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"The Accidental Elitist": On left-wing academia under Trump


At The Baffler website, Maximillian Alvarez decries the self-isolating tendencies of left-wing academia and argues that in the age of Trump, it’s even more urgent for progressive academics to connect with a wider public. However, in contrast to others who’ve made similar arguments, Alvarez, who is a PhD student in History and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, doesn’t call for academics to “translate” their jargon-heavy discourse into terms that are easier for lay people to understand. Rather, he suggest that academics need to learn the language that non-academics use to describe their worldview and politics convictions. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

To be an academic in today’s America is to be plunged into a perennial identity crisis. And like most academic things, it’s a maddeningly elliptical, recursive, and small-bore sort of crisis. Fueling all our self-indulgent angst is a never-fully-acknowledged social contract, the one that, via countless professional canons and conventions, confirms your choice to be a so-called academic, to assume it not only as a profession, but an identity, and to wear on yourself the trappings that come with that identity without stopping to wonder how necessary they really are and whether they are actually killing your ability to be and do something better. Most the time this doesn’t even feel like a choice at all, but it is. At other times, how to deal with this choice may seem more or less like a personal matter. But, in the age of Trump, the public implications of this choice, the civic implications, have been exposed more than ever before, and the stakes are as high as they’re going to get …

All of the persistent talk of tragically marooned academics seeking to engage a vanishing public exposes what is, perhaps, the most crucial point: what we’re talking about requires much more than finding more effective ways to “translate” our academic knowledge into something that will be able to “lift up” the public while also remaining legible to it. To limit this to a question of translation is to still presume that the toughest, most important, and mind-bending work must be done first in private and in one’s native academic tongue before it can trickle down to a more public arena. As if our primary task is to come up with Derrida for Dummies. But, in fact, the more important work starts with a deeply self-reflective consideration for when the academic heavy lifting is necessary and when it is pompous bullshit. Again, this is not to say that what is written and talked about in high-octane academic forums is vapid and meaningless. It’s about asking, very seriously, when you are packing hyper-complex sentences with loaded terminology and references to deep theoretical traditions: what is necessary, what is excessive, and whom are you serving? …

To begin at the beginning: our goal should not just be to “translate” the more complicated and prohibitive language of our insulated scholarly circles into one that is more accessible to the public, but to develop a critical, workable language out of the non-academic spheres and “publics” we’re already a part of. This includes smaller spheres, like families, neighborhoods, local jobs, social networks, and increasingly larger ones, like city councils, unions, professional associations, major media outlets, etc. Such spheres vary widely, and a crucial part of this work will be accepting and engaging with the limits of local spheres instead of enacting the old academic conceit of having more universalist ways and means to address them all at once.

Image via The Baffler.


Why not reply? This article doesn’t concern me that much . The usage of the language have been a question since Academies are existing. Derrida for Dummies… why not ? It would be interesting. I am truly afraid that- in reverse - Dummies for Derrida, might be more educational.
Another remark: to elect Trump not necessarily a tragic end , perhaps a tragic beginning, It is up to the American intellectuals what and how can respond . I think language by itself just wont do it.
Andras Halasz