Solidarity is the comrade’s slogan. As a budding, if somewhat over-energetic, postgraduate student, he was always engaged in university politics for left-leaning groups. Socialists, greenies, queers, refugees, women … all were worthwhile causes in which to be immersed to one’s eyeballs, and beyond. It was all about the brotherhood, the sisterhood, the queerhood, the greenhood.

As a young lecturer, he was the most faithful at union meetings, even taking up a post every now and then, arguing with management, leading strikes – all for his comrades. He kept up his energetic engagement with politics outside the weird world of academia. Sleep is, after all, a luxury for the ruling class.

Not much time passed before our comrade found himself moving up the ranks, gaining ever more senior positions with significant gravitas. From management’s perspective he was an efficient operator; he was a tough negotiator whose skills might come in handy; he seemed to be able to land grants on trendy topics like one-legged queer cowboys. After all, innovation is the name of the game.

From the comrade’s perspective, this was the chance for which he had been longing. At last, he could exercise power to help other comrades. He would secure funds to appoint more comrades; he would influence selection panels at other institutions in favour of yet more comrades; he would gather a team of comrades to undertake ground-breaking, trail-blazing, cutting-edge research that would change the very terms of debate (on a topic yet to be determined); he would transform the institution from within for a better world – all for the comrades of course.

Until that moment. A job is advertised at another institution, a rather attractive position from anyone’s perspective. One or two comrades there encourage, urge, beg him to apply. Our comrade decides to apply … only to find that another comrade is also applying. What to do? This other scholar is younger, brighter, more promising. Above all, she doesn’t have a position at all, for in the current climate such younger scholars have to scrabble together the bits and pieces of an intellectual life.

So what to do? The comradely act would be to withdraw the application. Does not our comrade already have a position? Well … yes … but … there’s the houses to maintain, the sports-car, the antique clocks, the jet-set lifestyle. And in case you object, no one ever said a lefty couldn’t be rich.

But isn’t she a comrade? Get lost! She’s no comrade, just a competitor. In fact, that upstart, that whipper-snapper hasn’t really shown him the respect due to a leading world authority.

No wonder she hasn’t got a position!

So the ‘comrade’ accepts the position. He still talks the talk, but the walk has gone in a different direction. And for some strange reason he cannot comprehend, all the lesser people, especially the younger ones, have stopped listening.

Mention in passing a place you may wish to visit, a comment on the weather, a liking of dumplings, the pleasure of emptying an overfull bladder, anything really, and the crapper will hold forth for an hour or two on the topic in question. It matters not whether it is the mating habits of Greenlandic polar bears, the weather in Morocco, tenth-century Burmese literature, the films and actors that have won those strange awards given in the USA (the ‘Academy’ awards), the dietary habits of the Sultan of Brunei, or the differences in migratory patterns of German and American cockroaches, he or she is willing to give you the ins and outs, aboves and belows, historical context and much, much more. It matters not that no-one else is willing to listen since the crapper assumes that everyone is hanging on every precious word that streams from his or her mouth.

Crapping is one of the less endearing manifestations of a life spent lecturing students who appear to be lapping it all up. Soon enough it slips outside the lecture room and into everyday life. Is there not a whole world to enlighten, to spread the inestimable store of knowledge that the crapper contains? From the moment he wakes until sleep descends – if not beyond those moments – the crapper’s life involves emitting one long stream of endless, utterly useless information. Give the crapper a drink or more and she becomes a veritable encyclopaedia of trivia, able to talk for hour upon hour. Indeed, at times those not given to doing so in sober states will turn into drunken crappers.

But another type of crapper may also be found in academia: the writer of texts. Too often is the metaphor of giving birth used for the writing of books. Gestation may be months if not years, but when the birth finally happens, the author holds the baby gently in his or her hands, checking to see if it has five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot. But far more appropriate is the image of taking a massive dump. It may come easily, sliding out with quick relief. Or it may build up over time, becoming a massive and somewhat painful affair, before it is laid before the world with immense effort. Universities love the quick crapper, for this helps them attain an enviable ranking in the university shit-stakes.

This type of crapper comes a little close to home, although I have always enjoyed the loose and easy version, enabled by plenty of roughage, rather than the compacted and swollen version that threatens serious injury on its emergence. The catch, of course, is that even though you feel as though you have finally shitted it out, you are always full of more shit.

