I have perhaps over-reached with my ideological arguments in this week’s entry – having written twice as much as the word count for the entry in ideological claims alone. For this reason, I have moved this section to a separate supplemental essay.
Several weeks ago, I promised to look at my Feminist Epistemology articles and consider the ways in which texts focused on research “function both as performative scholarship and as scholarly performance,” while attempting to understand “how the response from the authors reflects the ethos they similarly express in their theoretical contributions and methods.” Through this, I had hoped to “explore how we can validate and make authoritative subjective forms of social theory for RAD research, how embracing such theoretical forms has been, and will continue to be, an essential part of the resurgence of empirical study in the humanities” (link).
I would argue that simply asking these questions and making statements of such assumptions is in many ways the core of my epistemological and theoretical alignment. However, I certainly expect that more needs to be said about how such study might indicate a person epistemology or system of belief – and the answer to that question is highly ideological. To this end, I will begin with the question of ideology in general within the humanities, and the roles this question presumes for us.
On the Dangers of Ideology in the Humanities
“Here I have a very traditional Marxist answer. Ideology is not only ideas. Ideology is something which structures our daily practices. Ideology is not that you think money is something mystical; ideology is in how you deal with money everyday. Legal ideology is that even if you don’t trust the legal, you use it, you rely on it. In the Wittgensteinian sense, it’s a form of life. I even develop often that today in our cynical times, for an ideology to function, it doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not. In a way, you have not to take it too seriously. This is of course may be my own weird experience because when I was young in Communist Yugoslavia, we had an extreme form of this. I witnessed how the regime experienced as the greatest threat when people took the regime’s own ideology too seriously” (Slavoj Zizek, Nov. 11 2011).
I don’t think it would surprise anyone to discover that I am a hard-left progressive with a strong foundation of Marxist readings of labor and practices within the university. However, I think it would surprise some to discover how especially moderate I am in my philosophy and pedagogy for a humanities academic who views Bernie Sanders as a problematic candidate for being far too right-wing for my tastes.
Let’s talk about Rhet/Comp, specifically. If there is one thing that the current Marxist reading of comp theory (like Marxism itself) lacks, it is pragmatism – an understanding of the inherent personal, non-systemic, failings of humanity in the face of personal benefit and intellectual complacency. Rhet/Comp, however, has fully embraced the systemic view of communication as paramount. In this light, I view it as a travesty that as a field we have moved away from the boots-on-the-ground realities of teaching writing and research skills while the vast majority of students entering (and exiting) the university still cannot write or obtain knowledge coherently. I do not adhere to the social turn of the Rhet/Comp folks – as a “true leftist,” I have discovered three Truths in my own life:
- being taught, mechanically and aesthetically, to write and research in nuanced, accurate, and purposeful ways leads students naturally towards a valuation of knowledge and proof over ideology, since accurate and skilled writing demands evidential and logical support,
- when thinking for themselves and valuing knowledge over ideology, students tend to naturally track towards more compassionate and progressive values, since progressive values are inherently the values of logical pragmatism applied to the social landscape – all writing is social, and to engage in society is to be compassionate – and,
- when faced with the heavy-handed indoctrination of the social-episteme, or the postmodern concern, students tend to retreat into ideologies of the self (wherein our most destructive, fascist tendencies lie). In a time when “the youth culture” is tracking to be more and more social, progressive, and inclusive, even the most liberal values expressed in the undergraduate English classroom are tracking more and more personal, fascistic, and exclusive (link).
You cannot instruct people into progressive citizenship, or they will flee from progress. You cannot model progressive citizenship and expect students to value that model. Through instruction, however, you can create a void where progressive citizenship should be, and full well expect many students to abhor such a vacuum and occupy it. To teach people how to think, to teach people how to recognize rhetoric and ideology, you must first teach them to write. To teach them to write, you must first teach them to access knowledge.
Ideology is the lens through which the self, the insular community concern, overtakes the social good. Knowledge, broad-ranging and demanding of broader contexts, is the lens through which the social finds supremacy. The sad, great irony of the social-epistemic turn is that it made writing an ideological act – and in doing so, took away its very power to change the world: the power social-epistemicists so praised it for. By making the act of writing identity- and literacy-based, rather than knowledge- and skill-based, the social-epistemic has taken away both the social and the epistemic. By making knowledge personal and meaning contingent, the social-epistemic has made its mission personal, and itself contingent.
There is a reason I bring Rhet/Comp, specifically, to bear; it is, for me, the hallmark of the damage that personal ideology has visited upon the academic enterprise.
It is prima facie absurd, the notion that the humanities can defend their value through contingency and “personal literacy narratives”; what the humanities demonstrate (to those with institutional power) instead is that they will be easily cowed, and that they will provide feel-good platitudes as scholarship – doing nothing to upset the dominant, neo-liberal paradigm.
Rhet/Comp is a stand-in for the humanistic disciplines in general today – it proves its value to itself by demonstrating that it lacks value to the greater institution. Rhet/Comp’s devaluation of empirical methods has gone, hand-in-hand, with its inexorable march into institutional obsolescence. The innate value of the study of rhetoric and its role within communication is lost within its inability to articulate that value outside its own disciplinary mode. The contingency of truth is now paramount, and the Board of Trustees does not care for contingent truths. Because we will not budge from the postmodern, social-epistemic concern, all of our concerns become for naught. We have, finally, embraced ideology.
If there is a theme to my ideological statements throughout this semester – both in my course discussions and in my writing – it is one of objection to intellectual and academic complacency in the face of changing (capitalist) realities in the worlds both outside of and internal to the modern university. The university is not what it once was. The role of the university is not what many advanced (read: tracking for scholarly careers) students expect it to be, having been enculturated into the space by generations of scholars past, in literature, in theory, and in the classroom. But, perhaps most importantly, our understanding of the role and nature of “knowledge” and “pedagogy” in the university is nowhere near what it has been for previous generations and previous scholars. By pursuing a PhD at this time in the history of the Western Academy, is my emphatic belief that I have entered into citizenship within a falling empire. As a shorthand for this, I have uttered the phrase “seeing as we are all cogs in the Capitalist Machinery of Death” perhaps more often than was appropriate.
Where does the pragmatic desire to instill values of knowledge in pedagogy intersect with my greater disciplinary interest in promoting RAD values throughout higher (read: non-instructional) scholarship?
As administrative concerns, capitalist desires, and political exigencies crash upon the doors of the English departments of the Western world, the faculty retreat within, crying out, as with one voice: “Please, leave me to my books.” The modern English Studies scholar lacks the tools to fight back against the Capitalist Machinery of Death, because the modern English Studies scholar presumes upon Michel Foucault and “personal narratives of digital literacy” having equal value to herself, to her students, and to her university’s administration. It is not pragmatic, and it is not reality, and it will not serve.
We need a better model if we are to fight back.
In the era following the anti-positivist movements within English Studies, it is not voguish to make such claims. It is, in reality, cause for anathema, excommunication from the humanities “in-crowd.” But I am not claiming that there is objective truth, nor am I claiming that truth is not contingent. What I am claiming is that English scholars must integrate themselves into the modern scholarly enterprise – and the modern scholarly enterprise trades in the currency of replicable data. This data does not need to serve the administrative interest, so long as its accuracy and quality is unquestionable. It can serve the philosophical and epistemological desires of the humanities – and it can benefit students in ways that the social turn still has not managed.
Broughton, J. (1968). High Kukus. The Jargon Society, Inc. No. 56.
Jones, N. (2011). Six Questions for Slavoj Žižek. Harper’s Magazine, 11 Nov. 2011. Web.