Monday, April 6, 2015

Enough Is Enough

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, from “The University and the Undercommons”
But for the subversive intellectual, all of this goes on upstairs, in polite company, among the rational men. After all, the subversive intellectual came under false pretenses, with bad documents, out of love. Her labor is as necessary as it is unwelcome. The university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings. And on top of all that, she disappears. She disappears into the underground, the downlow lowdown maroon community of the university, where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong. (26) 

In 2014, the Institute for Policy Studies put out a report, titled “The OnePercent at State U: How Public University Presidents Profit from Rising StudentDebt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor.” ^^The report found that the U ranked fourth worst of those 25 public universities with the highest executive salaries (the 1%). President Kaler and the rational men upstairs have promised to reform privatization, including—following a 2012 Wall Street Journal article reporting that the administrative bloat did notfloat—his promise to freeze tuition and his plan to implement measures of “operational excellence,” which he claims would cut administrative costs by $90 million by 2019.

There is the old question, not how the minutes are counted, but of whose minutes are saved (and whose stolen) in a zero sum game that reflects, as Kaler pronounces, no “general trends at the U.” Initially ranked 3rd  worst in the 1% report, Kaler and the Udisputed these findings on the basis of the way that adjunct and contingent workers are counted. How are the low-wage workers of the university—the graduate student workers, the adjuncts, and the contingent laborers—counted? Buried in the ruins of operation excellence, both the number—which ranges from 500 to 5600, depending on how it’s counted—and the category of those “downlow lowdown” workers are obscured. What else is obscured: “the university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings.” What the subversive intellectual bears, carries, births, sustains: the university needs the products of her labor; it ingests these accumulated goods, uses them in the production of profit, and appears to do so efficiently, without waste. There would be much critical work to be done in this vein: exposing, bringing to the surface these conditions, making visible, and so forth, and it’s all necessary. But my interest is on the other side today: what she brings that cannot be borne, what cannot be consumed and so used, that part of the work that yields, that bears, feeds her.  

>      Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, again: 
The moment of teaching for food is therefore often mistakenly taken to be a stage, as if eventually one should not teach for food. If the stage persists, there is a social pathology in the university. But if the teaching is successfully passed on, the stage is surpassed, and teaching is consigned to those who are known to remain in the stage, the sociopathological labor of the university. (27)

I’d like to begin, then, with the question: what is there to be said about the value of teaching for food?

The other-value of food, that which is not fed back into the meaning-affirmative circuit of exchange and use, tends toward that which is destructive in love, a destructiveness, a desire, that is brought but not born into material relations that are always, on the surface, about reparation and resources, about that which provides the “real” sustenance. Moten and Harney’s phrase implies that “teaching for food” means “teaching to live,” means subsistence, but I read it as is already ambivalent: it’s a thing only insofar as it’s a stage to be passed. The phrase, “teaching for food” is already ironic, a term lifted from the DSM, on the list of “symptoms” under the category “sociopathological labor of the university.”

One has the suspicion, however, that this stage is not so much a diagnosis as it is a prescription, one that suggests that food functions not just as an index of the minimum requirement to sustain life, but that it has another value—the other-value of food: a sustenance that allows us to “get to” feelings of destructiveness that we otherwise locate in the world. We find a model of this use for food in objects-relations psychoanalysis, where, for example, ^^DW Winnicott describes the continuous destroying that is at work in “object constancy,” in the very maintenance of an object as outside oneself: “The object is always being destroyed. This destruction becomes the unconscious backcloth for love of a real object; that is, an object outside the area of the subject’s omnipotent control…In this way a world of shared reality is created which the subject can use and which can feed back other-than-me substance into the subject” (126, emphasis mine).[1] Winnicott’s key move is to show us that what appears to be a closed circuit of exchange and use contains a sequence of psychical equations or relations that must be passed through. While he tends to assume not that this always happens, but that it has the capacity to, a full account of the ambiguity of the prescriptive/diagnostic aspect raises questions, again, about the value of surpassing stages. 

In “On Eating, and Preferring Not To” Adam Phillips writes,

The person who refuses to eat can do something so devastating to the environment—the parents, the therapists, the hospital staff—that they often need to dissociate parts of themselves to manage it. The food refuser, often unconsciously, engineers the possibility of a dissociation in the people who try and help. At first the boss takes it for granted, in a commonsensical way, that Bartleby will do the work demanded of him; just as, in a commonsensical way, one might assume that people will eat, simply in order to live, or feel well; as though food only has a use-value, and not an exchange-value as well. The boss assumes, in other words, that there is a kind of natural (or contractual) order in the office, that people are there because they have agreed to play the game...In this essay, it is the parents and/or the therapist being browbeaten in some unprecedented and violently unreasonable way that I want to consider; just what this preferring-not-to does to the people addressed. Do they, we, begin to stagger in our own plainest faith (in our therapeutic beliefs)? Are we able to experience, to find useful words for, what I want to call the aesthetics of defiance, and Melville calls the vague surmise that all the justice and all the reason is on the other side? (283-285)

In the phrase—“as though food only has a use-value and not an exchange-value as well”—the contrast between use-value and exchange-value seems to misname exchange-value, since it’s not that the exchange value of food was forgotten, but rather that, in addition to the circuit of use and exchange value, there is an “other” value of food—the 0ther-value of food—and its value is as an “other-than-me substance,” which can be “f[e]d back…into the subject” (Winnicott 126).

