A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ].
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Warning: The Citizen General Has Deemed the Current Academic Culture May Be Harmful to the Spirit of Democracy

An “Extremely Presumptuous,” “Aggressive” “Too Pointed,” “Insulting and Reviling” “Jeremiad”
—An Open Letter to the English-Department Faculty of the University of Massachusetts—

But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trouser in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.
—George Orwell, “The Freedom of the Press”

Originally, this essay was sent as an open letter to roughly 60 English-department faculty of the University of Massachusetts, as an experiment to test the waters of democracy in academe and otherwise determine how many of those professors contacted agree de facto with the 1972 Supreme Court ruling in Healy v. James (408 U.S. 169, 180) that the university "is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas'”. I’d been performing such experiments for over a decade. A week later, I put it up on the Internet as a blog entry (see wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com) and informed those professors in a second missive.
The original essay was embellished with the responses received (only three of the 60 professors and none of the four student editors contacted), as well as with the new thoughts those responses provoked. Two self-protecting established-order taboos were transgressed: 1. naming names and 2. overtly defining and criticizing the academic culture. Regarding especially the first taboo, a retired professor and editor of a journal devoted to ethics and not part of the University of Massachusetts responded to the piece as a submission for publication consideration: “The essay is too pointed for general dissemination, so I am sorry but I cannot use it.”
His curt reply actually implied much, so I provoked him to respond in greater length by suggesting the essay probably implicated him personally. His response was the following:

I cannot use it because it is much too specific, geared to the problems, as you see them, at a particular set of institutions, and a small group of their professors who have displeased you or who do not like you. It would be of little interest to general JIE readers. It is also something of a vitriolic jeremiad, a way of getting back at those folks, a catharis [sic] and vindication for you (but not for us); it lacks credibility: Your experience has not been that of others, mine for example. Additionally, your perspective on freedom, truth, intellectual freedom, and especially democracy do not tell the whole story. Democracy, for eaxpmple [sic], can be horrific, as I am sure you know. All of this was contained, sub rosa, in my previous note, the one that indicated that I cannot use it. I hope this helps. (I too am a dissident.)

The topic of academic culture was perhaps a lot hotter than I’d initially suspected—downright taboo in the Orwellian sense. Needless to say, I addressed the points made, noting first that my goal was not at all to upset him, for after all, he’d previously published me. His lack of interest in the core fundament of the essay, that is, the need to radically alter the academic culture for the sake of democracy surprised me. Clearly, that culture was fundamentally corrupt, one that rewarded those who never questioned or challenged it and banished those who did in precisely the same manner as the Wall Street financial culture which had managed to cripple the country today. How, I wondered, could he be blind to it? Perhaps those who are well fed by it tended to perceive it with rose-colored glasses in the same manner as those in the financial community immediately prior to the egregious debacle. Greenspan hadn’t even seen it coming, he’d said.
Furthermore, the academic culture which I decried was not simply restricted to a “particular set of institutions” (i.e., the University of Massachusetts). It was widespread like a carcinoma in the belly of democracy. One had to begin somewhere. Also, since I did not know any of the professors contacted personally, they did not particularly displease me, at least not any more than professors elsewhere. And those professors did not know me, so did not necessarily dislike me. Granted, I had written a negative review of a book written by one of those professors. But certainly that did not give me cause to dislike 60 of his colleagues. The reason I targeted the University of Massachusetts was simply because I live and publish in the state. Also, I’m quite familiar with William Bulger, former president of that university, who received a controversial one-million dollar public pension and banned Ralph Nader from entering the campus building where a presidential debate was being held back in 2000. Where, I wondered, were the English professors then? Thus to imply I wrote the essay simply to get back at professors who I didn’t like and who didn’t like me was a paltry excuse to avoid dealing with its essence and akin to ad hominem.
Why, I asked the editor, would readers interested in ethics not be interested in ethical issues regarding academe? And why did the essay necessarily lack “credibility”? Where precisely was it lacking? Was it not credible that if a professor spoke out against a corrupt college president or dean, he would likely be punished, right or wrong? When teaching, I always insist students back their statements with precise examples to illustrate them. Unfortunately, the editor didn’t respond to any of the points I made. Well, he did respond that he had responded, but:

