Meanwhile, in another wing of the madhouse

“The Chair of Palaeography at King’s College is the only established Professorship of Palaeography in Britain” boasts the KCL website. Not for long, it seems. It plans to axe the position too (along with the three philosophers). Another brilliant contribution to learning.

Still, it is so good to find that learning thrives elsewhere in London. For example, I see that next Monday’s lecture at CRASSH (the Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) is by one Professor Steve Dixon, of Brunel University , who is coming to talk about “Performing Split Selves: Doubles, Cyborgs and Multi-Identities in Theatre, Dance, Performance Art and Cyberculture”. Gosh. What a pity I’ll be in New Zealand and will have to give that a miss.

I can see that thinking (if that’s the word) about cyborgs and performance art might beat paleography and even the foundations of computational linguistics when it comes to sexiness. But call me old-fashioned, but it’s not exactly serious is it? But hey, who cares about serious scholarship any more? It’s 2010, and time for cyberculture. Oh well. But sometimes, just sometimes, Cyril Connolly’s valedictory words in Horizon come to mind again:  “It is closing-time in the gardens of the West”.

I think I’m off to read Montaigne.

4 thoughts on “Meanwhile, in another wing of the madhouse”

  1. To me, “Performing Split Selves: Doubles, Cyborgs and Multi-Identities in Theatre, Dance, Performance Art and Cyberculture” sounds like, potentially, a very interesting talk. I don’t know of any reason why it can’t involve serious scholarship, and I would even try to go if I were in range.

  2. Of course the configurations of our time can be, and should be, the subject for serious reflection. I somehow doubt though that a lecture title of such cloth-eared and pretentious naffness heralds such reflection.

  3. I don’t mind taking the “old-fashioned” mantle myself, if it’s offered. Still, there’s something to be said on the interplay between old-fashioned “serious” scholarship — which frequently took then-current developments as important objects of reflection — and recent attempts (which often sound a bit over-the-top) to take current developments in a perhaps similar way.

    I don’t think anyone would accuse Aquinas, Descartes, Pascal, or Foucault, of lack of seriousness; yet each was very seriously involved in reflection upon the new circumstances of life in his age. A significant part of Aqinas’s attention was devoted to the problem of Christians and Muslims living in close proximity (e.g. Summa Contra Gentiles) — a scholar of the time might reasonably have grumbled about being “off to read Lombard.” Pascal and Descartes both explored the limits of the rationalism and empiricism then current (among much else) — where were the serious scholars like Scotus? Foucault wrote extensively on how modern civility masks power exercise — Where was the meat we used to see in, um …. Descartes?

    Every age of scholars must investigate the life that’s presented to it. In every age, there is quite a lot of fluff, marshmallows, trendiness, and nonsense. And in at least the lucky ages, a few people find the serious meaning of what’s going on. Perhaps “Performing Split Selves” will be completely forgotten, but Baudrillard will be remembered — or maybe the reverse; I don’t know (although I can guess).

    But I do know that each of the known serious scholars I have named flourished best in scholarly community — which must include more than one or two people in an age. The fluff must exist to provide a context in which the serious can work.

  4. There’s a lot packed into “old-fashioned” and “serious” here, and I think the accusation you make calls for some rebuke.

    I think ‘cyberculture’ does, or certainly can, identify a real thing. And anything can be studied, and any activity that can be done can be done seriously (or jokingly, or earnestly but with little care,…). I do not know how Professor Dixon goes about it.

    In short, I think that calling into question the status of this type of study as serious academic work is a rhetorical side-step to the difficult question of allocating funds in academics.

    That said, I DO agree with the implicit point that funding often goes to popular or attractive avenues of study which, upon consideration, have less to offer us than what may seem tired, dead, or simply boring.

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