With Friends Like These: Against the AAUP “Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education”

by Joseph Shieber

It is a great shame that the authors of the recently released AAUP statement “In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education” do not even know what it is that they are attempting to defend. And it is the height of irony that, in an essay attempting to defend the importance of expert knowledge, the authors of the AAUP would be so cavalier in their rejection of expert knowledge about the very subject of their defense, namely knowledge itself.

The authors of the AAUP report have a laudable goal in mind. They seek to defend the importance of, as they put it, “the disciplines and institutions that produce and transmit … knowledge”.

The authors correctly note that recent critics of higher education mistakenly confuse the teaching and research conducted at colleges and universities with indoctrination. They quote the current United States Secretary of the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, who exhorted college students to “fight against the education establishment”. “The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans,” DeVos warned the students, “tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.”

Although they aren’t terribly clear, it would seem that the AAUP report authors push back against DeVos’s conflation of education with indoctrination on the basis of three important qualities of research and education at higher education institutions:

1. College and university professors develop and transmit valuable thinking methods and skills — examples that the authors cite include learning how to “solve differential equations”, “to predict the path of a hurricane”, “to track the epidemic of opioid addiction”, “to study the impact of tariffs on the economy”.
2. College and university professors discover and disseminate factual information — examples that the authors cite include “the principles of quantum mechanics”, “the somatic effects of nicotine”, and “the history of slavery and Jim Crow, or the history of the Holocaust”.
3. In addition to those discipline-specific thinking methods and bodies of factual information, college and university professors also inculcate in students an appreciation for the methods of investigation appropriate to knowledge-seeking, which the authors characterize as “informed, dispassionate investigation”.

So far, so good! If the authors of the AAUP report had stopped here, they would have done higher education — and, indeed, the general public who derive so much from the fruits of higher education — a great service.

Unfortunately, they didn’t stop here. Read more »

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Monday Poem


along a river its banks are set
and keep the river in the river

being in the river the river’s
in its being

within its banks, whole, astatic,
a river flows unbound, ecstatic
a falling river goes

within these banks, astatic,
this river grows unbound, ecstatic
this falling river flows

until, without banks,
this river goes

Jim Culleny

Photo: S. Abbas Raza

Lili Marleen: the poem and the song

by Emrys Westacott

Lili Marleen is one of the best known songs of the twentieth century.  A plaintive expression of a soldier’s desire to be with his girlfriend, it is indelibly associated with World War II, in part because it was popular with soldiers on both sides. It was first recorded by the German singer Lale Anderson in 1939. The Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels disliked the song and initially banned it from the radio, probably because it expresses a preference for staying at home rather than going off to war.  But in 1941 he granted a Belgrade-based radio station in German-occupied Yugoslavia permission to broadcast it. Apparently, Rommel, commander of the German troops in North Africa, liked the song, Goebbels relented, and soon Radio Belgrade (which had a very limited supply of disks available) was playing it every night as their sign-off tune. It quickly became popular with both German and allied forces. Anderson recorded an English version in 1942.

Marlene Dietrich, who worked tirelessly during world war two entertaining allied troops, also recorded both a German version and an English version of the song. Compared to the Anderson recordings, with their strong, marching tempo, Dietrich’s versions, which begin with the melancholy strains of an accordion, are slower, sweeter, and more wistful. The English version retains the melody and the general theme, but beyond the first line the lyrics are not even a loose translation of the original German.

The song began life as a poem of three stanzas, written in 1915 by Hans Leip (1893-1983), a schoolteacher from Hamburg who had been called up into the German army and was training in Berlin prior to leaving for the Eastern front. In the years following world war one, Leip became a successful author. His poem, with two further verses added, was eventually published in 1937, as “Das Lied eines jungen Soldaten auf der Wacht” (The song of a young soldier on watch). It was put to music in 1938 by Norbert Schultze, already by then a well-known composer who wrote numerous songs to be used by Goebbels’ propaganda ministry. Read more »

Hope and Paradox in the Age of Climate Change

by Katie Poore

While waiting, shivering and jetlagged, for a train home from the Paris airport this week, I alternately stared into space and checked the train timetables. My train was an hour late. I later learned, thanks to the friendliness of a fellow traingoer, that the train had hit a deer.

