Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Law & Order: ECU. In the higher education system, original ideas are considered especially heinous. The researchers who investigate these ideas are part of an elite squad known as the Early Career Unit. These are their stories.

You know when you write something and even as you write it, you know it's absolute fucking gold. You know that righteousness seeps from the very letters you type. You re-read it and you go, "Yeah! Goddamn-yeah! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!" Anyway, here is my email:
My esteemed ladeez and gentz,

As someone practising cultural studies from outside the academy, I am used to being considered irrelevant, so please take the controversial suggestion I'm about to make with a sack of salt.

What I propose is nothing less than the abolition of the email sign-off 'Best' from all academic correspondence.

What does 'Best' mean, exactly? A shortened version of 'Best wishes'? (Why not type the additional seven keystrokes?) A challenge? ("Sir, I venture that in the field of poststructuralist hermeneutics you shall not best me!") Or, an indication that you are simply into Tina Turner? ("...Better than all the rest")

Early career academics: it's your duty to think and speak radically and ridiculously! Under the burden of nostalgic nationalism you are expected to squeak like mice - it's time to roar like horses! Finding the right tangents is its own Creative Industry!

Remember, the future of an entire discipline may rest on a single sign-off,


This was in response to a discussion Mel Gregg initiated on the CSAA email list (which, as you may recall, I have had difficulties with in the past). I loved Mel's phrase that emerging cultural studies researchers are constantly forced to "mime in the shadows" of their influential elders; and her polemical post got exactly the expected kind of nostalgic, self-justifying response from said established academics. Completely obscuring the question, and glossing over Mel's specific example of the Creative Industries brand from QUT. (Sweet Jesus: there is a news item on the website: "Creative writing students urged to be 'original'".) Then there were people criticising the obsessive nationalism of "Australian Cultural Studies".

And then there were early-career people writing in and going, "This is my story", which is where I got the idea for the Law & Order thing. As Glen perceptively noted, early career researchers were hardly going to rise to Mel's challenge, because their economic and institutional position is the most precarious: "Rock the boat? Not in the seductive mist of the performance-based, outcomes-funded, technical school of immaterial trades."

I think language is one of the key ways in which people learn to think what is expected rather than what is original and insightful. And it really struck me that a good place for early-career researchers to start rocking the boat is in their use of language. I mean, signing your emails with 'Best' is, in a small way, signing your capitulation to the rhetoric of institutions. Maybe I am being cavalier in a way others can't afford to be - but surely the very marginality of the (particularly young) early career researcher is also a freedom to be playful and poetic and expressive? We must embrace the language of the inappropriate and the impertinent.

In a far more serious context, Guy writes that racism is enabled by the category of "inappropriateness" - there is an implicit suggestion that racism is legitimate; it simply requires an ever-deferred "appropriate" context. But to modify this idea: appropriateness and pertinence are discourses used within the cultural studies establishment to limit people's thinking. Early career researchers often marginalise themselves in their eagerness to align their research to existing epistemologies. And potentially productive tangents on email lists like this are often slapped down with cries of "irrelevance". Relevance to what?

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