on Sun, 19 Aug 2007 16:52:07 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> personal life, impersonal writing

Thanks for injecting a historical perspective into this discussion,
Brian. I can't imagine a critique that isn't historical or for that
matter a history that isn't explicitly grounded in the present. In
my desire to brief last time, I didn't spell out what seems now
to be crucial in the current aping of scientific objectivity that
characterizes so much academic work outside the real sciences today.

If we accept that the 90s saw a sort of revolution leading to
increased freedom of various sorts from the fall of the Berlin
wall to the internet going public, we are now living through a
counter-revolution seeking to restore the Old Regime of states and
corporations that the American revolution was at one level designed
to end. The universities are clearly an important site for this
counter-revolution, with the result that the limited intellectual
freedoms gained in the last half-century are rapidly being reversed.

The Humanities editor for Hard University Press, Lindsay Waters,
has written a powerful insider's jeremiad about this situation
in Enemies of Promise: publishing, perishing, and the eclipse of
scholarship (Prickly Paradigm, 2004). And I have addressed the issue
of intellectual property inside and beyond the universities in

The point is that, however longstanding certain styles of writing
may be in the academy, the present conjuncture is best understood as
a bureaucratic reaction to the freedoms inherently released by the
digital revolution of the last two decades. This is why, for example,
at a time when anyone can find most things by googling two words, the
academic standard when citing publications for official purposes is
becoming increasingly baroque (exact pages, ISBN numbers etc). And the
academics and their students are becoming more fearful while trying to
protect privileges that they and everyone else know are becoming ever
more precarious.

Those of us old enough all remember 'The personal is political'.
(What happened to feminism or, if not to feminism, to the general
intellectual respect it once enjoyed?) Now the hit man's perspective
('Don't take this personal, it's just business') is so universal that
once again we have to fight for the idea that politics is always

I was recently asked in an interview with a sociology newsletter:

"You have worked on normative issues. Students are told that
they should separate what one ought to do from what is. Most
social scientists accept this, but how can normative work further
?traditional? scientific work?"

To which I replied:

"Max Weber should be turning in his grave, if you talk like this.
The issue is the relationship between politics and science (or the
intellectual life more generally). Weber?s two great essays on
?Politics as a vocation? and ?Science as a vocation? show that the
line between the two is hard to draw firmly and perhaps one should
not try. Politics, he says, is the pursuit of power and its means
is passion. But a politician who is indifferent to reason will soon
lose his credibility. Equally science is the pursuit of knowledge by
means of reason. But all the best scientists are passionate about
their work. Weber?s work is incomprehensible except as an attempt
to find ways of combining science and politics. This may involve
compartmentalizing each activity to a degree, but they feed into each
other over time."

This is yet another angle on the personal and the impersonal, since
what is at stake is often inserting a moral dimension into politics.
And morality is by definition personal.


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