Much sad discussion, UD thinks, will be occasioned…

… by the suicide of Princeton economist Alan Krueger at 58. It will perhaps be seen as an iconic death, carrying most powerfully within it horrible truths about the ultimate incorrigibility of some forms of clinical depression. His was as far as one could tell one of the golden lives: Brilliant, athletic, handsome, wealthy, esteemed by presidents, rich in friends and family. A “gentle, generous guy.” And still the mind has mountains.

 O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall 
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap 
May who ne’er hung there.

********************

After decades of reading, writing, and thinking about suicide, I’ve gathered a few statements about it that feel right to me.

Boris Pasternak wrote:

We have no conception of the inner torture which precedes suicide.

… The continuity of his inner life is broken, his personality is at an end. And perhaps what finally makes him kill himself is not the firmness of his resolve but the unbearable quality of this anguish which belongs to no one, of this suffering in the absence of the sufferer, of this waiting which is empty because life has stopped and can no longer fill it.

… What is certain is that they all suffered beyond description, to the point where suffering has become a mental sickness. And as we bow in homage to their gifts and to their bright memory, we should bow compassionately before their suffering.

Philip Roth wrote:

What was astonishing to him was how people seemed to run out of their own being, run out of whatever the stuff was that made them who they were and, drained of themselves, turn into the sort of people they would have once have felt sorry for. It was as though while their lives were rich and full they were secretly sick of themselves and couldn’t wait to dispose of their sanity and their health and all sense of proportion so as to get down to that other self, the true self, who was a wholly deluded fuckup. It was as though being in tune with life was an accident that might sometimes befall the fortunate young but was otherwise something for which human beings lacked any real affinity. How odd. And how odd it made him seem to be numbered among the countless unembattled normal ones might, in fact, be the abnormality, a stranger from real life because of his being so sturdily rooted.

***********************

August Kleinzahler’s comment on his wild and brilliant brother, who killed himself at 27: “He wasn’t made for the long haul. Not everyone is.”

************************

This poem by Donald Justice is very much in line with Pasternak and Roth:

For The Suicides of 1962

in memory: J & G

If we recall your voices
As softer now, it’s only
That they must have drifted back

A long way to have reached us
Here, and upon such a wind
As crosses the high passes.

Nor does the blue of your eyes
(Remembered) cast much light on
The page ripped from the tablet.

*

Once there in the labyrinth,
You were safe from your reasons.
We stand, now, at the threshold,

Peering in, but the passage,
For us, remains obscure; the
Corridors are still bloody.

*

What you meant to prove you have
Proved: we did not care for you
nearly enough. Meanwhile the

Bay was preparing herself
To receive you, the for once
Wholly adequate female

To your dark inclinations;
Under your care, the pistol
Was slowly learning to flower

In the desired explosion
Disturbing the careful part
And the briefly recovered

Fixed smile of a forgotten
Triumph; deep within the black
Forest of childhood that tree

Was already rising which,
With the length of your body,
Would cast the double shadow.

*

The masks by which we knew you
Have been torn from you. Even
Those mirrors, to which always

You must have turned to confide,
Cannot have recognized you,
Stripped, as you were, finally.

At the end of your shadow
There sat another, waiting,
Whose back was always to us.

*

When the last door had been closed,
You watched, inwardly raging,
For the first glimpse of your selves
Approaching, jangling their keys.

‘He’s also written more than a thousand humorous poems and loves to share them with visitors, including one about an African antelope that ends with the line “what the new gnu knew.”’

A roadmap to longevity.

He’s got a real stranglehold…

… on his job.

A Professor’s Daughter is Murdered. A Judge Might have Prevented it, but…

… despite the fact that police had been called repeatedly to the murderer’s home because of his dangerous mental illness, the judge chose to deny the professor’s request for emergency intervention.  

A completely avoidable outcome, assuming a competent judge.

Cynthia Chang, Daniel Tao.. . and now we have a new name to enter into the professor-as-human-trafficker hall of fame.

Ashim Mitra, University of Missouri, joins this remarkable crew of slave-drivers, professors for whom students represent little more than indentured servants.

Because he pulled in lots of grant money, and because … well, he’s Indian and I guess it’s his way and who are we to judge his behavior by American standards … Mitra got away with enslaving his students for decades.

A long article about the dude gives you all sorts of insight into his sweet disposition. When a colleague called him on [his] behavior at a faculty meeting, “Mitra … called … the campus police to expel [the colleague] from [the] meeting.”







What do you have to do to lose your job at the University of Minnesota?

A UM professor keeps his job, but because he’s a moral degenerate he won’t be teaching or doing anything else there. Just collecting his salary.