Picture a drearily common situation in an intellectual’s life: a meeting. With a barely perceptible swagger, a decidedly unlikeable sort with a fang-bearing sneer walks in the room and immediately chooses the highest seat, preferably located at the head of a table. As the meeting gets under way, our friend affects a bored look, picks his nose or digs out some earwax when a perceived opponent is speaking. If a serious proposal comes forward that runs against his opinion, he or a lieutenant interrupts with a snide comment or simply cuts the speaker off. An evident disdain, a voice that is sharp and menacing, an assertion of power … meet the bully.

For some reason bullies are like flies on shit in academic life. Perhaps it is the self-perpetuating bureaucracy that attracts them, perhaps it is the opportunity to lord it over snivelling students, perhaps it is the unrivalled possibility of cutting people down.

The bully’s real approach to the world is more like a dog-pack or a shrewdness (yes, a shrewdness) of apes. He assumes that he is top dog or silver-back, full of barking, snapping and hairy chest-beating. In other words, bullies effortlessly blend an unhealthily high opinion of themselves with a sneering dismissal of the no-hopers around them. Of course, our irrepressibly endearing character usually feels that she or he is upholding the true values of the intellectual life dog-pack and that those who do not meet such high standards are no better than curs and strays.

The only friends a bully has are those who assume his view of world, which of course has him at the top. The jump at his bark, quaver at his jungle yell. A slavering pack of doctoral students perhaps, a collection appointees who know who’s boss. Everyone else is a victim who needs either to be brought to heel or dispatched to the outer darkness.

The bully’s creed is: denigrate, intimidate, isolate, and crush. Jokes are shared between the bully and his underlings, always targeted at their victims. Passing a victim in the corridor, the bully or one of his attack dogs lets slip a whispered comment, ‘what idiot let you in here?’ They love to pass on innuendo and rumour, the more personal the better: ‘did you hear that Joe’s PhD was written by someone else’; ‘wasn’t that the most useless paper you’ve ever heard?’; ‘you know, Jim’s a member of a weirdo cult’; ‘Bill has bleeding haemorrhoids and leaves rings on seats’; ‘Mary drinks metho in between class’.

The bully works behind the scenes to isolate an apparent danger to his own fiefdom, blocking involvement or promotion, removing that person from supervision, neglecting to mention staff gatherings. Rules? They are merely tools for asserting power. A bully loves to use a faceless and opaque system to his or her advantage. Institute a review of a victim that takes forever, don’t pass on any detailed information, order an underling to send regular messages saying the review is ‘serious’ but that it will take time to complete. Organise a meeting to discuss, but then delay it once again.

Yet you may wonder: a nerdy intellectual as a bully? Come on! One usually associates the bully with a football forward, ice-hockey thug, a colourful crim or the odd burly cop. Yet, a bully with half a brain is arguably more dangerous than one with none at all – although the stress falls, it must be said, on the half, and that’s being generous.

But let me shift the metaphor: the bully delights in identifying those who seem to fly higher than he is able. Recalling the old saying – occasionally eagles can fly lower than hens, but hens can never rise to the height of eagles – the bully sets out to clip the eagles’ wings and keep them on a low flight path.

The Impact tart, or iTart, is increasingly common in intellectual life. Let me give a couple of examples.

An air-headed ‘colleague’ flounces up to you and says, ‘Oh, this is wonderful!’

You offer a stunned and puzzled look.

‘I’ve just been invited’, he says, ‘to become a member of the Academy of the Social Sciences’.

‘You? How?’

‘Impact’, he says, ‘it’s all about impact. They’ve recognised the impact of my scintillating article in International Scoot!, “Riding as/with … the Baotian Monza 125cc Motor Scooter”’.

‘Really’, you say.

‘Oh, and one just needs to know someone who will nominate you’, he says.

Or you meet a somewhat flashy but shallow ‘colleague’ at a conference reception. After the obligatory and inane pleasantries, she flicks a blond curl out of her eyes and says, ‘I’ve just been made a professor’.

Again that pause as you desperately try to keep your jaw from plummeting to the ground.

‘Is that because of …?’ you say.

‘Oh yes’, she says, ‘the radio show, the newspaper column … Impact; it’s all about impact’.

