Monday, 7 June 2010

Steve Best, the "putsch," and the "dungeon of marginality"

With Machiavellian ruthlessness, following a methodical plot, [my colleagues] ambushed me in a department meeting; in their terrifying totality and mob-mindset, armed with a battery of lies, they dispatched me to the dungeon of marginality. - Steve Best, "Evolve or Die: Can We Shed Our Moral Primitivism Before It's Too Late?"

Spotlessly-groomed Steve Best pushed open the door, carrying an essay bearing the title The Next Wave of Counter-hegemonically Blended Inclusiveness Against False Dualistically Constructified Oppositions and Bogusly Bogus Separations which he had composed in his brain by fits of intense creativity. A bright blue shirt bellowed behind him sustained by a breeze flowing through a half-open window. He held his essay aloft and cried out: "Behold! I'm holding the next ineluctable epiphany in my inexorable intellectual evolution." But there was no response - and this alerted him to the fact that he had walked into the broom cupboard mistakenly, when in fact he was supposed to be in the staffroom. Furtively he exited the broom cupboard before anyone noticed him and retraced his steps through the philosophy department. His retracing, past the water fountain and the office, from the broom cupboard to staff area, brought him by an almost complete recirculation of the department to his destination: the philosophy staffroom.

Feeling a smidgen unsettled after his unintended excursion in the broom cupboard, but still with his revolutionary composition safely in hand, Steve pushed open the staffroom door which closed behind him with ominous finality. Then, unbeknown to Steve, the Professor of Symbolic Logic, a hermetic character, stepped by a silent movement of his under-exercised legs between him and the doorway - an unusual event that added to the ominous sense of foreboding. Again Steve held his essay aloft and cried out: "Behold!" - but this time he checked himself sharply; for a second earlier his eyes had alighted on an unnerving incongruity: not more than a few paces in front of him, from the burbling coffee machine at one end of the room to the generously stocked bookcase at the other, ranged a serried phalanx of philosophers decked out in the academic armour of thick turtleneck sweaters, tweed jackets, and round spectacles, looking at him fixedly, as if goaded by something beyond the limits of their endurance. A flush which showed he was nervous rose to Steve's checks. "What is going on? What on earth is the meaning of this?" he asked in quick succession. But his uncomprehending questions were withered by the Professor of Metaphysics with a bellow. "There's no way out, Steve; we have you surrounded. This is an ambush," said the Professor.

Haltingly the Professor of Metaphysics moved toward Steve with his arms outstretched. Instinctively Steve turned around, looking for a way out; the way was blocked, however, by the Professor of Symbolic Logic, who in his discursive wisdom had anticipated that Steve would try to achieve Total Liberation from the staffroom via the doorway. It is not clear exactly what happened in the confused hullabaloo of the ambush that followed, but it seems that the Professor of Symbolic Logic and the Professor of Metaphysics lunged at Steve simultaneously, tackling him to the ground. Then, in response to a signal from the Professor of Metaphysics, the Professor of Politics sat on him, shouting with an abandon he had never permitted himself before, "You are not the only one willing to practice a by any means necessary approach!" And from beneath this squirming mass of thick turtleneck sweaters, tweed jackets, and round spectacles, one could hear Steve murmuring, loudly at first and then more quietly: "Agents of repression... narcotized by a priori theorizing...power-hungry dimwits without a scintilla of scruples...resentful of a colleague in the spotlight...Pyrrhic victory." At last, overcome by the combined weight of the three Professors, Steve lapsed into unconsciousness, and with that a sudden gasp of relief swept out of all the other academics in the staffroom.

When Steve regained consciousness he found himself tied by thick sellotape to an old comfy chair (which is the subject, incidentally, of an ugly dispute between the Professor of Politics and the Professor of Ethics, both of whom claim exclusive entitlement to sit on it during lunch times). He tried vigorously to shake himself free of his sticky adhesive chains; but, as the Professor of Metaphysics had tied them impenetrably close, he could get no leverage: and so, exhausted by his vain exertions, he surrendered to his colleagues. Pleading with them he said, "Why are you doing this to me?" To which the Professor of Moral Philosophy, hovering in the background, replied with a pensiveness of spirit: "It is for the greater good," and after that, the other philosophers intoned for the greater good continuously and with a hypnotic regularity of rhythm - an incantation that intensified the tenseness of the scene by imparting to it the character of a Gothic ritual.

In response to the Utilitarian incantation of his colleagues, Steve said: "So, this is a Putsch, another attempt to dispatch me to - the dungeon of marginality." On hearing this language, the professor of Metaphysics looked nonplussed but not in any way surprised. Then, stricken by an excess of exasperation, the Professor launched into the most important part of the ambush by saying: "Tell me, Steve, is it possible for two objects to be in the same place at the same time? Sorry, I'm miles away, thinking about my next lecture. I meant: I am going to read something to you - three passages from two books by a certain academic." Then, looking at Steve with steady eyes, the Professor read the following passages with emphasis:

We see Foucault as a profoundly conflicted thinker whose thought is torn between oppositions such as totalizing/detotalizing impulses and tensions between discursive/extra-discursive theorization, macro/microperspectives, and a dialectic of domination/resistance....Although Foucault later qualified his views on the subject, all three theorists reject the modernist notion of a unified, rational, and expressive subject and attempt to make possible the emergence of new types of decentered subjects, liberated from what they see to be the terror of fixed and unified identities, and free to become dispersed and multiple, reconstituted as new types of subjectivities and bodies....We believe that mapping the transition from the modern to the postmodern requires sociological and historical perspectives which relates the current moment both to the past that conditioned it and the future it anticipates. Critical theory, as we interpret it, rejects the mechanistic notion of time that fragments the temporal continuum of history into a random and meaningless series of "events" (such a nihilistic view is evident in Foucault, for example); it sees past, present, and future as an unfolding evolutionary dynamic that has moments of discontinuity, but nevertheless is coherent and meaningful.

On hearing this, Steve gulped heavily and a sticky globule of sweat cascaded down his nose. Then the Professor repeated the following two words with excruciating slowness: "T-o-t-a-l-i-z-i-n-g/d-e-t-o-t-a-l-i-z-i-n-g."

Broken, Steve cried out in a rasping voice: "Please, this is intolerable! Stop tormenting me with his irreversibly empty formulations glittered in the spurious splendor of meaningless jargon!"

Mercifully, the Professor stopped reading. Then his lips curled in a high sardonic smile as he closed the books and put them down where Steve could see their titles: Postmodern Theory and The Postmodern Turn - by Steve Best.