Waiting on the platform, I happened upon an article in The Atlantic. The author’s name was Jedediah Britton-Purdy. I clicked the Instagram link with immediate fascination, not because of the notability of that name—it strikes me as so quintessentially American—but because I spent days and weeks with his book After Nature last year, slogging through an undergraduate thesis centered on the intersection of the environment and literature.

Purdy’s article is called “The Concession to Climate Change I Will Not Make.” In it, he explains his rationale for maintaining hope in a world that seems to be, quite literally, burning down around us. To him, this hope means, at least in part, continuing to have children.

This struck a chord with me, perhaps because it was eerily similar to a conversation I had with my mother over the holidays, where I professed a sense of hopelessness about the world and its seemingly impending expiration date. Sometimes it made me terrified to have children, I told her. Thinking about what they might inherit felt almost cruel. Read more »

The Cancer Questions Project, Part 24: Antonio “Tito” Fojo

Dr. Antonio “Tito” Fojo specializes in the management of patients with adrenocortical cancer, malignant pheochromocytoma, neuroendocrine malignancies, and thyroid cancer; his current laboratory efforts are focused on developing therapies to treat such patients. Dr. Fojo has worked to understand the molecular basis of drug resistance, he was involved in the original work relating to several ABC transporters and identified rearrangements involving the MDR-1 gene as a novel mechanism of drug resistance in several cancers. He has also been very involved in research on microtubule-targeting agents. In addition to his clinical expertise Dr. Fojo is involved in the design, conduct and interpretation of oncology clinical trials and his collaboration have helped to pioneer a novel method of analysis that dissects rates of tumor growth and regression as concurrent events.

Azra Raza, author of The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last, oncologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University, and 3QD editor, decided to speak to more than 20 leading cancer investigators and ask each of them the same five questions listed below. She videotaped the interviews and over the next months we will be posting them here one at a time each Monday. Please keep in mind that Azra and the rest of us at 3QD neither endorse nor oppose any of the answers given by the researchers as part of this project. Their views are their own. One can browse all previous interviews here.

1. We were treating acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with 7+3 (7 days of the drug cytosine arabinoside and 3 days of daunomycin) in 1977. We are still doing the same in 2019. What is the best way forward to change it by 2028?

2. There are 3.5 million papers on cancer, 135,000 in 2017 alone. There is a staggering disconnect between great scientific insights and translation to improved therapy. What are we doing wrong?

3. The fact that children respond to the same treatment better than adults seems to suggest that the cancer biology is different and also that the host is different. Since most cancers increase with age, even having good therapy may not matter as the host is decrepit. Solution?

4. You have great knowledge and experience in the field. If you were given limitless resources to plan a cure for cancer, what will you do?

5. Offering patients with advanced stage non-curable cancer, palliative but toxic treatments is a service or disservice in the current therapeutic landscape?

History and the Supposed Inevitability of War

by Mindy Clegg

Qasem Soleimani in 2019

This past week has been a roller coaster in American foreign policy, as we quite nearly ended up in a hot war with Iran. A curious phenomenon reared its ugly head during the fallout of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top generals—comparisons to the start of the First World War’s precipitating event, the shooting of the Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian empire Franz Ferdinand.1 As we all seriously contemplated another war, some leaned into the notion of its inevitability. Many would have you believe a Third World War was history merely asserting itself once again.2 Supporters of a war with Iran (and other wars) might tell you that war is a glorious thing, that our young will cut their teeth on violence and blood, coming out the other side battle hardened, ready to tackle the “real” world with both hands. At the very least, we’ll defeat our enemies and ensure our continued dominance of the world, which we deserve. They might also proclaim that war is the only racket in town that will get our economy jumping again, exciting innovation through shattered bodies. I could not agree less with these assessments, and history most certainly backs me up here. First, with a few exceptions, there is no inevitable path to conflict—history shows us there are always choices. Second, young people are often shattered by participation in war, as our homeless population still replete with veterans of various wars attest. Last, many things can jumpstart innovation. I argue that making parallels to events of the past in order to draw conclusions about the inevitability of particular outcomes (the ones that benefit the fewest and hurt the most, like a war) is to misread or even blatantly misuse history and what it actually tells us about humanity. Read more »

