[-empyre-] April 2009 on –empyre-

joseph tabbi jtabbi at gmail.com
Thu Apr 2 04:54:27 EST 2009

Hi everybody,

I want to thank Nicholas for inviting me (on the strength of a
recommendation from Manuela Rossini), and for setting the month’s

Bad times for all of us.

Certainly here!

At my State University in Chicago this season, so far just three of
our eight graduate job seekers had an interview at the Modern Language
Association job fair. Of these, one was called back for a campus talk.
That was in Creative Writing. One of our recent lit Ph.Ds got a
visiting position for a single term at a university abroad, and was
told on arrival that the course load, and his salary, would be cut in

I, personally, am burdened with it day to day since I am handling job
placement in my Department.

I’m also presiding at the Electronic Literature Organization where,
this past month, I’ve written three letters defending e-lit
researchers whose positions have been, or could be, cut. The firing of
Laura Borràs Castanyer in Spain was discussed here I think, on the
list before I joined. A prestigious department of Germanic Studies may
be denying tenure to another active and well published e-lit scholar.
One recent MA in Germany, who was planning on doing a dissertation in
e-lit, lost her supporting program when their grant was not renewed:
she needs now to migrate back to ‘literature,’ if they will let her

Three in less than a month: these letters are becoming my genre.

We all saw it coming.

Now that it’s here, do we again do what we’ve always done? Protect
what we have? Re-assert our commitment to the traditional goals of the
traditional Humanities? Cooperate with the upper administration in the
hopes that we’ll be favored when things turn around?

Tenure stream jobs in those ‘traditional’ disciplines have been
systematically reduced in any case and no turnaround can be expected.
In the U.S., compare the 75% of undergraduate classes taught by tenure
stream faculty, in the 1960s, with the current 25% (the rest taught by
instructors and grad students whose scholarly career ends with the
Ph.D., more often than not: see M. Bousquet, How the University

So I’m wondering if those of us who have been, in our writing and
academic careers, seeking new directions ought to continue channeling
our energies primarily through disciplines.

I’m wondering if Humanities scholars haven’t been following, for too
long and maybe semi-consciously, the models of high finance. We both
have our derivative instruments. Where finance has moved from a system
of reliable debtors to speculation itself, we scholars describe what
others have been describing under the term, “postmodernity.” (See N.
Luhmann, “Globalization or World Society”) We protect each other with
professional “languages” and we like to form micro “cultures” and
establish disciplinary boundaries as a barrier to entry, somewhat as
Finance uses capital.

We are all working now largely through networked media of
communication and exchange (of information, money, ideas).

Recent experience suggests that, even if nobody knows how to stop the
capitalist system from unraveling, the networks themselves go on
functioning, and something transformative is in store (for better or

Most people of course will go on doing what they always do (because
doing so has produced success in the recent past). In the past,
despite some belt-tightening, at least we could reproduce the
disciplines and add a number of sub-disciplines when conflicts arose
(over resources, over concepts, over concepts covering for anxieties
over resources).

But for those who are working seriously not only in disciplines, but
also in networked environments, I think different kinds of
academic/aesthetic production have to be recognized.

Networks now are where discourse takes place. They generate a fair
amount of gossip, shop talk, and vaporware. But ways of creating
value, uniqueness, and stability are also emerging in literary and
aesthetic scholarship.

Maybe some of us, here, know of some ways.

I look forward to the discussions,

Joseph Tabbi

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