Perhaps ypu [sic] misunderstood what I said, which was that I did reply at some length but the computer deleted it and I refused to rewrite it. But even if you did not, you overreact. I said I could not use this essay which is merely a jeremiad. Thousands of editors continually reject millions of submissions, for hundreds of different and legitimate reasons. I did not say that I would not publisher others that you tender. This type of aggressive action toward another human being is why many of your "correspondents" ignore or hassle you. And it is extremely presumptious [sic] of you to indicate that all of these many folks do not stand up for what they believe. Many do; many suffer; some die. Indeed, my own father died because he stood up for high standards at his college and was hurt, became depressed, and died!

Yes, maybe his father had stood up, but what about him? More ad hominem! To denigrate efforts to attract attention to a serious problem—after all, academe represents the intellectual core of the nation—by labeling them “overreact,” “jeremiad,” “extremely presumptuous,” and “aggressive” is not surprising, because uncomfortable truths will likely always be labeled thusly. One must, however, wonder why so many grown adults have such thin skins. Clearly, the educationist focus on self-esteem building in the nation’s schools and even colleges will end up making them even thinner. Anything apt to implicate them will likely be perceived as “aggressive” and serve to explain their resultant silence or ad hominem. And doesn’t the use of ad hominem reflect anger? And doesn’t anger reflect a target hit square in the bull’s-eye? Another thing I ask students to do, especially writing students, is to contemplate their taboos. Perhaps professors ought to do that also. Most know precisely what they dare not speak openly about. In fact, any writer likely knows damn well what he should not write about, if he wishes to eat. The same goes for a professor. Perhaps good writers and good professors are not only aware of their taboos, but actually dare transgress them from time to time.
Over the past couple of decades, I’ve had ample experience questioning and challenging many academics, which has enabled me to draw certain conclusions, including most “do not stand up” and/or simply do not possess strong principles. Clearly, the culture attracts such people. What most end up believing in is turf domination, job security, and money. Those are not strong principles. Because the culture acts as a cocoon (the ivory tower!), assuring a life as a protected species of sorts, many professors ineluctably knee-jerk react when somebody like me suddenly appears. Only several weeks prior to this experiment, I’d sent a critique of The Kenyon Review $1,000 per person literary gala to some 23 English-department members of Kenyon College. Only the professor-editor responded, though he essentially ignored the points made. What about the other 22 other professors? How had they become so adverse to debate, so adverse to the university’s essential role as "the ‘marketplace of ideas'”?