What is the Problem with Wine Metaphors?

by Dwight Furrow

Wine writers, especially those who write wine reviews, are often derided for the flowery, overly imaginative language they use to describe wines. Some of the complainants are consumers baffled by what descriptors such as “brooding” or “flamboyant” might mean. Other complainants are experts who wish wine language had the precision of scientific discourse. The Journal of Wine Economists went so far as to call wine writers “bullshit artists”. (The feeling is mutual.)

Even the sommelier-trained author of the bestselling book Cork Dork, Bianca Bosker, has reservations about the accuracy of such language. After taking writers to task for using terms such as “sinewy” and “broad-shouldered” she writes: “It seems possible that what we “taste” in a fine wine isn’t so much its flavor as the qualities of good taste that we hope it will impart to us.” She seems to be suggesting that wine writers just make stuff up to sound impressive.

The general objection is that these descriptors are metaphorical and are therefore too subjective and ambiguous to give readers an accurate, verbal portrayal of the wine. However, these complaints are tilting at windmills. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 10. Behold the Sheep: Al Stewart, “Year of the Cat”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for chinese zodiacIn the Chinese calendar, 2015 was the year of the sheep. I’m a sheep, and I briefly got into it. When you’re a sheep, you gotta own it.

Ain’t no rat gonna cut you no slack.

While singing the praises of sheep and trying to hold my own against dragons, snakes and the like, I made a passing reference to the 1977 pop hit “Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart. Didn’t hear the song, didn’t sing it to myself, didn’t even utter the words. Merely wrote Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” in a blog post. And that, apparently, is all it took for the song to get stuck in my head.

Why did “Year of the Cat” trap me with such ease? Possibly because it’s one of the very first songs I ever purchased.

The first two long playing, vinyl record I ever bought were a couple of collections called Music Machine and Stars. It was 1979. I was eleven and a half years old. Both albums were put out by a company called K-Tel.

The brainchild of a Winnipeg, Manitoba knife salesman, K-Tel hit it big in the 1960s by taking to the airwaves and hawking various of odds and ends with an intense but simple “As Seen on TV” sales pitch. They started with all sorts of knives and bladed devices like the Veg-O-Matic and the Dial-O-Matic. It slices, it dices, bla bla bla. Other gadgets that wouldn’t make you bleed soon followed. But during the 1970s, the company was best known for music compilations.

It actually began in 1966 with a record called 25 Great Country Artists Singing their Original Hits. That format, a compilation of hit singles by various artists, was still fairly novel, and K-Tel struck gold when combining it with their high octane TV marketing formula. By the time I picked up my two discs, K-Tel had issued over 500 different albums, mostly collections. Read more »

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Little Nothings: Nabokov’s Road Notes

Elsa Court in Granta:

In 1956, Vladimir Nabokov was defending his novel Lolita against claims of anti-Americanism. He called them preposterous. The accusation of anti-American bias in Lolita was based on the novel’s treatment of postwar America’s mass culture, which the novel’s European narrator does register with a mixture of skepticism and exhilaration. But this contempt, Nabokov wrote in an afterword to the book, was Humbert’s, not his own. His intention, he argued, was to analyse America from the perspective of a newly-minted American author. To steep himself in the baffling world of roadside service that seemed to characterize his new home.

