Synthesizing Too Many Thoughts – Agrippa, Obsolescence, and Academic Elitism

The past couple of weeks, I have found myself intimately invested in our conversations in class. I tried to articulate some of the things that were going on for me – apparently with some success (thanks for the shout-out, Lindsey! Right back at you!) – but I’m going to use this as a space to work through some more thoughts. I’m going to do this by attempting to interweave our discussions of Planned Obsolescence and the Agrippa files.

Something that has persistently stuck with me about our conversation two classes ago (Planned Obsolescence and open access) was the ways that so many of us insisted that open access is a proverbial enemy of the academy. We risk diluting the power and importance of our work, I kept hearing, if we open up access to academic literature. I agree: open access does threaten current power and notions of importance. It’s just… I like that. I don’t feel threatened by that. I feel invigorated by that. I think the educational privileges we all have in our class should be not only opened up, but dismantled. Which people and systems benefit from reinforcing an elite set of knowledges and an elite set of privileges attendant with guarding academic knowledge from “the public” (what does that even mean?)? I would argue that the answer to that is a very race- and class-based one in which racial and class injustices are perpetuated by limited or closed access to academic spaces.

Open access helps academic knowledge and discourse not slip into the realm of the obsolete. And it is obsolete if we are insisting on our research remain solely in the purview of other educationally privileged academics. And, without open access, the obsolescence of academia is planned (look! A connection between our readings!), is deliberate, is designed. Academic work can be solid from the academy’s perspective, but obsolete in the fact of it slipping out of relevance if it doesn’t somehow have material effects on people’s lives. And open access not only permits these material effects by allowing people who don’t necessarily have the educational or economic privileges needed to access materials to encounter potentially transformative academic content, but – perhaps most importantly – allows the lived experiences of people’s lives to impact the actual content of academic work. Isn’t that awesome? If we don’t advocate for that, aren’t we privileging only certain kinds of elite knowledges as valid knowledges? Let’s check out the academy in general, and the structures of racist and classist oppression that shape it and who can participate in it. Whose knowledges does that mean we’re privileging? (Hint.) My point is, open access can be a crucial tool for promoting racial and economic justice, in the same way that closed/limited access perpetuates these injustices through legitimating only certain kinds of knowledges and languages.

This seems to me to be intimately connected to the ways that we discussed the Agrippa files. As Lindsey so deliciously articulated (I kind of just want to re-post her whole thing), Agrippa represented a mode of resistance to the expected norms of textual re-presentation and interpretation. We privilege what we can take our time with, what we can read back and watch back and analyze again and again. Temporally, this seems to me to de-privilege moment-by-moment experiences and living – moments that cannot be recorded, cannot be captured, cannot be made intelligible to an audience – as less important than what can be made recordable and therefore visible and (possibly) intelligible to someone else (someone academic) for analysis. Here, there is so much potential for art and performativity to intervene, and I love that… The flash of individual experience; the invisible, momentary interactions with non-textual encounters; the internalized trauma of microaggression after microaggression that cannot be recorded because these violences defy such simple identification;┬áthe e/affects aroused by snippets of songs, flashes of color, and secret eye sex with a maybe-more-than-friend; these are what we miss out on when we privilege what can be recorded, what can be archived, what can be examined over and over again.


1 thought on “Synthesizing Too Many Thoughts – Agrippa, Obsolescence, and Academic Elitism

  1. Elissa Myers

    I completely agree with you that open access could be an important step in dismantling structures of racist and classist oppression, and that this would be a very good thing! I think that our purpose as academics is to create knowledge that serves the public in some way, and that changing the hierarchical structure that prohibits the public from understanding and/or participating in our work would be a huge, fundamental service.

    I think open access could provide us with ways to see if the work we are doing is serving the public, if we are really producing work that is relevant and understandable to non-academic people.

    I actually believe that a whole lot of our work would prove to be quite relevant and understandable. I personally loathe jargon and unnecessary theoretical complication, and I think a lot of people are with me on this, and are increasingly trying to express themselves in much clearer, plainer language than we might have say, a few decades ago (perhaps even a few years ago). And I think the topics we as a field are studying are scads more relevant than they used to be. For instance, in our class we have a really diverse range of interests, including children’s literature, literature by queer people of color, non-canonical women authors, postwar female poetics, rhetoric and composition, and postcolonial theory. I recognize that there is also a lot of academic work that is probably not relevant to the general public, and that is laden with jargon and theory. By offering our work online for free, however, we would be a lot closer to figuring out whether or not our work speaks clearly to a general audience, and if not, why not. How could we rectify such gaps in relevance or clarity?

    Second, I think it is good for us to make our work available because the general public often has outdated ideas about who professors are and what they do. Though I know academia is still implicated in and still perpetuates racist, classist, and sexist structures, all professors are certainly not old white men with elbow patches anymore (as someone in my family seemed to think). And though we still may be required to include many canonical authors in our syllabi, our research interests (as seen above) are often aimed at breaking the canon apart. In short, I think that putting our work online would show the general public that in some ways we are more relevant than they thought–giving a window onto what we do outside the classroom that they have not really had before. In short, I am by no means saying that we have come far enough in our quest to be relevant and understandable to the general public. Rather, I think open access would provide us with a valuable connection to that public so that together, we could assess such things.

    Finally, I think we should try to become more comfortable with the participation of non-academic people in academic discourse and practice. Though, as you pointed out, Jennifer, people seem pretty uncomfortable with this right now, it is actually already happening. One day in class, you mentioned several non-academic blogs that tackle issues pertinent to literary/cultural studies in a really rigorous, smart way. I also value several such blogs, and my husband frequently watches internet videos analyzing his favorite movies that are quite in-depth (though not usually laden with jargon, or hard to understand). The internet is making it possible for non-academic people to participate in academic discourse in a way that is both relevant and understandable, with or without our “okay,” so we might as well get used to it. It seems that if we don’t participate in these conversations, our function in society could indeed become obsolete (and perhaps rightfully so?). But, on the other hand, if we do participate in those conversations, instead of trying to cordon them off, we could probably learn a lot!

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