As soon as he’s back from four months in prison (this was his financial fraud case, not his buying an arsenal of illegal guns case), he’ll rejoin his colleagues. I guess. I mean, will he even show up? No one wants him to. I guess UM would simply like to send him a big fat check every month.

Now if he takes a couple of those guns and shoots up the student center, then, maybe… Maybe he’ll get docked some salary…

Say it with me: Your tax dollars at work.







‘Professor Feiner insists this was not meant to be a partisan exercise. She says if students wanting to support the nomination wanted to enroll in the course and take the trip, they would have been welcome. “’

Nice try, babe.







‘I’ve spent my whole adult life in rarefied academic circles, where everyone has a good income and excellent working conditions. Yet I know many people in that world who are seething with resentment because they aren’t at Harvard or Yale, or who actually are at Harvard or Yale but are seething all the same because they haven’t received a Nobel Prize.’

SING IT.

Welcome to my world
Won’t you come on in?
Ivies and Nobels
Are there for me to win

Step into my heart
Leave your cares behind
Welcome to my world
Built with me in mind

Knock and all doors will open
Seek and I will find
Ask and I’ll be given
The key to this world of mine

*********************

Seething all the same
A hedgie lives next door
See how they rig the game
He makes ten million more

Krugman’s in the Times
Every week or two
I am far behind
In the Chronicle‘s The View

Ivy? Sure. Cornell.
But it’s rated last.
Life’s a living hell
My rage is unsurpassed

**************************

Related:

[T]he eliter-than-elite kids [at Ivy League schools] themselves help create a provisional inside-the-Ivy hierarchy that lets all the other privileged kids, the ones who are merely upper-upper middle class, feel the spur of resentment and ambition that keeps us running, keeps us competing, keeps us sharp and awful in all the ways that meritocracy requires.







The John Jay College of Criminal Mischief Allegations…

… jump to the New York Times, so UD now feels comfortable passing them along to you. (She saw them yesterday in the New York Post, but…) Unlike routine professor-mischief allegations, these are so lurid and extensive as to paint – in the words of the NYT – an entire “academic underworld” of sex and drugs, operating out of the offices of lots of professors.

A sample of office etiquette, John Jay College-style:

[One student said a professor there] poured her straight whiskey during a meeting in his office, locked the door and performed oral sex on her.

Without wanting to sound a prude, I will say that this seems pretty irregular to ol’ UD







Failed to…

inglatiate himself.







There’s always a silver lining.

And the silver lining in the long tragicomic thing the NYU sexual harassment mess is turning out to be is that it directs us again to the final two sections of Camille Paglia’s hilarious 1992 essay about people like Avital Ronnel, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders.” Camille, it’s been too long.

I flashed onto Paglia’s classic when I read these sentences, written today in the Chronicle of Higher Ed by a woman who, very unhappily, worked as a grad student at NYU with Ronnel:

Structural problems are problems because real people hurt real people. You cannot have a cycle of abuse without actually existing abusers. That sounds simple, which is why so many academics hate it.

Her point is that deconstructive method has given academics sympathetic to Ronnel a way to sidestep the obvious abuse she doled out to the complainant – by theorizing and complexifying and performatizing human behavior. Derrida showed everyone the way when he denied his friend Paul de Man’s fascism by fogging it up so thoroughly that nothing meant anything.

This is the Paglia excerpt that came back to me:

Hey, fellas: there’s something out there that electrocutes people on beaches, collapses buildings like cardboard, and drowns ships and villages. It’s called nature. The next time the western horizon flames with crimson, remember that this is what Foucault never saw.

Richard Rorty, too, came to mind:

When one of today’s academic leftists says that some topic has been ‘inadequately theorized,’ you can be pretty certain that he or she is going to drag in either philosophy of language, or Lacanian psychoanalysis, or some neo-Marxist version of economic determinism. Theorists of the Left think that dissolving political agents into plays of differential subjectivity, or political initiatives into pursuits of Lacan’s impossible object of desire, helps to subvert the established order. Such subversion, they say, is accomplished by ‘problematizing familiar concepts.’

Recent attempts to subvert social institutions by problematizing concepts have produced a few very good books. They have also produced many thousands of books which represent scholastic philosophizing at its worst. The authors of these purportedly ‘subversive’ books honestly believe that they are serving human liberty. But it is almost impossible to clamber back down from their books to a level of abstraction on which one might discuss the merits of a law, a treaty, a candidate, or a political strategy. Even though what these authors ‘theorize’ is often something very concrete and near at hand – a current TV show, a media celebrity, a recent scandal – they offer the most abstract and barren explanations imaginable.

*****************

The clear and present realities the letter-writers in this case theorized away were, UD thinks, two:

1. Some human beings are very cruel.
2. Human collectives have a perennial tendency to degenerate into gangs that punish outsiders.







