in public solutions. We only … [more]
williamderesiewicz  education  highereducation  neoliberalism  capitalism  learning  purpose  stevenpinker  2015  individualism  economics  leadership  missionstatements  courage  confidence  hope  criticalthinking  independence  autonomy  liberalarts  wealth  inequality  citizenship  civics  society  highered  publicpurpose  business  ronaldreagan  billclinton  margaretthatcher  government  media  lioneltrilling  socialgood  creativity  innovation  amywhitaker  service  servicelearning  change  fundamentalchange  systemsthinking  us  civilization  transformation  money  power  aynrand  meritocracy  plutocracy  college  colleges  universities  schools  markets  wallstreet  helplessness  elitism  berniesanders  communitycolleges  aristocracy  reaganism  clintonism  politics  entrepreneurship  volunteerism  rickscott  corporatization  modernity  joshuarothman  greatbooks  1960s  stem  steam  commercialization  davidbrooks 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Transcendental Rites - The Baffler
"JS: […] Many younger persons today who haven’t traveled far enough into the professional middle class to be saddled with its go-along/get-along mode of resignation are aroused with half-articulate and semi-organized fervor over the crimes of their government. They’re struggling to connect the up-close realities of police misconduct with the world-historical bullshit peddled by the secret intelligence agencies. What can the next generation learn about the moral imagination from the writers discussed in your book?

EM: I hope you’re right about younger persons, and, if so, they seem to me to be facing structural problems in world society that are almost as intractable as the ones that people faced in the Cold War. It’s not exactly easy to deal with a world where governments and corporations seem to share the idea that if something is technically possible (information gathering via spying or torture, for example), then they ought to go ahead and do it. Governments used to think that way about bombs, and now they think that way about “enhanced interrogation techniques” and data-gathering. Maybe the only thing I would feel comfortable saying about the relation between moral imagination and political reality is something like this: When you think mostly in terms of partisan politics—our side versus their side—then you inevitably start worrying about whether an action or attitude helps your side or the other side, and you lose sight of what your real goal is, which (I hope anyway) has something to do with a social world that might be fit for free and responsible persons to live in. But if you think about politics as a way of putting your moral intelligence into effect, then you make it harder for other people to obfuscate the issue in order to serve their own immoral purposes.

It seems to me that in recent years the people who have done the most to make some worthwhile change possible have been the truth-tellers, those who said things that did themselves no good—they’re going to be on the run from the authorities more or less forever—but that they couldn’t stop themselves from saying because of a moral, rather than a partisan, motive. There’s a pretty clear contrast between such truth-tellers and the Nobel Prize–winning president who campaigned on a platform of moral action and then decided it was safest to forget about it. Parables about this kind of thing run through the book, and some of them complicate the whole issue. Norman Mailer, for example, was always committed, in what seems to me a thoroughly admirable way, to the democratic left, very much like Dwight Macdonald, but Mailer got himself tangled up in the idea that his own personal mythology and vision mattered more than what happened to other people. Macdonald never made that mistake, but Macdonald paid a price for seeing things as clearly as he did: he spent many years in something like passivity and despair, which didn’t do him any good, and certainly didn’t do any good for the kind of society he wanted.

Auden once said something to a friend that I think may get to the heart of both the difficulty and hopefulness of all this. He said (I’m paraphrasing from memory), “Americans get very angry when you tell them there are no answers, but in a crisis, they look forward, unlike Europeans, who look backward.”"

[via: http://ayjay.tumblr.com/post/118020300148/it-seems-to-me-that-in-recent-years-the-people-who ]
johnsummers  edwardmendelson  2015  academia  citizenship  history  humanities  alfredkazin  normanmailer  lioneltrilling  dwightmacdonald  optimism  pessimism  us  europe  future  past  society  truth  morality  patisanships  barackobama  mythology  personalmythology  truthtelling 
may 2015 by robertogreco
The American Scholar: Start a Blog - William Deresiewicz
"As Jack Miles puts it in a stellar essay on the question, “It takes years of disciplined preparation to become an academic. It takes years of undisciplined preparation to become an intellectual.”"

"But celebrity, like the institutionalization that comes with being an academic, is inimical to the intellectual’s mission: questioning the mental status quo. The more a part of things you are—the more embedded in the machinery of status and position—the harder that is to do. As Kazin said, “values are our only home in the universe.” Allegiances, to any group, are fatal. The intellectual’s job is to think past the culture: to question the myths, metaphors, and assumptions that limit our collective imagination. The founder of the breed was Socrates. As Kazin also said, an intellectual is someone for whom ideas are “instruments of salvation.” Becoming one requires a little more than setting up a blog."
disruption  status  celebrity  russelljacoby  academics  academia  intellectuals  socrates  deschooling  unschooling  outsiders  thesystem  jackmiles  writing  alfredkazin  haroldrosenberg  clementgreenberg  dwightmacdonald  lioneltrilling  edmundwilson  blogging  publicintellectuals  williamderesiewicz  2012  change  allegiances  outsider 
december 2012 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read