Sunday, March 21, 2010

PC: not so terrible, after all

There have been times, on blog and off, when I've lamented the fact that academia today is not the drama-filled world promised by novels and movies, and wished, not so much for myself, but for the general principle of the thing, that there were more tweedy affairs going on. Never mind. (via.)


Britta said...

Yeah, as a young female grad student, I really wish I got hit on more by my male professors. Not.

PG said...

The Puritans had a sound theological basis for restricting their desires and those of others. But today’s conformists have no such story to tell.

Um, yes they do. Puritan theology was based on respect for God; Anglo-American civil religion is based on respect for the rights of the individual. In that civic religion, the expression of one person's desire may be unwelcome and even oppressive to another who does not reciprocate that desire.

I never realized Tony Judt was so stupid.

Britta said...

Yeah, especially when you add in a significant power differential to the point where refusal could have significant negative effects on someone's career, I don't really see how actual consent is all that possible. This is especially so when you consider the totalizing environment academics exist in (grad school is my professional, personal AND social life wrapped up in one) and the neurotic personality grad schools select for.

Of course, some students get off on the power THEY feel by being desired by famous academics (there was a girl in my program having an affair with a current academic celebrity, though it didn't end well), but it just seems like an unhealthy mess even if both people get off on it.

Phoebe said...


I've never met him, but my in-a-nutshell understanding was a) good teacher (I know people who've studied with him), b) brilliant wrt postwar intellectual history, and c) not to my taste on I-P issues. This particular article, however, was off in too many ways to count. Part of me now feels I have to read one of his serious works (which I should do anyway, regardless), to counteract this latest impression.


Agreed. The idea that academia's not a leer-fest is good for women in a variety of ways. It's not just about avoiding unwanted advances, but keeping the playing field (relatively) level for those who wouldn't get too many advances in the first place. From that story, one would imagine female grad students to be nubile, lithe, and otherwise alluring. This is far from universally the case! As much as possible, work should be an arena where being a pretty young thing is neither rewarded nor a reason for feeling uncomfortable. If all 'sexual liberation' in this context means is the freedom for powerful men to pursue conventionally attractive women (and it does), what's in it for the vast majority in academia who fit neither category?

I mean, there's a slight point to be made about the weirdness of defining the over-18 as children if they go to college and as adults if they don't. Ostensibly there's no reason why a 19-year-old math major shouldn't date a 50-ish art history prof who never was nor will be his teacher. But if even this is taboo, where does that leave grad students? Sometimes we luck out and find other grad students, but for those who don't? In all work situations, those in a middle position find superiors and inferiors off-limits, but with academia there's this extra idea of students-as-children that doesn't necessarily make sense, given the age of the people in question, and given that if not receiving support from one's parents defines adulthood, many 30-year-olds would be off-limits to self-supporting 20-somethings... But! If the taboos extend a bit beyond what's necessary, my sense is that they're broken where appropriate, and are a far, far better situation than the free-for-all that article suggests.

PG said...

My prior sense of Judt had been of a fairly conventional old liberal with the typical dislike/distrust of "identity politics" that has become a significant part of liberalism; i.e. that he considers there to be an excess of concern about equality on axes of race, sex, sexual orientation etc. to the detriment of social justice with regard to economics. So I already knew that he and I had differing politics (I'm far more of a social liberal than an economic one, and in particular have the Southerner's suspicion of unions.)

But this essay is downright obtuse: He's not just saying, "I think it's silly to worry so much about non-economic power differentials." He's refusing to acknowledge that any such exist and that they are the motivation for the policies "restricting desire" that he finds so painful.

Anyone who actually has read the authors he lists off yet doesn't understand the reasoning behind anti-fraternization and anti-harassment rules -- even if he disagrees with that reasoning -- is, well, stupid.

Not to mention that the inability to restrain one's desires for the length of a semester (or of an overseas tour of duty, as with the anti-frat rules of the military) indicates a deeply immature person. It's almost the opposite of Puritanism, and closer to the Catholic attitudes behind Lent, to understand that something may be morally neutral or good at most times, but should be restricted at certain seasons.

(Though speaking of the military, I suspect it's attitudes like Judt's that undergird some of the support of DADT: the idea of an openly gay serviceman's being able to not hit on his fellow soldiers seems inconceivable to them, because they conceive of homosexuality as sexual license, and if one permits such license at all, one must surely permit it at all times.)

Phoebe said...


Yes, yes, and yes, esp. re: DADT. This, tangentially, is what I like about Dan Savage - there's a way to promote a non-Puritanical approach within a moral framework that makes sense and causes as little harm as possible.

What seemed really odd, though, was his denunciation of "me" culture, as though it's "me" to not want leering, but not "me" to leer. But this, in turn, fits into the idea that an academic subject is overly narrow/particular/egocentric if non-white-males are being studied, but somehow universal otherwise. He seems to be coming from the standpoint that anyone reading his article - perhaps, gosh, anyone literate - is by default going to identify, for demographic reasons, with the leering prof.

Miss Self-Important said...

Academia school would be unbearably boring without sexual intrigue. But always involving other people, of course.

Miss Self-Important said...

Oh, that was illiterate, sorry. I meant either academia or grad school and wrote neither.

Phoebe said...

That's what academia school will do to your brain.

You're right that the drama could liven things up. But all I know of is so third-hand or old-news that I'm forced to resort to Hulu and fiction.

Withywindle said...

Judt's Post-War [title?] was a good survey of Europe since 1945. His demolition of pro-Soviet French intellectuals is supposed to be very well done. He did seem in Post-War to slip into mindless anti-Thatcher and anti-America cliches after about 1980; and of course he wants the Middle East generally I-less, not just in Gaza.