Lolita chronicles America’s mass media culture – Hollywood, soda ads, glossy magazines – but focuses on the country’s relationship with the automobile, which had created two new all-American settings for Nabokov to explore: the sprawling yet self-contained suburbs on the one hand, and a booming roadside service system on the other. Nabokov tackles both. He describes the suburb’s stifling social environment in the first part of the book — with its polite book clubs, lakeside picnics, intensified domesticity and class uniformity. Part two turns to roadside architecture, a sampling ground for another ritual of modern living, based on leisurely movement and family vacations.

More here.

A Natural History of Beer

George Scialabba in Inference Review:

In the beginning was beer. Well, not quite at the beginning: there was no beer at the Big Bang. Curiously, though, as Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall point out in A Natural History of Beer, the main components of beer—ethanol and water—are found in the vast clouds swirling around the center of the Milky Way in sufficient quantity to produce 100 octillion liters of the stuff, though only at a very disappointing 0.001 proof. On earth, beer-like substances have long existed whenever grains, nectar, or fruits have spontaneously fermented. Chimps and other mammals in the wild have been observed getting sloshed on naturally occurring alcohol, which strongly suggests that very early humans did so too. Whatever the precise date of the first tipple, beer is a truly venerable article, coeval with human civilization and, of course, with some pretty uncivilized behavior as well. DeSalle and Tattersall tell its story with enormous erudition and panache.

The earliest evidence of beer consumption is from a Chinese village around 9,000 BCE, whose pottery yielded chemical traces of a kind of rice beer.

More here.

Judith Butler talks with Brandon M. Terry about MLK, the grievability of black lives, and how to defend nonviolence today

Brandon M. Terry in the Boston Review:

Judith Butler is arguably the most influential critical theorist of our era. Her early books, such as Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies That Matter (1993), anticipated a profound social and intellectual upheaval around sex, sexuality, gender norms, and power. Like many readers of my generation, I was introduced to Butler’s work just as these changes began to accelerate, and her ideas became part of mainstream discourse. In recent years, Butler has turned her insights about norms and exceptions, the psychic life of power, and the politics of resistance toward political ethics. In December Butler and I discussed her latest book, The Force of Nonviolence, which explores “nonviolence” as a project capable not simply of disclosing structural and repressive forms of violence, but also of productively channeling the tensions of social life away from retribution and resentment toward a radical and redemptive notion of equality.

More here.

Why Does China Have 1.4 Billion People and No Good Bands?

Lauren Teixeira in Foreign Policy:

Mongolian band The Hu. E. Altankhuyag

Mongolia has a strong tradition of rock groups working to modernize traditional sounds. Altan Urag, a Mongolian folk rock group from the capital of Ulaanbaatar, first succeeded in electrifying traditional Mongolian instruments almost 15 years ago. And it gave heavy metal the distinctive growl of throat singing with its seminal 2006 album, Made In Altan Urag. Mongolian bands like Khusugtun, Altain Orgil, Jonon, and Mohanik have all tweaked folk music to modern ends.

That’s a stark contrast with Mongolia’s neighbor China. Despite having 1.4 billion people to Mongolia’s mere 3 million, there’s no such thing as a distinctive Chinese national sound that mixes tradition and modernity in the same way Mongolians do—at least none that has become a serious commercial player. Instead, China has been left churning out a stream of pale imitations of other countries’ genres. That raises a big question: Why does Mongolian music slap so hard and Chinese music (with a few exceptions) suck?

More here.

Love in a Cold Climate: Rachel Cusk’s unsparing essays

Claire Jarvis in Bookforum:

In the title essay of her new collection, Rachel Cusk describes something she calls being sent to “Coventry.” This, as it is for many English families, is her family’s term for putting someone beyond the pale, for thrusting an offender out into silence. Her parents “send her to Coventry” when she does something they dislike, when she has slighted them or failed them in some way. “Sometimes,” Cusk writes,

It takes me a while to notice that my parents have sent me to Coventry. It’s not unlike when a central-heating boiler breaks down: there’s no explosion, no dramatic sight or sound, merely a growing feeling of discomfort that comes from the gradual drop in temperature that one might be surprisingly slow—depending on one’s instinct for habituation—to attribute to an actual cause.