Scholars, like lapdogs, have a knack of slavishly following the latest arbitrary directive from the powers that be. In the last little while a key element has been the ‘impact factor’ or ‘esteem factor’. Given that it is well-nigh impossible to peer into the crystal ball and determine who will be read and studied in a century or so from now, and given that scholars want to be stars today, if not yesterday, all manner of external signs of one’s ‘impact’ may now be listed.

Universities themselves offer the iTart fertile ground. At the appropriate section of one’s own university web-page (also the favoured ground for the Self-Seller), one may tick any or all of the following: a gong; cash prize; consultancy; election to an academy; honorary doctorate; expert media commentary; reality television show appearance; large ugly ring (signalling a habilitation); Swiss bank account, for aforesaid cash prize …

More and more journals make the iTart drool, for they claim to have a certain ‘impact factor’. Produced through an entirely ‘scientific’ process, the journal may claim an utterly meaningless number such as 3.2567 as its impact factor.

And more and more email messages end with an elaborate signature that reads like a mini-CV, full of titles, strange letters after one’s name, achievements, the latest book and so on. For instance, I recently came across the following:

Professor Richard (Dick) Whacker, DSO, FAHA, RIPA, JeRKR

The Steggles Chicken Professor of Circular Argumentation, Social Disharmony and Mystification

The Centre for Neo-Lysenkoist Studies

Editor of the Journal of Slander, Libel and Defamation

My most recent book is Running Free Range: Foul Holidays on the North Coast

Motto for old age: don’t waste an erection, don’t pass a toilet, NEVER trust a fart.

All of them are of course external signs, flashy baubles that desperately try to conceal the fact that there is little of actual substance to such impact. If you want to talk about real impact, grab a sledgehammer and smash up a bathroom.

(NB: the full ‘Typology of Scholars’ now has its own page. Items will be added from time to time.)

A pretentious wordsmith at work:

What was written in prescribed form and in the archive’s margins, what was written oblique to official prescriptions and on the ragged edges of protocol produced the administrative apparatus as it opened to a space that extended beyond it. Contrapuntal intrusions emanated from outside the corridors of governance but they also erupted – and were centrally located – within that sequestered space. Against the sober formulaics of officialese, these archives register the febrile movements of persons off balance – of thoughts and feelings in an out of place. In tone and temper they convey the rough interior ridges of governance and disruptions to the deceptive clarity of its mandates.

Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (2009), pp. 1-2. (ht cp)

Recall the moment. You are talking with a smart-dressed man or woman (thanks ZZ-Top) at a conference gathering or reception. He looks directly at your name badge to ascertain your position in the intellectual pecking order. Given that you are a from a lowly University of Wadonga, the interest switches off, he tolerates the conversation about as much as having bamboo shoots shoved up his fingernails, and his eyes rove the room seeking a more important person with whom to talk. Within seconds such a person appears. He touches your arm in the middle of your sentence and says: ‘Great to catch up, but I really must go and talk to such-and-such’.

Also known as the M&S (mover and shaker), the networker dresses snappily, is always striding to yet another (mythical) appointment, heels clicking decisively on the parquet floor. The networker is always editing a new book, planning a new, ‘cutting-edge’ conference panel, negotiating a visit to a suitably important institution, scouting the book displays for the right people into which one might bump. The networker always has no more than six minutes for anyone, dealing out time in eminently efficient units – unless of course it is a really ‘big name’. In the clusters of drinking groups at the end of a long conference day, the networker will be found only with the VIPS. The networker knows everyone in the ‘field’, fitting them into the vast scale of peons below him and the few ‘stars’ (here she joins the Name-Dropper).

Of course, the networker aspires to join the constellation of seedy and worn-out ‘stars’ as well. But the networker does not realise that he is nothing more than a dag on a sheep’s bum, a piece of shit knotted in the hairs of a ‘star’s’ arse.

How many academics are frustrated novelists, poets and literati? How many attempt to vent this frustration with literary flourishes in articles and books? It may be a sentence like this: ‘His work is sui generis, a tumbling stream of consciousness that swishes and swirls in egregious eddies around its slippery subject’. Or it may be, ‘She is inevitably outdone by doughty defenders of the sublime sanctuary of the book, who intone the inscrutable inheritance of tract scribblers and podium pounders who fulminated and fumed against the trespasses of modern thought’. Or one can write like a fish: ‘I love to swim straight out into the middle of the ocean, but this is often curtailed by grinning great white pointers and assorted cousins. I can go from 0 to 70 kilometres per hour faster than a Porsche and with better brakes’.

