Category Archives: academe

Work of the Mind

The acts that are at once the means and ends of education, knowing, thinking, understanding, judging, are all committed in solitude. It is only in a mind that the work of the mind can be done.

—Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe

(Via Michael Leddy.)

Do you have any books the faculty doesn’t particularly recommend?

One of Flannery O’Connor’s early drawings:

“Do you have any books the faculty doesn’t particularly recommend?”

(Via Wesley Hill.)

Academics Who Dress Well VII

Isaiah Berlin of “The Hedgehog and the Fox” fame:

Oh, and for the record, I’d rather be a fox.

(Via Put This On.)

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

University Towns

I hate university towns and university people, who are the same everywhere, with pregnant wives, sprawling children, many books and hideous pictures on the walls.

—T. S. Eliot


Low Theory

In an interview about his latest bookMcKenzie Wark discusses his preference for “low theory”:

The American university is where so-called ‘French theory’ was actually invented, and not in philosophy departments but via comparative literature, other literature departments, sometimes media studies, and various other places. So you couldn’t quite call it philosophy—it got called ‘theory’ and sometimes ‘high theory’. You end up with this construct, based essentially around the reception of Derrida into the Anglophone world through these centres of intellectual power in the US. And this is interesting, but it occupies a certain kind of terrain, a certain space. It requires a certain training.

I’ve always been much more interested in something else: The self-conscious attempt to construct conceptual practices outside of formal settings. That is what Marx did, it’s what Freud did, it’s what Benjamin did; I’d even say it’s what Nietzsche did, because of course he’s on ‘permanent leave’ when he’s writing all these amazing books, when he’s already losing it. Somehow, these guys are all now ‘high theory’, but that’s not where they came from whatsoever. Marx is not a philosopher, Freud is not a philosopher, Benjamin is not a philosopher; I’d even say Nietzsche is not a philosopher. They’re all doing ‘low theory’, and I’m trying to tell stories that fit into that tradition, maybe not at that level, but as a whole other way of thinking about the practice of knowledge in everyday life. This puts on the table the question of the politics of knowledge in a way that can’t be directly asked, or answered, in the space of the university.

Yeah, me too.

Where Grad Students Should Go to Get Ideas

Most graduate students are convinced that the way you get ideas is to read journal articles. But in my experience journals really aren’t a very good source of original ideas. You can get lots of things from journal articles – technique, insight, even truth. But most of the time you will only get someone else’s ideas. True, they may leave a few loose ends lying around that you can pick up on, but the reason they are loose is probably that the author thought about them a while and couldn’t figure out what to do with them or decided they were too tedious to bother with – which means that it is likely that you will find yourself in the same situation. My suggestion is rather different: I think that you should look for your ideas outside the academic journals – in newspapers, in magazines, in conversations, and in TV and radio programs.

—Hal Varian


Related post: Invisible Literature.

Quendelton State University School of Graduate Studies

I get to spend the next ten years of my life analyzing three lines of a poem that’s over 500 years old. In the real world, that would be considered a mental disorder.

Graduate student at the Quendelton State University School of Graduate Studies

(Via Austin Kleon.)

The Fetishization of Elite Schools

I think that the fetishization of elite schools in American culture, the way in which they cultivate an image as brands, as imprimaturs of some scarce resource called ‘excellence,’ is sad and pathological, and profoundly anti-democratic. The truth … is that an intellectual life is available to almost anyone, almost anywhere, if they work hard enough and are given some kind of access point.

Jess Row


I had imagined graduate school as a shining city on a hill, but it turned out to be more like an extended visit with a bear in a cave.

Errol Morris

Funny Because It’s True