Her parents stop talking to her; they pretend she doesn’t exist. Since she was a child, Cusk writes, “I have been terrified of Coventry, of its vastness and bleakness and loneliness, and of what it represents, which is ejection from the story.” But the particular instance of emotional exile the essay describes is different. She is now an adult, with two children and a second marriage. This time, the exile begins to feel like a safe place, a place she wants to remain; once one is in Coventry, one no longer has to fear being sent there, for starters. At the essay’s end, Cusk’s parents thaw, and make an approach, but the distance has become comfortable: “I don’t want to leave Coventry. I’ve decided to stay.”

Cusk’s decision to cut ties with her parents has a wider symbolic resonance: Choosing to remain in Coventry means separating herself from a life of natural-seeming coherence, refusing to remain within the implied security that belonging brings. “Coventry,” like many of Cusk’s essays about her life, is also about writing and the conditions under which it takes place. Living in this “place of fragments and ruins” holds a special power for an author: the power to see the story from the outside. To become a truth-teller, Cusk seems to say, one must be willing to dislocate oneself from the comfortable aspects of sociable life, of family, marriage, or friendship, and risk opprobrium by describing the world as it really is.

More here.

The Academic Apocalypse

Ross Douthat in The New York Times:

This column tries to keep its cool, but last week I briefly surrendered to crisis and existential dread, to the sense that an entire world is dissolving underneath our feet — institutions crumbling, authorities corrupted, faith in the whole experiment evaporating. How did I enter this apocalyptic mood? Not by reading about Trump’s Washington or the Middle East, but by downloading a package of essays from The Chronicle of Higher Education on the academic world that helped educate me — the humanities and especially the study of literature, whose apparently-terminal condition makes the condition of the American Republic look like ruddy health. The package’s title is a single word, “Endgame,” and its opening text reads like the crawl for a disaster movie. “The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it.” Jobs are disappearing, subfields are evaporating, enrollment has tanked, and amid the wreckage the custodians of humanism are “befuddled and without purpose.”

The Chronicle essays cover administrative and political battles, the transformed hiring process, the rebellions of graduate students, and the golfing-under-a-volcano aspects of the Modern Language Association conference. But the central essays are the ones that deal with the existential questions, the ways that humanism tries — and lately fails — to justify itself. In the most interesting one, the University of Melbourne’s Simon During portrays the decline of the humanities as a new form of secularization, an echo of past crises of established Christian faith. Once consecrated in place of Christianity, he suggests, high culture is now experiencing its own crisis of belief: Like revelation and tradition before it, “the value of a canon … can no longer be assumed,” leaving the humane pursuits as an option for eccentrics rather than something essential for an educated life. During’s essay is very shrewd, and anyone who has considered secularization in a religious context will recognize truths in the parallels it draws. But at the same time they will also recognize the genre to which it belongs: a statement of regretful unbelief that tries to preserve faith in a more attenuated form (maybe “our canon does not bear any absolute truth and beauty,” but we don’t want to live with an “empty heritage” or “disown and waste the pasts that have formed us”) and to make it useful to some other cause, like the wider left-wing struggle against neoliberalism.

And if there’s any lesson that the decline of Christianity holds for the painful death of the English department, it’s that if you aspire to keep your faith alive even in a reduced, non-hegemonic form, you need more than attenuated belief and socially-useful applications. A thousand different forces are killing student interest in the humanities and cultural interest in high culture, and both preservation or recovery depend on more than just a belief in truth and beauty, a belief that “the best that has been thought and said” is not an empty phrase. But they depend at least on that belief, at least on the ideas that certain books and arts and forms are superior, transcendent, at least on the belief that students should learn to value these texts and forms before attempting their critical dissection.

More here.