Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Some Odd Intellectual Disciplines

One of the areas I've been caught up in the last few weeks is the plight of the lumpen professoriate, or "a superexploited corps of disposable workers" (Cary Nelson, Academic Keywords: A Devil's Dictionary For Higher Education, p.208), the increasing use (general timeframe here: 1985-now) by administration and tenured faculty in even our "best" public universities of graduate students en route to their PhDs teaching heavy loads at wages roughly equal to fast-food clerks and bellhops. For up to ten years. No benefits. Humongous student loan debts. (We're talking the Humanities side of the campus here.)

American universities have become more and more corporatized since Reagan. This is a story that is not nearly well-understood enough by the electorate.

And when these overworked students finally get their PhDs they are not hired as faculty, much less tenure-track faculty. 'Cuz then they'd have to be paid a decent salary. And the tenured professoriate and Administrators have seen enormous gains since around 1980 in academia, especially the Administrators and college presidents and football and basketball coaches. The university has roughly come to be modeled along neoliberal economic "managed" health care in the totally inhuman and disastrous (to most humans) "health care system" in Unistat. How depressing! (I hope it's better where you live, my non-Unistat readers!)

And in one of the books - How The University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, by Marc Bousquet - in the introduction by Cary Nelson - Nelson talks about this vast underclass (at minimum 250,000 as of this book's release in 2008) and how they, rather ironically, need to raise their own consciousness about themselves as a kind of tempworker-class, by applying the very theories they were trained to apply to classic texts or society or history or gender inequality. "We have seen one body of theory after another encrypted, to apply Derridean usage, as a form of specialization. Every body of theory with broad implications for understanding our own practices has sold its potential for professional critique in exchange for institutionalization." (p.xvii)

Ahhh...the ironic "privilege" of specialization! And, I must say, despite the inevitable veneer of academicese shot-through these books - and there are many - written by these angry, highly-educated, crapped-on (to be frank) intellectuals: it's unbelievable! But I do believe it. I've known a few of these. 
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Anyway, I wanted to talk about some odd intellectual disciplines I've noted in my reading. Some of them might be fictional; it's up to you to figure it out:

Transcendental gastronomy: I will say, and hope you believe me, that the great enlightened-hedonist Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) said his book The Physiology of Taste was in this field of study. 

Adoxography: I will throw this out there: I found this term while reading a novel, but the novelist insists it's a real type of writing: it's "good writing about trivial subjects." Or so I say to you I have read... (Hey wait a minnit: If it's a "real" word, am I doing it now? I doubt it. And if it's not a real word, oughtn't it be?)

Exo-Theology: Okay, I found this one in a book on the social psychology of UFO-alien-contactee groups. Roughly: "gods"are "really out there" and have influenced human culture for many millennia, and ...I'll just move on...

Grossology: C'mon! I made this one up for sure, right? If I didn't, it's the word used by teachers of elementary school kids about how the human body works. Its founder, Ms. Sylvia Carol Branzei-Velasquez, defines it as "teaching science through gross things." It turns out kids can't get enough of learning how snot, flatulence, feces, halitosis, etc, etc, etc: how it's produced, its function, what it's made of, and I think you, Dear Reader, would rather me get on to the next Odd Discipline:

Cryptozoology: Okay, you know Big Foot, Sasquatch, the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman? Cryptozoologists study that stuff. And wow: there are a lot of those...quasi-phenomenal beasts out there: The Loch Ness Monster you've all heard of, but what about the Chupacabra? Unicorns, sea-serpents, giant squid, cyclops, and my all-time fave, Mothman. This field is REAL, folks! (Even if the creatures might not be, in the sensory-sensual world? I assume they "are real" in humanity's Poetic Faculty, though: too long a history of this stuff, and well worthy for study by specialists in psycho-archeology and folklore.)

Garbology: Let's just say it's the gathering of hidden information about people and their habits, what they're trying to hide, or simply not telling us, by capturing and carefully sifting through someone's else's trash. You wanna read about an interesting weirdo? Check out A.J. Weberman. 'Nuff said.

Transitory Professor of Trendy Studies: Sure I made this one up out of whole cloth. But nooooo: the late great professor Richard Rorty made this up in reference to himself. See Against Bosses, Against Oligarchies, p.56

Nutragenomics: Sounds plausible. Could someone you know (or a friend of a friend) be specializing in this field? Via genomic information, it looks into the varying dietary responses to all nutrients, including fats, carbs, minerals, vitamins, insulin resistance, how a person feels when they exercise, etc.

Dendranthropology: It is the study based on the idea that humans originated from trees. Okay, okay: no one studies this, but it was apparently an actual discipline at one time, if I believe Kacirk and his book Word Museum. (page 57)

Erotheology: This probably originated in the yoga of tantra (a likely story!), and studies the human body as a place of worship. Why are you grinning?

Pornolinguistics: I swear I didn't make this up: one of Noam Chomsky's best linguistic students at M.I.T, way back in the 1970s, got fed up with Chomsky's inability to adequately account for semantics in his schemas. The student then wrote linguistics papers that were widely circulated in underground academic linguistics geekdom. One was titled "English Sentences Without Overt Grammatical Subjects"(guess you hadda be there), signed by Quang Phuc Dong of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology. The fed-up student: James D. McCawley, professor of pornolinguistics...and "scatolinguistics" too.

Interstellar Pharmaco-Anthropology: I copped this from Robert Anton Wilson's novel(s) Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy. As far as I know: probably does not yet exist as a subject for a specialist. But I think I'd be a good candidate when it becomes possible. I've already done plenty of research all "undergrad" and informal-like...I best leave it at that. (Lemme get this straight: I am NOT claiming I've been in "outer space" in any 2001 sense...)

Rational Civil Theology of Providence: This is real...or it has some quite robust ontological standing as an area of specialization. It was what Giambattista Vico said his magnum opus The New Science was about. And for a long time, scholars didn't know what to make of Vico's exceedingly weird and wonderful and scholarly book. But now there are scads and scads of specialists in Vico, so I'd say it's an actual area of study...even if many (hell: most!) Vico scholars describe their endeavors in different terms than Vico here. 

Pornosophical Philotheology: This may or may not be "real," but I will say that it is found on page 432 of a very very famous book.

The first person to name the book AND describe how they interpret the term, wins a load of old props from the Grossology exhibit. Good luck! And I hope you enjoyed this...adoxography?

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