File spoon-archives/baudrillard.archive/baudrillard_1994/baud.May94, message 16

Date: Mon, 23 May 1994 16:08:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject: the word-producing industry

Raul writes:

> not that we're devious or anything, but perhaps he {B} thinks we
>ought to appreciate the academic enterprise for what he thinks it
> is: a word-producing industry that employs thousands of people to 
> do word-type things.  And this isn't (at least not for em) the usual
>and easy trashing of academics and academia that you often run into.
> I like being an academic.  I think/hope I do good things with/for
> students.  But there is perhaps a sense in which all of what we do by 
> way of producing and receiving sybbols is no different than working
> for Exxon or some other similarly eveil enterprise.

I must agree with B., then, that academia is a word-producing 
industry.  I also agree to analogies between what we do in our
profession and what someone else may do working for Exxon --
either the public relations specialist or some guy working on
the off-shore platform.  And while we may consider Exxon (or
academia) and evil enterprise, one can certainly advance arguments
for either that they serve useful, "good" purposes.

I, too, like being an academic.  I don't know whether I succeed as
well as I'd like to, but my conscious intentions are to do good
things with and for my students, too.  I feel ethically motivated.

Do theories like B's help us critique the ethic that informs our
work?  I certainly believe so.  But we need to be careful. I
feel greatly concerned about what we do in the word-producing
industry, especially when it seems we slip into the word-gaming
industry.  And the further we commit ourselves to the "game" the
more unlikely it is that we can "do good things with/for
students."  Over-interpretation, word play, etc. lead to social
catatonia as far as I can tell -- nihilism.  

Stephen Crook in "Radicalism, Modernism, and Postmodernism" 
maintains that postmodern nihilism exhibits itself in two
symptoms: "an inability to specify possible mechanisms of
change, and an inability to state why change is better than
no change."  I think this nihilism could be disasterous for
the academy, teachers as well as students.  If not for "change",
what purpose do we serve.  I can't believe (as an intellect
hungry for meaning) that we serve no (at least practical)

And I've seen both of these symptoms of postmodern nihilism
in the list conversation over the past few weeks.  While I may
concede that meaninglessness is the meaning (!), or that
"value" and "ethics" are metaphysical impossibilities, do
you think they are practical necessities?  Should we, as
academics, just give up, play word games, give in to the
cheesiest of cheesy seductions, or try to engage in discourse
about value and ethics?

(Have I swung to wide with this thread?)

Beth Baldwin


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