The Academic Culture Industry


A month has passed and here’s my second blog. I’ve been waiting for the dust to settle on my excoriation of Hemingway. Obscure silence being the best place to lie low obviously. Also. Going to seminars. Having coffee. Pulling pints. Being in love. Watching films. Reading a poem or two. Putting off accomplishing the amorphous task of creating a break-out blogging success story. I’ve a few ideas I intended, intend, will intend, to write upon. Who’s to know if you, my future reader can presently scroll down and view the insightful missives I shall write. Who’s to know… You.

I think it was Twain who said that, and I’m paraphrasing, if writing doesn’t come to you as easy as it is for leaves to grow on a tree, you should just pack it in and be done with it? Maybe it was Dumas. Or a Russian. Keats? Nevermind. On the other hand there’s the old Hemingway chestnut of shackling yourself to the desk for four hours a day typing out Gatsby if the Muse doesn’t come. I read Kevin Barry sides with Hem on this one. The reference I’m looking for appeared in an interview in one of the national newspapers last weekend. Not online however. So no fancy hyperlink. It exists. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. And yes, I’m aware that’s not how it works. But there you go. Barry is all over the place recently on the back of the recent publication of Beatlebone. He’s giving a reading in Waterstone’s tomorrow night in fact. A suitable event for a blog post you’d think. I recall reading the first story in “There Are Little Kingdoms”, when it first came out, and flinging it across the room, never to be retrieved. For fear of causing an affray, perhaps I’ll stay away from Waterstone’s tomorrow. Or not. If the next blog you see is my updating of Reading Gaol you’ll know I took the latter course. In which case, don’t cry for me…”

In matter of fact, it’s now coming on two months since I last blogged. My course supervisor has hinted strongly that I need to write more. As has my father, himself an inveterate blogger ( Fathers shouldn’t bury their sons. Fathers also shouldn’t be more prolific bloggers than their sons. And yet here we are. The first part of that was a bit morbid, I apologize.

I’m sure you’ll agree “reasons why I don’t blog so often” is probably not great subject matter for a blog. It’s obfuscation. Like what’s gone before.  To write you must acknowledge your limitations.  I don’t like that. No one does I presume. The academic game I’m trying to play involves straining at your limitations daily. Those of perception, understanding, analysis, I can live with. Add in those of expression however and I generally kick the can until I can’t feasibly kick it any further.

Further on that point, and something that perhaps seems axiomatic, but bear with me: Academic work involves two things, reading and writing. The first part is consuming. The second part is production. Studying as I am, it’s possible to rationalize reading, the consumption part, as doing work. When in fact, any sane definition of work involves the creation of a product. Herein lies the problem beauty, of studying in the humanities.

And so I come to my question, to what extent are MA courses, like the one I’m studying now, extraneous arms of the “Culture Industry”? To what extent are we in MA programmes  merely the descendants of those Jazz loving soda guzzling ignoramuses who packed the picture houses at weekends to keep cool in California? And what if we are, I suppose. Adorno and Horkheimer weren’t exactly guys you could tan a few beers with were they? (Not that that’s a legitimate critieria I use to analyse literature/philosophy (It is)).  In a nutshell, having fore-knowledge of what I’m doing when I willfully consume rather than produce, placing myself in the picture house, indicts me all the more. So along with my Kevin Barry denial, I’m guessing there’s no hope for me.

To put it more succinctly still: being part of an MA or PhD programme in the humanities requires the student to battle through years of existential guilt at not being a productive member of society, whilst telling him/herself that the completion of this journey will bring more than their supervisor embarrassingly telling them that, ‘no… Philip? I’m afraid you can’t have my job’.

And that’s where I am right now. So forgive my lack of blogging Dad, I’m trying my best down here. The next one will be about poetry and stuff I promise.