Even if my “perspective on freedom, truth, intellectual freedom, and especially democracy do not tell the whole story,” why should that constitute a reason to truncate debate? Where is the logic in that? “Sub rosa”? And if one is a dissident, why quietly put that fact in parentheses? Dissidents do not hide out in democracies! They hide out in autocracies, where free expression can result in execution or incarceration! Dissidents consciously think of those areas deemed taboo by their superegos, those areas that could affect their “success.” Dissidents consciously transgress those areas periodically. That’s what makes them dissidents. A key taboo for a professor inevitably includes the institution feeding him and his immediate colleagues. It is odd, to say the least, that even the tenured dare not transgress that key taboo. They—not all, but certainly most—have become conditioned like Pavlovian dogs or rather cows and sheep vis-à-vis electrical fences. As an example, one of those electrical fences where I taught several years ago at a public HBCU was the prayer held at each faculty meeting. Consciously, I thus dared touch that fence and openly criticized the prayer in an article published in the student newspaper. Unsurprisingly, at least to me, not one colleague responded. A student, however, stated: “Dr. Slone, man, you’ve got balls!” No, I’m not patting myself on the back at all, just presenting the facts. Besides, what that student said confirmed that even he was well aware that the academic culture dictated that professors should not be critical of the institutions employing them, requisite behavior at antipodes to the needs of democracy.
Due to that editor’s criticism (“too pointed”), I decided to rewrite the essay in an effort not to transgress the first taboo, naming names, though likely that wouldn’t help get it published, especially not by professor-editors, for how can professors possibly accept an essay that might actually implicate them as, amongst other things, indifferent to the needs of democracy? What the nation could use today is a citizen general akin to the surgeon general. Such a citizen general would likely issue a warning that the current academic culture may indeed be harmful to the health of the spirit of democracy.
The academic culture has bred a professorate largely indifferent to the needs of democracy. Likely, most professors today would be as content under a dictatorship, as long as that system fed them well and offered life-time job security. Theirs is the same academic culture that responded with deafening silence during the Nazi regime in Germany and McCarthyism in America (the AAUP kept its mouth shut!). So what if other citizens are not well fed, do not have jobs, and do not have health benefits and pensions! So what if professors cannot openly criticize certain things! So what if they have to turn a blind eye now and then, especially regarding colleagues and the institution! Theirs is and has been a largely selfish outlook on society and civilization. They are being paid for their silence. Theirs and the very tenure process have become shameful Faustian pacts.
In the spirit of democracy, openness to other points of view, desire to debate with those holding opposing ideas, encouragement of criticism, a certain equality amongst citizens—as opposed to autocratic president-dean-chair hierarchy—, and unabashed truth telling ought to be held in high regard. Yet most professors are either indifferent or downright hostile to those things. In academe, truth telling has largely been replaced by herd-like multiculturalist groupthink and other politically-correct orthodoxy, not to mention the panoply of copycat, educationist diversionary fads of the day, including learning centers, portfolios, assessment, technology in the classroom, and leadership academies. Clearly uncomfortable truth telling has no business at all in the business of higher education.
The academic culture has indeed become selfish and exclusionary and is based on sycophancy, fear (e.g., professors and administrators, more and more frequently, sign articles with pseudonyms in the Chronicle of Higher Education), cowardice, careerism, networking and resultant cronyism, rampant self-censorship, speech codes, self-congratulating, image distortion, and indifference to the needs of democracy (i.e., courageous truth telling and vigorous debate). As for the latter, the curt response from one professor illustrates the point: “I specialize in English literature between l485 and l650 and will be happy to read anything connected with that.”
In other words, the health of democracy and the nation is not that professor’s concern at all. Yet if we do not somehow change the ostrich-head-in-the-sand academic culture he illustrates, how can we expect our democracy to be a healthy one? The academic culture also seems to favor the denigration of anyone apt to offer opinions not of the herd. Indeed, another professor wrote: “do [sic] you really think that insulting and reviling the faculty is the way to persuade us to read your publication? You don't kmow [sic] anything about sany [sic] of us and your e-mail suggersts [sic] that you don't know aything [sic] about politics either.”
Yet if trying to instigate vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy, is to be deemed “insulting” and “reviling,” how indeed can we expect our democracy to be a thriving one? The third professor to respond wrote even more curtly: “Quit spamming us, you loser.” Evidently, for that professor, a loser is a man who questions and challenges what others dare not. It’s also a man who has different opinions than his and who dares ponder the health of democracy. If a man questions and challenges a university and its professors, when he doesn’t belong to that community, that man is easily dismissed as “spamming.” Yet the 60 professors contacted were all teaching at a public institution funded by taxpayers. Shouldn’t non-connected citizens be curious and even attempt to involve themselves in it? Following that professor’s logic, citizens should keep their noses out of the banking industry currently wreaking havoc on the nation because, well, they’re not part of that community. Clearly, that professor somehow felt implicated by my less-than laudatory description of the academic culture he evidently embraces. Needless to say, I brought those thoughts to his attention. His reply was again base ad hominem: “You're a dullard who imposes himself unwanted on strangers. Cut it out.”
Well, how not to add that remark to my webpage on ad hominem, which explains the phenomenon and illustrates it with the numerous epithets hurled at me over the years by angered intellectuals (see theamericandissident.org/AdHominem.htm). Because I’ve been the brunt of ad hominem so often, I’ve become quite conscious of it and make a determined effort to avoid it. I informed that professor he was now part of that webpage, but he never again responded.
Having had ample contact with college professors over the past several decades, as a publisher and professor, I’ve sadly discovered the large majority of those professors to be entirely indifferent to the spirit of democracy and lacking the courage to speak openly critical of their particular institutions and colleagues, no matter how nefarious. Now and then, as editor of The American Dissident, a journal devoted to literature, democracy and dissidence, I receive poetry submissions from English professors. Always those submissions avoid dealing with particular institutions and colleagues. Always I write back to those professors requesting poems that risk criticizing the immediate, as opposed to the distant and safe, as in the Iraq war or the president, and always I receive no further response.
The lack of hardcore criticism of institutions of higher education by employees of those institutions must be decried, which is precisely what I’ve attempted to do here. “Let your life be a counterfriction to stop the machine,” had advised Thoreau. Why is there not one English-department member at the University of Massachusetts who has the courage to heed those words? Look at what that machine—and not just the academic component—has become today! “Go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways,” had written Emerson. Why is there not one member who actually has the audacity to do that and even risk, just a little, his or her precious career? Is it the burning desire to achieve the final carrot of Emeritus designation? But what does that designation, more often than not, really imply today, if not did not make waves and buck the system?
Why is there not one English-department member at that university open to the ideas expounded in The American Dissident? Note a handful of other universities and colleges are subscribers, including Harvard University, Buffalo University, Brown University, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Endicott College, and Catawba Valley Community College. Why is there not one English department member at that university who would at least introduce his or her students to the journal’s website (theamericandissident.org)? After all, the journal is quite unique in the agora of literary journals, for it actually dares counter the academic/literary established-order. Likely, the libraries at that university possess nothing like it in their collections. Yet the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights stipulates, in particular: “II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
Shouldn't professors be encouraging students to consider "all points of view"? Indeed, if they cannot brook criticism, let alone encourage it, what kind of role models have they become for students? Have the English departments of that university become so business-oriented that the model they seek to project and inculcate is nothing more than the faithful academic apparatchik? Not long ago and not as a result of this particular experiment, another English department member of the University of Massachusetts responded to a simple criticism I’d lodged regarding a rather vacuous statement he’d made on poetry (see theamericandissident.org/Reviews-Rattle.htm).

