In this backward look at the horrors of his grad school experience, Rob Horning quotes Richard Webster’s remark that Lacan’s corpus is merely “a fiction created by an intellectual in order to alleviate his own emotional predicament.” I’d argue that that’s true of most philosophy and literature and doesn’t make it any less useful or valuable. “Sometimes it seems as if I had fallen in with a cult whose indoctrination tactics involved forcing impoverished recruits like me to drink gallons of coffee between contentious three-hour self-criticism sessions,” Horning writes. No doubt it’s a testimony to my bent and shrivelled soul that some of my happiest moments of the last few months have been in my three-hour weekly sessions on the philosophy of technology (Heidegger, Marcuse, Stiegler, Haraway). Of course, for a person of my own disposition, with virtually no useful skills other than basic reading comprehension, another tour of duty in the ivory tower still seems considerably less soul-crushing than trying to eke out a living in the labour market. But, you know, talk to me again in five years.
Here’s the thing that this dude neglects: there’s a different path besides simply using grad school as a tool for professionalization versus “self-actualization,” “narcissistic cult” etc. (although obviously these two reasons are and have to be part of the experience of graduate school): what about the political and ethical aspects/imperatives of teaching and writing? I have to admit that Horning’s tirade against grad school resounded with me at certain points (esp. “At the time I felt I was learning a lot, but the knowledge I was amassing was increasingly disordered in my mind, provoking questions that required more and more esoteric jargon to even articulate. I was learning what sorts of books I should be reading, but actually reading all these works that people seemed to treat as prerequisites would have added years and years to my preparatory study phase. It seemed that there was an endless ladder to climb, and the further I went up it, the less I could bring myself to face the thought of ever getting off or reaching the top.”), but that doesn’t make my work as an academic any less politically relevant or useful.
The commentary here is great (I haven’t read the article yet/should be reading Marx (lol speaking of prerequisite readings) but this is great commentary and I think the most important thing about grad school IS what Kelie names, the ethical imperatives of teaching and writing, and that there are plenty of examples of people who have gone through the academic-industrial complex and come out and used what they learned to do real and important things (I’m thinking of Stuart Hall working with Open University, or like the whole concept of the Open University in general).
This also feels like another case of hate the Lacanians but not Lacan. The atmosphere in the 90s and before surrounding theory started to really become cult-like especially around people like Derrida and Lacan. I would say now theory is practiced much differently and more pragmatically although some points are certainly correct.
And one more comment on this article: It makes the common mistake of looking for “meaning” or “truth” behind an individual’s work. That’s not to say that Lacan doesn’t need to be coherent, but obviously, a lot of good work has been done by Lacanians using Lacanian frameworks. That is to say people are concerned with the “truth” of Lacan, Derrida, whoever, without ever considering what Lacanian theory can do. Theory is about creating conceptual weapons and tools (ala Deleuze).