Strong-minded piece by Katha Pollitt on the Big Mess at NYU.

[Avital] Ronell’s work strikes me as a big bowl of word salad. But I understand that the general project of deconstruction is the analysis and dismantling of conscious and unconscious structures of power. How odd, then, that these professors could see domination operating everywhere except the one place they could actually do something about it: in their own relations with students.







Reprise.

A second complaint of sexual misconduct against opera star, University of Michigan professor, David Daniels.







The Avital Ronell Wars: Slytherin vs. Ravenclaw.

I thought things were quieting down (see this post), but Cornell University student journalists, taking note of the sexual harassment case that has “garnered widespread attention in academia and elsewhere,” have now attempted to ask three Cornell professors why they signed the now-notorious letter (“a terrible letter,” writes Masha Gessen in the New Yorker) defending the harasser.

Two of the professors responded like Donald Trump when asked by reporters about John McCain.

[Cathy] Caruth and [Cynthia] Chase declined to be interviewed by The Sun… Caruth said she understands “the general interest in this letter, but I feel it is too complex to be handled adequately through an interview for an article.”

The familiar too complex move – with its evasion, condescension, and self-aggrandizement – puts Caruth solidly in the Slytherin camp among the now-squabbling letter signers.

(Update: Here’s a whole analysis of the way the too complex bit has been used in this case.)

Slytherin because of what David Lehman memorably called the “slithering elusiveness” of the deconstructive analytical/argumentative method.

Rather than deal forthrightly with moral questions, you slither away by talking about complexity, or enigmatic gay coding, or the instability of signifiers. (The model here is Derrida’s 62-page dance around the obviousness of his friend Paul de Man’s wartime – lifetime, as it would turn out – degeneracy. “Borrowing Derrida’s logic, one could deconstruct Mein Kampf to reveal that its author was conflicted on the subject of the Jews,” as Lehman wrote.)

The Ravenclaws among the letter writers go the other way, seemingly forgetting everything they’ve learned and taught about a world of indeterminacy/performativity, and instead going right in for the linguistically transparent kill. “If any of the sexual contact alleged by the complainant had taken place,” writes Jonathan Culler to the Cornell reporter, “there would doubtless have been references to it in the emails,” and he doesn’t find any, so case closed. “If he effectively felt oppressed and harassed, there were ways of signalling this, which would have definitely not hurt his position,” announces Slavoj Zizek, taking up an astonishingly naive univocal position on the matter of language, not to mention cause and effect.







The Avital Ronnel Sex Scandal: A Little Postscript.

People seem to have tired of talking both about the Derrida Professor’s having been found guilty by NYU of sexual harassment, and the lawsuit the grad student she harassed has filed against her and the school. But Ronell’s animating intellectual commitment – deconstruction – is worth revisiting, and here are two comments on it, from very different political positions.

First: Martin Jay, reviewing, in 2011, a book of interviews with Ronell.

[Ronell] depends … heavily on mobilizing the tired rhetoric of combat that animated the “theory wars” of the 1980s. AR herself seems frozen in that moment, a bit like one of those Japanese soldiers on a remote Pacific island still fighting for the emperor long after he surrendered. There are, after all, just so many times you can act out Zéro de conduite before the audience gets tired of adolescent rebelliousness as a mode of critique. Intellectual mooning grows as tedious as the real thing. It is fair to say that the ranks of her regiment are in fact getting thinner and thinner as the scandal and provocation of deconstruction recede further into the past.

Second, Francis Fukuyama, in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Q. You have an unusual background for a political scientist. You majored in classics at Cornell, then did graduate work in comparative literature at Yale, where you studied with Paul de Man. Later you spent time in Paris sitting in on classes with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. Any memories from this journey through deconstruction?

A. I decided it was total bullshit. They were espousing a kind of Nietzschean relativism that said there is no truth, there is no argument that’s superior to any other argument. Yet most of them were committed to a basically Marxist agenda. That seemed completely contradictory. If you really are a moral relativist, there is no reason why you shouldn’t affirm National Socialism or the racial superiority of Europeans, because nothing is more true than anything else. I thought it was a bankrupt way of proceeding and decided to shift gears and go into political science.

The superannuated subversion both men evoke suggests a reading of Ronell’s recent troubles in which, perversely, she rather got what she wanted: A new lease on academic deviancy.

***************

Which, Jay notes, Ronell believes Derrida invented.

“One cannot imagine how whited-out the academic corridor was when Derrida arrived on the American scene. There was really no room for deviancy, not even for a quaint aberration or psychoanalysis,” she asserts, blithely erasing Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse, Noam Chomsky, C. Wright Mills, Hannah Arendt, Natalie Zemon Davis, Hayden White, Florence Howe, etc., from memory.







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