[NetBehaviour] RANT

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sat Jun 26 19:57:41 CEST 2021


It's hard to know where to begin. I don't sleep well at nights,
wake early and go into pseudo-narrative mode. I might fall back
to sleep, I usually don't. I wake up thinking about whether I'm
actually beginning to become incapacitated mentally, as a result
of the lockdown, but also because of the effects and violence of
institutions and institutionalization. Let me explain.

More and more I find institutions problematic; we all know their
effect, lots of writing about them from the 50s on. They tend to
close in on themselves, create the semblance of governance. "We"
all know that some institutions are bad, mental institutions for
example, and some are good, potentially the United Nations for
example. But there are internalized worlds (again, phenomenology
from the 1950s on) that create, not only illusions of power, but
real power, which people relate to. Academic institutions in this
sense, for those of us outside them, are incredibly damaging, and
many of us also hold megachurches and fundamentalisms as damaging
as well. What might be overlooked is the sieve-like nature of
many of these, that people might come and go, and that they
provide havens and structures which serve and psychologically
benefit their communities as well. Whatever one thinks of Q, it's
a haven; whatever one thinks of critical race theory, it's not.
It takes energy and extension to self-critique, and, in my case,
that has worked marvelously inside academia - everything from
library access to colloquia to publications to healthcare to
reasonable retirement plans, and so forth. Academic institutions
are steering media; their horizons are both porous and hardened;
one jumps through hoops for any degree or job from adjunct to
tenure, from assistant to dean.

I see some of the best minds of my generation stressed beyond
belief, without any real support structure, constantly knocking
at the doors, constantly being told that they have to wait, that
the Other's busy, the Other is always busy, that slots have been
filled, that you don't belong, that you belong by proxy, that you
had your chance, that you never had a chance because you didn't
deserve to have a chance, that yes yes we know all that - but
you're not living, you're reading about all that, on and on.
We're increasingly beggars in the worlds of academia, research,
institutions in general; just as we're priced out of the housing
market, we're intellectually priced out of discourse in the
culture, whatever culture we're all talking about.

More and more I understand with a gut feeling the appeal of the
right (mind you I'm NOT going there); institutions can be real
havens, and those that don't demand phds or etc. etc. can be
really welcoming. (See Charles Kriel's recent documentary, People
You May Know.)

That welcoming is absolutely essential; even though I've taught
at a number of places (and at my age have no chance of course of
being hired again), I never felt welcomed within them (with the
exception of NSCAD) - instead too often I felt the brunt of the
tenured faculty myself (at one university for example I was
literally told at the end of the semester to fail one of my grad
students - who I gave an A to - because "we want to get rid of
her" - at another a deal was struck between the dean and
department head to fire me on the condition that the entire line
(new media) would be eliminated, saving the university money).

The real divisions then were between the tenured and non-tenured
and between "closed" and open meetings. There have also been
issues of teaching - at two universities I offered courses for
free and was condemned for that.

There's a deep breadth to belonging (as I said, none of this is
new, this is a rant) - as an artist when I was employed, I had
access to equipment, tech support, internal projects which were
often funded, and so forth. Everything was up-to-date. Outside
the university, outside education, outside religious
institutions, you're on your own. So of course the answer is that
in order to obtain these things, you pay the price of admission -
the answer to that is that in many countries grant structures are
much more open than they seem to be here. (On the bright side in
my case, I've also had academics go to bat for me - I've had
residencies at several universities, one even lasting for close
to a year. But now at my age - another issue - these aren't
forthcoming, and won't be again. My work is archived at least,
but there are so many artists I know whose work should be, and
isn't work that's just destroyed after they've passed on. And so

Everything here is obvious, and I know I've been privileged in so
many ways. I do get tired of writing begging letters, reminding
letters, working with very outdated equipment, having no real
access to academic community, luckily wandering the halls of
places that would have me for a day or a week, and so forth. And
I know I should "move on," "make way for another generation" and
so forth. But the daily reality here, at least, is getting up in
the morning, working on a piece perhaps, writing reminder letters
or begging letters or asking for advice letters or wondering what
is happening to my mind, whether I'm "losing it," whether I'll
survive my own depression and anxiety, and so forth. I'm utterly
grateful to Azure who is an unbelievably deep companion, and
grateful for the friends I have who I can talk with about these
things. I think in the long run we're all caught up in a harsher
and harsher America, where critical race theory - or critical
theory of any kind - becomes something bad, and where too many
white people and their institutions would like nothing better
than the annihilations or expulsions. In short none of us are
doing well, but there are institutions that provide community,
and those of us who are left out have "no one to blame but
ourselves," which we do, over and over again. (Now it sounds like
the complaint of a privileged white person, but this is broader,
and I have no idea really how anyone survives without community
and praxis. If they do, and I've know people who haven't.)

(A final issue - it's inconceivable to me that politicians so
often turn their backs on real issues of race, gender, refugees,
etc. etc. The pain so many people go through on a daily basis is
unimaginable - or all too imaginable in fact. Inequality in the
country seems to be getting worse - the "right" of the old Tea
Party seems mild in comparison with thugs driving cars into
crowds. So many people here feel they don't belong in the country
- even now, with a Democratic president. And so many people live
in hidden or not so hidden fear.)

End of rant.

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