Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Sundry reflections on academia

Toronto: University College, 1858

Its marble towers of urbanitas; its fertile meadows of pastorale; its lofty epic contests; its festivals of comedy and its fleet footed intoxicated lyrics;  the grins and grimace of the satyr and the harsh winter land of tragedy; this other academia and that ...

“It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article's niggling mindlessness, its funeral parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems.”
― Kingsley Amis.

"There is this tremendous body of knowledge in the world of academia where extraordinary numbers of incredibly thoughtful people have taken the time to examine on a really profound level the way we live our lives and who we are and where we've been. That brilliant learning sometimes gets trapped in academia and never sees the light of day."
— Malcolm Gladwell.

"If I stay in academia, I might end up going someplace random."
— Lauren Willig.

“Whenever she opened a scientific book and saw whole paragraphs of incomprehensible words and symbols, she felt a sense of wonder at the great territories of learning that lay beyond her - the sum of so many noble and purposive attempts to make objective sense of the world.”
― Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy.

“Who but an English professor would threaten to kill a duck a day and hold up a goose as an example?”
― Richard Russo, Straight Man.
"It is extraordinarily difficult, even in academia, to find a job that will let you do whatever you want with your time. If you are determined to spend your time following your own interests, you pretty much have to do it on your own."
— Antony Garrett Lisi.

“Well, I am a dilettante. It's only in England that dilettantism is considered a bad thing. In other countries it's called interdisciplinary research.”
― Brian Eno.

“The views of intellectuals influence the politics of tomorrow...What to the contemporary observer appears as the battle of conflicting interests has indeed often been described long before in a clash of ideas confined to narrow circles.”
― Friedrich Hayek.

“Thanks to my solid academic training, today I can write hundreds of words on virtually any topic without possessing a shred of information, which is how I got a good job in journalism.”
― Dave Barry.

Kate Kennedy Club - St Andrews University

“Most of us are pseudo-scholars...for we are a very large and quite a powerful class, eminent in Church and State, we control the education of the Empire, we lend to the Press such distinction as it consents to receive, and we are a welcome asset at dinner-parties. Pseudo-scholarship is, on its good side, the homage paid by ignorance to learning. It also has an economic side, on which we need not be hard. Most of us must get a job before thirty, or sponge on our relatives, and many jobs can only be got by passing an exam. The pseudo-scholar often does well in examination (real scholars are not much good), and even when he fails he appreciates their inner majesty. They are gateways to employment, they have power to ban and bless. A paper on King Lear may lead somewhere, unlike the rather far-fetched play of the same name. It may be a stepping-stone to the Local Government Board. He does not often put it to himself openly and say, "That's the use of knowing things, they help you to get on." The economic pressure he feels is more often subconscious, and he goes to his exam, merely feeling that a paper on King Lear is a very tempestuous and terrible experience but an intensely real one. ...As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take the examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment were contrived, much so-called education would disappear, and no one be a penny the stupider.”
― E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

What is the University for? 
What do academics do? What is a scholar? 
Parody and preaching with more than a whiff of reality? 
The home of lost causes or the last frontier of objective enquiry and cultural enrichment?