As part of my research concerning the alienated nature of the public sphere (which is normally assumed to be the domain of ‘democratic freedom’), I have been reading Hegel’s The Philosophy of Right. As I do so, I keep coming across all manner of other enlightened observations. For instance, on women:

Man therefore has his actual substantial life in the state, in learning, etc., and otherwise in work and struggle with the external world and with himself, so that it is only through his division that he fights his way to self-sufficient unity with himself … Woman, however, has her substantial vocation in the family, and her ethical disposition consists in this piety (§ 166).

In other words:

Women may well be educated, but they are not made for the higher sciences, for philosophy and certain artistic productions which require a universal element. Women may have insights, taste, and delicacy, but they do not possess the ideal … When women are in charge of government, the state is in danger, for their actions are based not on the demands of universality but on contingent inclination and opinion (§ 166).

As for barbarians:

The barbarian is lazy and differs from the educated man in his dull and solitary brooding, for practical education consists precisely in the need and habit of being occupied (§ 198).

Barbarians are governed by drives, customs and feelings, but they have no consciousness of these (§ 211).

That is, ‘uncivilised’ people simply cannot act rationally. I hear that still today in some parts, concerning Greenlanders or Australian Aborigines.

For the enlightened Hegel, barbarians and indeed women are much like the planets:

The sun and the planets also have their laws, but they are unaware of them (§ 211).

There’s plenty of ways to do this – piss off everyone else at a seminar – but I recently experienced an excellent example of how to do this. Begin by spreading your arms to encompass everyone present and saying, ‘thank you for coming to listen to my paper, based on my important research. I am honoured that so many of you have come to listen to me’. Forget the fact that people have gathered to listen to a number of papers, not yours alone. And forget the fact that you have arrived late, while everyone else has arrived a little before time. Then, speak way over your time allocation in a way that indicates your own sense of the rivetting importance of what you have to say. Make sure that you have plenty of graphs and charts to give your presentation a whiff of credibility. Couple that with some of the most bigotted assumptions you can manage. In other words, couch your racism, religious intolerance and national chauvinism in massaged statistics. Finally, reveal so many problems with your rant that the rest of those present simply can’t be bothered listening or engaging. This provides you with a sense that what you have presented is so persuasive that no one has an answer.

The burden of growing up in China. A youthful Mao reflects:

The study of how to be a citizen is the study of the history, geography, political doctrine, and artistic climate of one’s country … Certainly, the study of being a person or a citizen is easy, while the study of being a Chinese is difficult. There are five thousand years of history, the land extends over seven thousand li, political doctrine is extremely complex, and human feelings and customs are broad and complex. How can we approach all this? If we were Japan, with only three islands within our borders, or Germany, with a history of only half a century and land equivalent in size to our two provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong alone, how easy things would be! (Mao’s Road to Power, vol. 1, p. 79)

Mao might have his criticisms of useless scholarship and writing, but he also has some suggestions as to how one might write:

Articles should store up forces within. Emerging from Longmen, the Yellow River rushes all the way down to Tongguan. As it turns eastwards, it again rushes to Tongwa. Again it turns northeastwards and rushes to the sea. Once it comes out of hiding and changes its course, it goes for a thousand li without stopping. This is called a big turn. So it is with composition. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol. 1, p. 18)

To compose (zuo wen) well, we need to be skilfull, hence the use of the word ‘do’ (zuo); to write (xie), we need to wield the brush furiously, hence the use of the word ‘sketch’ (xie). (p. 19)

Following Mao’s example in identifying three problems and then addressing each in turn, I have been pondering three traps of the intellectual life.

1. Institutional thinking. The institution – university, school, or whatever – becomes the all-encompassing horizon. Rules are studied assiduously, new directions pursued. The institution gives one meaning in life, so much so that every little, inconsequential happening looms large. They say this also happens in prisons.

2. Linear thinking. There is only one way to do things, the way mandated by the institution and most others. Busting to get some writing done? Then do it when everything else is finished. Ask for a grant, get time off, write. Need to go to a conference? Then apply for a travel grant. Want a promotion? Then tick all the boxes and put in the paperwork. Forget lateral thinking, since otherwise all sorts of opportunities might arise. Such as: use sick leave, do the things you don’t like badly, skip everything you can, use your ‘own’ money … there’s plenty of ways to do what you really want to do.

3.  I deserve it. A pay rise, a promotion, responsibility, recognition, a tiny bit of fame, your name up in lights … it’s well overdue, since you deserve it. After all, hard work should be recognised and duly rewarded. Intellectuals seem particularly prone to this vice, spending their lives believing that they have been hard done by. It seems to escape them that no-one deserves anything. In fact, the vast majority have far more than they ‘deserve’.

This is a place where you should publish at least one article: Memoria Ethnographica.

The journal is published at the North University Centre of the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca. It is based in Baia Mare, in the Maramures district of Transylvania (where I have been on a couple of occasions). Articles are published in both English and Romanian. The editor has made an urgent call for papers, especially by international authors. The twist: the due date is November 9.

So the call is: if you have a decent article that deals with anthropological and ethnographic matters, and if you can complete it by November 9, then the editor is interested. Contact me via comments and I will be able to identify your email address – that is, unless you know my email address already.

Go on, you can do it. These are the places where real work gets published, and the journal is published in one of the great parts of the world.

Comrade Iosef is a pretty good read, although few do take the time to read his work carefully. Here’s some of his thoughts on useless scholarship.