In this respect the wordsmith is like the journalist who loves to produce bad puns and excruciating alliteration. Go to any newspaper and you are bound to find examples such as ‘Rudd Wreaks Revenge’, or ‘Finding Mojo: How Mothers Can Get Their Groove Back’, or ‘Arbib Pitches for a Sporting Life’, or ‘Bronto Burger off the Stone Age Menu’ (reporting that a new fast-food chain, Paleo, ‘takes inspiration from the Stone Age to create primal gastronomy’), or ‘Mariners Slip Off the Hook’, or ‘Champagne Flows as Local Drop Loses Its Sparkle’. All these come from one issue of one newspaper.

What is it with the wordsmith? Is there a string of rejected novels or poems? Is there an unhealthily high sense of self-importance that makes the wordsmith feel he or she is better than the novels studied over the years? Has someone, a kindergarten teacher perhaps, said, ‘you write really well’? (The teacher meant handwriting …) Is the wordsmith really a sadist out to inflict untold suffering on his or her many few readers? Or is the wordsmith just a hack whose scribbled lines should best be bundled into a plastic bag, brick attached, and dumped in the bay?

Increasingly the intellectual world is saturated with grants. Increasingly institutions measure their status in terms of grants gained. And increasingly scholars are expected to secure grants. Quite a few years ago, I realised that the world is full of billions of dollars of grants and it shouldn’t be that difficult to get hold of some. What I didn’t realise at the time was that it requires a whole set of specific and dubious skills to make that task easier.

I used to be in awe of former colleague who was able to write up grants pretty much for anyone, with one proviso: you needed a very good track record. Producing a winnable proposal is a relative cinch after that. In other words, the grantsman begins preparation a decade earlier, before actually launching into applications. But now that I am a little more aware of the unenviable skills of the grantsman, I no longer hold this scholar in awe.

But how exactly does a grantsman go about his or her task? The first thing to realise is that it is a massive game of spin. Assessment panels rarely know of an applicant’s work first hand, so they rely purely on what is in the application in order to allocate massive amounts of funds. Buzz-words, hot topics, structure that invites readers in so that they don’t want to throw it away. Some institutions provide special seminars on how to ‘frame’ or ‘tilt’ the application in a certain way. One example: since the attack on the World Trade Centre in September, 2001, massive amounts of cash have been given for projects on ‘terrorism’, Islam, border security and related areas. Suddenly there were specialists in these topics everywhere, spitting out grants applications with all the appropriate hot buttons pressed. However, I have yet to find one entitled ‘Osama Bin Laden: The Patron Saint of Research on Border Protection’.

Second, grants are usually given for business-as-usual. Since the track record is so crucial and since the grantsman needs to show that he or she has a background in the area, a grantsman will promise to do more of the same. Or at least pretend to do so. Since the genuinely new idea will never get funded, it must shelter under the same old thing, waiting the opportunity to get to work.

Third, the grantsman knows never to ask for money for a brand new project – this is old advice from the science grantsmen. Make sure a project is half complete, for then the grantsman will be able to outline the project very specifically, provide clear objectives, expected outcomes. Anyone who says they want to explore a topic and see what happens hasn’t got a chance. If successful, the grantsman will then be able to complete the project in half the time or less for the grant and get on with the next project, for which another grant will then be developed …

Fourth, the grantsman knows that one should never actually say what one will really do. Propose one book in three years, perhaps a dozen articles, and the assessment panel implicitly recognises the codes of ‘feasability’. Never, ever does the grantsman say he will write one very, very good article, since that is lazy. She will not propose to write three books, or thirty articles, or run around the globe, since that is not human.

Fifth, to those who have more will be given. For those on $60,000 or more year – of course, they need yet more money to undertake research. No granting body would dream of saying, ‘hey listen, rich dude, you don’t need money to do what you propose to do; use some of your “own” money’. But this slogan also applies to grants: the grantsman knows that already having a few grants always increases the chance of getting more.