Dear Mr. Bone [sic]: I am always inyterested [sic] when one of my many students bring to my attention any remarks regarding all my many publications. The follwoing [sic] was recently brought to my attention: “Jack Conway writes: ‘I teach my students at both Bristol Community College and the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth that the genre of poetry is a ‘big tent’ with room beneath it for many different forms and styles. I also teach them that there are many people with measuring tapes out there in the world of poetry today trying to measure American Poetry for a coffin and to beware of them.’ Perhaps Conway also needs to inform his students that poetry is, or at least should be, much more than “form and style.” It is, or at least should be, also substance. He needs to inform them which “substances” constitute taboos; for example, criticism of the University of Massachusetts and its creative writing professors. Conway needs to challenge his students to break those taboos. Moreover, he might inform them that that coffin is being measured perhaps because of the nation’s poetry professors, including Conway himself.” I presume it apperad [sic] in your blog or something. I am not sure. I find it hard to believe that you migth [sic] write something like this with so little information, including what I teach. Well, the Internet has been good for one thing: It has allowed people like yourself who woud [sic] not be published otherwise to try and feel some limited success. Good for you. As for me, I guess I'll get back to real publishing. Thanks for the comments. I's [sic] too bad you have it all wrong but I'm pretty sure your readers expect that. I kknow [sic] the student who brought this to my attention did. They said, "Look at this trite shit.." I had to laugh. When I sked [sic] who wrote it she said, "Some undereducated pig." Yikes. So there ya go. I guess the good news is that those of us who teach in colleges and universities reach far more people than stuff like this. In fact, I recently read a wonderful statement saying that blogs and self-publishing sites like I presume yours is, are now looked upon by t he current generation as vanity presses without the paper. Well, goodluck [sic] in whatever it is you do and I am sincerely glad that even without much of an education you can feel some limited success publ;ishing [sic] even if it is seen as pedestrian.

