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Stanley Fish

Stanley Fish

Stanley Fish’s Files

Dig into the personal files of your favorite critic.

I came across some of my random working notes for a freaking hilarious essay/send-up I wrote about academics—"The Unbearable Ugliness of Volvos." Didn't end up using all of these ideas, but there are some gems in here. Maybe enough for a sequel? Film parody? Reality series? Unlimited possibilities…

  • Random Notes About "The Unbearable Ugliness of Volvos"
  • Central question (more or less): Why do academics roll in such awful rides?
  • Ugly Volkswagens to ugly Volvos (ugly Saabs, too). All this foreign baloney.
  • Why not American cars? Is it love of good old-fashioned Scandinavian socialism? Unf, not that practical—more deeply psychological issues are clearly at play.
  • My theory: Even when academics make the big bucks—and some actually do, they want to appear down-trodden. Why? Maybe they think they are above earning money—venal, corrupt etc. They are people of the mind. NOTHING FLASHY.
  • Many are pseudo-Marxists so they have to hate on filthy lucre like they're too cool to care about material goods.
  • Ugly=Good, Ugly=message of "I'm not shallow like investment bankers and litigation attorneys. I think deep thoughts." (Also explains the whole "sensible" shoes thing.)
  • Can it really be all about safety? Volvos are so boxy, boxish, box-like. Name a chapter heading: Think outside the box. Cute, eh?
  • Academics like the ugly car because then they can claim it's all about safety. Everyone knows they didn't buy it for looks! Ha!
  • Revelation: found out that those safety tests were BS and academics love to consult research, tests, data, and quantitative studies. How will they manage this disclosure??? Mind-scrambling!
  • Premise: academics are anti-beauty because they actually equate beauty=dumb. How do you explain Naomi Wolf? She's got good looks and smarts!
  • Another premise academics go by: mediocre=we are busily preoccupied with (more important/relevant/cerebral) subjects. Case in point: compare academic hors d'eouvres to hors d'eouvres served by your average art gallery assistant, who makes pennies to the academic dollar.
    • Academic hors d'eouvres: hummus, pita bread, baby carrots, and other plastic-containered items from Trader Joe's. Art galley hors d'eouvres: stuffed grape leaves, fine cheeses, rainforest crackers.
  • Must include this observation: "In the collective eye of the academy, sloppiness, discourtesy, indifference, and inefficiency are virtues, signs of admirable disdain for the mere surface of things, a disdain that is itself a sign of a dedication to higher, if invisible, values."
  • Premise: Academics love moaning and groaning. Like it serves an ideological purpose (like it's all part of the critical labor they perform for peer-review journals, but it's the same moaning and groaning that the uneducated do—just with fewer polysyllabic words BUT EQUALLY ANNOYING!!!)
  • Premise: No matter how good they have it: 9 months of work per year, endless sabbaticals, lecturing two days a week with graduate teaching assistants to grade their papers, stipends up the wazoo, department secretaries to keep all of the distracting nonsense at bay. So, why moan like little babies? With nothing to complain about, why do academics like to complain so much???
  • Answer: Academics love to be oppressed, victims etc. Allows them to be Joan of Arc of the professional world, medieval martyrs, one of the downtrodden.
  • Ergo, one of the greatest masochistic pleasures of academic life is the tenure review, which involves such joys as interminable delays, recurring humiliation, consistent changes in consistency (keeps them on their toes), whispered gossipy conversation in the hallway (keeps the paranoia quotient [PQ] up), general feelings of resentment and frustration. Roiling in their own anxiety etc. etc.
  • Other things that give academics hives and weepy sores:
    • Admitting to actually wanting anything. You'd think these people are Buddhists what with their aversion to desire. The equation here is desire=I'm not sitting at my desk wearing my Fair Trade pashmina scarf hammering out new feminist revelations.
    • Being nice. Don't show moral frailty by saying hello in the hallway. Avoid eye contact at the mailboxes. MUST ALWAYS FEEL THREATENED.
    • Above all don't discuss "new ideas," lest you should see them in next year's academic journal of [fill in relevant discipline].
    • Why the mistrust?
    • Academics always think their ideas/"readings of"/interpretations/theories are the most innovative, etc. May be the next Harold Bloom and have undergraduates fawning at my feet. (One can dream—in private, of course).
  • Tie all up with examples. Don't forget to include photos of academic conferences. Academics love taking photos with people they see as disenfranchised and whose sorry lives they handily "theorize" in the pages of the university press published books. Lots of arms around subjugated citizens.
  • Conclude on this note (or the like): the academic's love affair with the oppressed peoples is "a two-way commerce, victim and victimizer, trashers and trashes, each not only needing, but desiring the other." BOOM.

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