Why I Am Not An Academic

I did promise I’d ridicule Julian Gough‘s article in Prospect when it came out, and so I shall. – In the second paragraph, for instance, he says “Wallace hung himself”, when he means

“hanged” (after the anti-climatic / anti-climactic thing in The Guardian, I’m on the a bit of a sub-editing roll today).

Otherwise I broadly

agree with the nonsense Gough comes up with. My view of the corruption of universities on writing I’ve mentioned elsewhere – not just teaching

(whether as English or Creative Writing), but studying too. This is, I admit, a generalisation: – not all people who study/teach English/CW at

university are corrupted by it; – only most. I’d contend it has to do with the facts: a) that people become far too analytical and rational about how

to write (plot, style etc.) when writing is in essence a much more irrational process than that (what the hell, am I becoming some sort of wishy-washy

post-modernist (philosophical, not literary) all of a sudden?) – though it isn’t just English, it’s all subjects (incl. sciences) – and before

anyone comes on and suggests, what madness is that: I’m not suggesting that people don’t need to be taught a certain amount of science: – it’s that

there’s a dividing line between knowing what is necessary to contribute meaningfully to a subject and becoming so inured to the thought-patterns of

one’s predecessors and contemporaries than one is incapable of any kind of worthwhile insight; – and b) the old truism, hinted at (or maybe even

expressed explicitly, I’m not going to check) by Gough that people who spend all their lives at university soon lose touch with the rest of life and

anything they have to say becomes academic (perhaps not in all the senses of the word, but in at least two).

Another point Gough makes is about


they [American academic novelists] waste time on America’s debased, overwhelming, industrial pop culture. They attack it with an

energy appropriate to attacking fascism, or communism, or death.

which, since we’re reading Barthes’ Mythologies (on and

off, for light entertainment) at the moment, seems pretty accordant with a lot of what we’re finding among our post-modern chums. One is in fact

inclined to suggest perhaps the following fanciful reason: that post-modernist thinkers were/are in general Marxists (or sometimes fascists) who have

been forced to confront the fact that Marxism (or fascism), where practiced, has often led to extremes of totalitarianism and genocide; that, irked in

their metanarrativical political philosophy by this, they have then decided that everyone else‘s metanarratives are

equally flawed; and so their Marxist critique of capitalism becomes an empty assault on pop culture, positing in its place only a big dark nothing. Or

perhaps (in the grand tradition of post-modernist thought), it doesn’t.


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