The pattern illustrated by the responding professors is frightening, to say the least, especially if one considers that some of them, like the one who wrote the above email, might actually be encouraging students to engage in similar ad hominem rhetoric. Also, one must wonder why not one of the 60 professors contacted would entertain the thought of introducing his or her students to alternative ideas and invite me to speak in front of one or several of his or her classes on literature, democracy, and dissidence? Like those professors, well, perhaps not all of them, I too have a doctoral degree. To date, only one English professor has invited me to speak. Indeed, he invited me several more times after that and even uses The American Dissident in his creative-writing courses. He was not a friend or even an acquaintance and teaches at a private college in Massachusetts. He was, however, unusually open to alternative points of view and unusually curious. He should be praised, though I fear the opposite might result… and probably behind his back. He risks disfavor of his colleagues and department chair by inviting someone like me. By no means do I belittle that risk. I praise him for taking it.
Finally, the current academic culture seems to work to soften professors, rather than strengthen them, and not only physically but also mentally. Thought is often better provoked when one is standing on the edge of society, as opposed to sitting in an armchair in a wainscoted office well inserted into society. Certainly, if I’d been accepted by academe, that would have happened to me. Instead, I’ve continually been rejected by it, which not only has continually reinforced my critical edge and eye, but also enabled me to have experiences I wouldn’t have had if I’d succeeded at the tenure game, including teaching gigs at two HBCUs (North Carolina and Louisiana) and on two Navy battle ships. Moreover, I wouldn’t have created The American Dissident and wouldn’t have written hundreds of pages of critical essays, poems, and creative nonfiction. Instead, I would have written tedious scholarship in the field of geolinguistics. In any case, the academic culture must be radically altered if our democracy is to survive. The university must reconsider its hiring and promotional practices and begin rewarding those who actually dare "go upright and vital" and value the importance of “the marketplace of ideas,” while eliminating those who do not, even if well published. Professors need to stop being so corporate-like in their demeanor and attitude. Given the exposed corrupt tie-and-jacket mob on Wall Street today, one would think intelligent, honest individuals with PhDs would reject that attire and demeanor.
What do those 60 professors contacted intend to do to help alter the nefarious academic culture briefly described here? Remain in denial and tighten up the old muzzle and apply for a sabbatical, extra courses, grant monies, or early retirement, business as usual, or rather, literature as usual? I was really looking forward to their responses and really hoped a free and open debate on the concerns expressed here might actually be engaged. Unfortunately, professorial anger and/or apathy were all I’d obtained from the English-department members of the University of Massachusetts. Over the years, however, I’ve grown used to such disappointments. After all, my entire generation—the Sixties—sold out… to the Academy and elsewhere! Nevertheless, I will continue until the day I die hacking away in certain futility at the immense brick wall, of which those professors choose to form part.

Sent to UMass--Amherst: jenny@english.umass.edu, almeidab@english.umass.edu, cbachelder@english.umass.edu, bartolomeo@english.umass.edu, mailto:mjblack@english.umass.edush.umass.edu, nbromell@english.umass.edu, carlin@english.umass.edu, mailto:mclingman@english.umass.edumass.edu, sdaly@english.umass.edu, janed@english.umass.edu, ldoyle@english.umass.edu, mespada@english.umass.edu, kfarrell@english.umass.edu, tjfernan@english.umass.edu, jfreeman@english.umass.edu, egallo@english.umass.edu, gizzi@hfa.umass.edu, sharris@english.umass.edu, murhen@earthlink.com, anneh@english.umass.edu, hhoang@english.umass.edu, fholland@english.umass.edu, ruthj@english.umass.edu, afkinney@english.umass.edu, knoper@english.umass.edu, donnal@english.umass.edu, masonl@english.umass.edu, mordecai@english.umass.edu, sabinamurray@comcast.net, nadkarni@english.umass.edu, mjobrien@english.umass.edu, jrosenberg@english.umass.edu, russworm@english.umass.edu, skerrett@english.umass.edu, jlsolber@english.umass.edu, jspencer@english.umass.edu, tate@hfa.umass.edu, dtoomey@english.umass.edu, rwelburn@english.umass.edu, daraw@hfa.umass.edu, jeyoung@english.umass.edu, azucker@english.umass.edu