Phillips shifts the terrain of voluntary/involuntary activity; he proposes that “what are called symptoms—of which refusing to eat and being unable to stop eating are often stark and frightening examples—are experiments in living” (287). These “experiments in living” are not experiments in reparation but experiments in destructiveness, since it is destructiveness and not reparation that is the aim of the reparative mode.[2]

Is the point to create others-in-dissociation out of institutional procedures that usually confront the subject like any other object? Phillips points to how the patient (as subject) might feel confused about the “willingness to suffer” exhibited by parents/therapists who do the work of “surviving”—“accepting projections, containing them and, as it were, feeding them back” (293). This is not a motive or a cause for experimenting, but Phillips suggests that the experimentation that is the other aspect of the symptom leads to the question, “what kind of people will I have on my hands if I prefer not to eat?” It is this that leads to a “necessary” dissociation on the part of the therapist/parent/family/neoliberal university (with its familial classifications of labor), who, like the narrator-lawyer in Bartleby, “begins to stagger in his own plainest faith” (284). The latent insurgency of Moten and Harney’s “subversive intellectual” involves the conceptualization of a reparative moment that persists in drawing this relation of dependence into question: why is it that what she is bringing is too much to bear? An off rhyme: What is the value of teaching for food, teaching for good?

In “Crazy in Love,” an essay written for The New Inquiry, Hannah Black describes the conflict she experiences in caring for/about her brother, through his repeated episodes of psychosis: “As for me, I could not deal with the day-to-day maintenance of B; I found ways to avoid him, told myself lies about tough love and so on. But my love for him followed me everywhere.” My love for him followed me everywhere. The love Black describes “gets to” its own destructiveness, to that which is incapable of loving in love. Like “teaching for food,” modes of identification that don’t keep pace—modes that are about the maintenance of maintenance—become pathological, not merely as an attribute of the system (the university) but as an attribute of an identity within the system. The sociopathological adjunct lecturer teaching specialists contingent.

As 1970s Marxist feminism has shown, and as the text “A Love Letter to Radical Graduate Students Past, Present, andFuture,” by Nick Mitchell, aka low end theory also notes, choices, in particular about objects of love, are always also coercions. I keep dwelling on this insight, now outdated—perhaps too outdated to explain love now, but also, I suspect, not—in thinking about the close residence of love and hate and the role of destructiveness in love. For as much as Black writes against "love," she also gets that the joke about overattachment is not that funny: "One side of the joke — that a woman would have to be crazy to long for entry into a couple — is negated by the other — that a woman who can’t negotiate her way into a couple is crazy." Put otherwise: One side of the joke—that a PhD has to be crazy to long for entry into academia—is negated by the other—that a PhD who can't negotiate her way into academia is crazy.

For the Tenure-Track Professor and the White Family (and with the understanding that these are not social categories but upheld and often invisible ideals), there is no longer a reason to feel ambivalent about love, or perhaps better, there's always another reason to feel ambivalent about love, but perhaps there's no longer a reason to feel ambivalent about one's love objects. In addition to the fact that this is "too bad," and not “for good,” the loss of such ambivalence, of a relation to a loved object that does not involve the capacity to hold one's destructiveness, is a profound but perhaps less apparent price to be paid for professionalism.

it’s all life’s all
thrills and regression
flowering cowering
and all the in between

the good and the bad
as if not linking were |not|
an option.

trilling water
the next smallest drop

unentangle desire
entangled estates

pluming is apposite
projecting, providing cover
for the operation
that produces
the other as negative in order to
produce this negativity
as an inhering substance

unentangle this

from thrall

this is the white problem:
of destroying mores
killing the dead child
(the child you were you never were)
again and again and again
and every day

the who you are
in your eyes
who you never were

attenuated swings
around to the outset

we have | no access
to dustings of green flowering trees
in early spring
to the wear and tear
of a (linguistic) phenomenon
winter, with all its wear and tear, is forgotten
without giving it
some kind of
role in this quantum qualia, this
figurative representation

writ of access

the that which is effaced

the child sashays around to the front
again, foxglove, long days,
rain pixilating, little coming out

so if now you
can be proposed—
propositioned as above—
does that mean
I am no more?

I my bitterness insufflated
nesting dolls and centrifugitivity
an object within a similar object
always comes to rest

there is always | that
nesting | that
more than less than | that
explains all dynamic

and still, we can want
something more
even if there’s nothing,
about you that,  about | that
we can be sure

a blocked parent has come to
some part of her his child | that
still hurts. it’s the bitterroot wound
an object within a similar object

bears fault: bears, assumes, repairs
to come to something other than | this

you all is object | this
proposition: I don't understand
why we can't—all of us who feel | this
way—just do | this

[1] Unlike Graham and Thrift’s “continuous dying,” the subject is the agent of processes of destruction.
[2] One of the outcomes of criticism of “administrative bloat” at the University of Minnesota, as at many other institutions, has been the implementation of “Operational Excellence,” a business model that advocates for “continuous improvement.” In discussions and disputes over this model in the business world, the term “continuous” versus “continual” is given some attention. Reforms and improvements should be both endless (continual) and discrete (continuous), infinite and measurable. Both “continuous dying” and “continuousness improvement” posit the chaotic or entropic tendency of the social organization of life. Seeing this “humble earthworm” from the right perspective—something recently advocated by Eric Hayot, as a way of “seeing others” in a cosmological sense —involves a dissatisfying resolution of the paradox of “destructive love,” the resolution of contradiction rather than the maintenance of indeterminacy.

***presented at the University of Minnesota Graduate Student Colloquium, Inter|Diction on April 3, 2015 (convened by Mikkel Vad, with Kai Bosworth, Emily Fedoruk, and Tom Pepper).

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