Finally, obtaining grants can be an excellent distraction from actual writing. Get a team together, get some teaching relief, employ a research assistant or three, organise symposia and conferences, engage in public policy work, edit a shitload of journals and books – for the grantsman is aware that obtaining a grant is a crucial aim of scholarly life.

Not so much the ‘Doceo, ergo pedicabo’, the seducer is a more subtle type of scholar. In this case, the scholar in question uses not strong argument but the techniques of seduction to win over an audience.

Picture the scene: a not unattractive man or woman is before a reasonable audience, whether a class, a conference session, or indeed the wider public. He begins in a somewhat quiet way, but then catches himself, draws breath and begins again. Now the voice has a mellifluous intonation to it, deployed to full advantage. He teases, hints, smiles, jokes, suggesting between the lines outrageous possibilities and the soft attraction of a glass of wine, a quiet evening, a vigorous romp – all while ostensibly talking about the history of concrete. Women and men wait in lines afterwards to say hello, to offer praise …

Or she invokes a certain huskiness in her voice, moves her body to accentuate certain assets, flicks her hair, looks out from under lowered brows, offers a half-smile, sensuous puns and allusions, with the glimmer of more, far more possibilities for the groupies. And groupies there are: I have seen grown men with their mouths open and tongues hanging out after such a session, mobbing the speaker, saying it was the best lecture they have ever heard …

The seducer takes the erotics of knowledge to a whole new level, drawing upon age-old skills involved in the art of persuasion. And often the seducer has been used to the attentions of men and women for some time, is able to call them forth and bend them to his or her own advantage. Yet the seducer is not a flirt, for the difference is that flirting is a fine skill that does not lead to seduction. Instead, the seducer has learned that in the cut-throat world of the competition of ideas, the hint of sex sells.

Like the advertiser trying to sell a shonky product, the seducer has developed such a strategy precisely because he or she has never really had a good argument at all. Or perhaps the seducer is like the minister or priest, who notes in his sermons: ‘weak point; shout here!’

‘At some point in their lives, scholars start growing onions’. So said Manning Clark, the author of a majestic if somewhat controversial history of Australia. But what’s wrong with growing onions? Nothing, but when one begins to show a life-consuming interest in a pursuit like growing onions, the flow of ideas has stopped and the writing ceases. Now all of that careful attention to reading, discussion, the growth of ideas and writing itself shifts to something else. Now growing seasons, types of soil, varieties of onion, fertilisers, gardening tools … all these become the focus of life.

All manner of new passions may turn up: a fascination with miniature ships in bottles, cockroach races, the art of toilet bowls, triathlons, beer-brewing, hobby farms, property investment, or, commonly, a long stint in administration. And it may happen at any time. For some, the PhD thesis is the last burst of writing, after which the thought of writing anything else leaves them pale and quivering. For others, it may be after the first book, or during a mid-life crisis, or because the people from whom they have borrowed ideas have disappeared. Universities need such people, of course, for otherwise who would have time to undertake the myriad and mundane tasks that make a university tick? One may in fact argue that the system is structured to assume that at some point or other a goodly number will in fact start growing onions.

In many respects, there is a curiously natural dimension to this process. And onion-growers can be great company, full of immense stores of information about all sorts of unexpected pursuits. But what is interesting is the type of narrative put forward to account for the shift. The best option is to be up front and say, ‘shit, I have no new ideas and no desire to write’. As one senior admin person said to me simply, ‘I finished my projects’. But most do not face up to it so directly. So you find the OG saying, ‘Just a few years in admin and then I’ll be clear to write’. Or, ‘I’m using the system to find space for myself so I can get back to research’. Or, ‘I will just establish this new program/college/discipline and then I’ll be able to write’. Or, ‘I’m simply so busy I have no time for reading and research just now’. Or, ‘I’ll do it in the holidays’, but then the holidays become a time to look forward to getting back to whatever it is that prevents one from writing. Or, ‘After I write these few blog posts and facebook updates and tweet a few people, then I’ll write’. Or, ‘must check the vegies’, which takes days at a time. Or, ‘I must bottle my latest batch of beer’. And if OG is called upon to present a paper at a conference, the paper merely regurgitates material from 20 years ago. The excuses are endless, but they all operate with the basic narrative of a significant hurdle that needs to be overcome before one can return to writing. Of course, the hurdle becomes permanent, the narrative a bit thin, and the ideas have long since decided to move on.