To begin with, he hasn’t got much time for metaphysicians:

This reminds me of the Russian metaphysicians of the fifties of the last century who pestered the dialecticians of those days with the question: is rain good or bad for the crops? and demanded a ‘precise’ answer (Collected Works, vol 1, p. 49).

But the best has to be the tale of the anatomist:

Once upon a time there lived a ‘learned anatomist.’ He possessed ‘everything’ a ‘real’ anatomist requires: a degree, an operating room, instruments and inordinate pretensions. He lacked only one minor detail—knowledge of anatomy. One day he was asked to explain the connection between the various parts of a skeleton that were lying scattered on his anatomical table. This gave our ‘celebrated savant’ an opportunity to show off his skill. With great pomp and solemnity he set to ‘work.’ Alas and alack, the ‘savant’ did not know even the ABC of anatomy and was entirely at a loss as to how the parts should be put together so as to produce a complete skeleton!

The poor fellow busied himself for a long time, perspired copiously, but all in vain! Finally, when nothing had come of all his efforts and he had got everything mixed up, he seized several parts of the skeleton, flung them into a far corner of the room and vented his philosophic ire on certain ‘evil-minded’ persons, who, he alleged, had placed spurious parts of a skeleton on his table (Collected Works, vol 1, pp. 46-7).

Now that sounds like some scholars of ancient texts that I happen to know.

Precisely because of his own education, Mao had little time for the majority of scholars and their institutions.

After mentioning Lenin and Stalin as positive examples (in ‘On Practice’), he notes their opposite:

The saying, ‘without stepping outside his gate the scholar knows all the wide world’s affairs,’ was mere empty talk in past times when technology was undeveloped (Selected Readings, p. 70).

Adorno made a similar point concerning the philosopher who sits in his cottage with pencil and paper and is able to produce a system that explains the whole universe. But then (in ‘Reform our Study’) Mao notes the type of intellectual that pisses him off:

When making speeches, they indulge in a long string of headings, A, B, C, D, 1, 2, 3, 4, and when writing articles, they turn out a lot of verbiage. They have no intention of seeking truth from facts, but only a desire to curry favour by claptrap. They are flashy without substance, brittle without solidity. They are always right, they are the Number One authority under Heaven, “imperial envoys” who rush everywhere (Selected Writings, p. 203).

Sounds like a standard academic conference …

As a writer who happens to be connected with universities (for a pittance), the issue of publishing is somewhat important. I have also been involved extensively in major editing roles over the years, with both journals and books. A question that keeps coming up is where one should publish? I do not mean the best press for the sake of one’s career. I mean whether one uses conventional publishing at all. Perhaps the biggest threats to conventional publishing for profit are free access to books (such as library genesis) and open access publishing. I have commented on the free book matter earlier, when was closed down through court action by a consortium of publishers. And I have observed that publishing as an intellectual is probably one of the most exploitative exercises around, for you do all the work and receive virtually nothing for your efforts. Any profits made and retained by the publisher, let alone the copyright.

As many know, open access publishing is another dimension to that challenge. No wonder, then, that there is open warfare between traditional publishers and open-access publishing. Open-access is characterised as dodgy and third-rate. Example of scams abound, such as the Review of European Studies, which asks for a few hundred dollars to submit your article. Universities also play the game, or rather an old game. In the past, they have shored up publishing by constructing an aura of respectability around certain ‘reputable’ publishers, whether commercial or university presses. Positions rely on publishing in such places, as does the obnoxious practice of promotion, as do research assessment exercises, as do grants. Open-access publishing continues to be frowned upon by many. I recall a left-wing scholar saying to me that he always found material in print by traditional publishers much better than open-access work. But then, I guess that figures if you are after a conventional career in the star system of academia. It’s refreshing, then, to view once again the Hitler video concerning open-access:

So what would it mean to say that you will no longer publish in, review for, or do anything to assist profit-based publishing. That you will give your energy only to open-access publishing? The question is as much one for me, since I have published and continue to publish widely in conventional forms. So it was sobering to read through some of the journals listed in the Directory of Open-Access Journals. A vast number of them are from places in the world where money is very tight, where people can hardly manage rent and food, let alone journals and books. Of course, we like to forget the fact that genuinely new ideas always appear outside the mainstream avenues of intellectual work and publishing. A few of those include Spinoza, Negri, Darwin, Descartes, Leibniz, Rousseau, Kojeve, Schweitzer, Guattari, Lacan, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao …

Just completed a PhD? If so, you are probably completely sick and tired of the whole process. The last thing you want to do is engage in further research, since the PhD thesis was like scaling a Mt. Everest of information, ideas, and directions. Who would want to do that again in the near future?

So take a tip from a film director, whose name escapes me: after a first blockbuster, make your second film quickly. There’s plenty of ideas in your head, many of which could not make it into a PhD. You have done the reading and thinking. So write that second book quickly. Six months is all it needs, for a sharp, short book.

Why? That way you realise it doesn’t take another massive effort to complete a writing project. By the time you have finished, new ideas will be forming, further books planned.

Too often I meet people who peaked with a PhD. It may have been a solid, perhaps even influential work that made it into a book. Then they fiddle, become distracted, think of a second book that would surpass the PhD and make a huge splash. A year, two years, a decade flows by, with no result. Some bury themselves in teaching, others are seduced by administrative positions and the associated crumbs of power. By now the chance is gone, and what may appear is a strangled effort, squeezed out between short nights and the petty political games of overblown egos.

Forget all that crap. Get your head down and write the second book, quickly.

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