Sent to UMass--Lowell: Melissa_Pennell@uml.edu, Diana_Archibald@uml.edu, Todd_Avery@uml.edu, Laura_Barefield@uml.edu, William_Coughlin@uml.edu, Andre_Dubus@uml.edu, William_Hersey@uml.edu, Hilary_Holladay@uml.edu, Jeannie_Judge@uml.edu, Susan_Kirtley@uml.edu, Mary_Kramer@uml.edu, Bridget_Marshall@uml.edu, Marlowe_Miller@uml.edu, Michael_Millner@uml.edu, Keith_Mitchell@uml.edu, Julie_Nash@uml.edu, William_Roberts@uml.edu, Jonathan_Silverman@uml.edu, Anthony_Szczesiul@uml.edu, Joseph_Zaitchik@uml.edu, connector@uml.edu

Sent to UMass--Boston:
pamela.annas@umb.edu, margherita.cappellli@umb.edu, carole.center@umb.edu, carol.chandler@umb.edu, teddy.chocos@umb.edu, ann.erde@umb.edu, john.hess@umb.edu, sandra.howland@umb.edu, esther.iwanaga@umb.edu, janet.mickevich@umb.edu,

Sent to UMass--Dartmouth
chouser@umassd.edu, jblitefield@umassd.edu, acohen@umassd.edu, sharrison@umassd.edu, wnelles@umassd.edu, pwhite@umassd.edu, jblitefield@umassd.edu, jbobrick@umassd.edu, ceisenhart@umassd.edu, sevans@umassd.edu, jgardner@umassd.edu, sharrison@umassd.edu, chouser@umassd.edu, jkellerman@umassd.edu, rlarschan@umassd.edu, jmarlow@umassd.edu, wnelles@umassd.edu, mpeters@umassd.edu, j1riley@umassd.edu, jschaaf@umassd.edu, lsun@umassd.edu, rwaxler@umassd.edu, cwhite@umassd.edu, pwhite@umassd.edu


Anonymous said...

I would suggest that AD subscribers consider asking the libraries in their area to subscribe to the AD and tell the AD about the result.

Last year I was able to get the AD added at the Iowa City, IA public library but so far I have not been able to get it into the library at the University of Iowa which is located here. Iowa University is the home of the over rated Iowa Writers Workshop.

Consider helping to spread the AD word. Its needed and we can all help. Good work Tod.

mather said...

Hey Slone,

Good blog. Thoreau was a great man. With a noble balance between intellect and heart he saw how high thought always led back to simplicity. His profound respect for himself and the universe is enough to make you cry. He cared for his language too in a way that was real and still touches you. A hundred years before Henry Miller Thoreau was saying many of the same things. So many of our problems disappear in the light of his wisdom. I’m reading Walden again after 21 years and it’s better than ever. It should be read more in college, but the professors would find too many questions being raised against themselves and their institutions. These fat-heads don’t believe they need to answer for themselves, they think their positions speak for them, and indeed they do: they speak of the person simply following the rules and formula of unquestioning little-girl conduct and crawling up the societal ranks like a bird-shit worm up a gutter. It’s easier for them to just laugh at people like you and me and call old Henry a cooky selfish woodsman and leave it at that.

Here’s a good one: I met a guy the other day who was a philosophy major here at the University of Arizona, and I asked him if he ever read Emerson's essays. He didn't even KNOW WHO RALPH WALDO EMERSON WAS

It doesn't surprise me that The University of Massachusetts will not respond to you. Why would tin-plated automatons respond to a human being REACHING OUT to them, sending them a gift and practically begging for someone to step up, to turn around and FACE their so-called superiors. Someone needs to CALL THEM ON THEIR BULLSHIT. You’ve got to believe that one act of truth is worth more than the job itself, and there’s the rub. You’d think you would run across a disgruntled employee ONCE IN A WHILE, but apparently nobody is feeling any friction at all. The university system is a self-lubricating organ, like the pussy. I have had over 30 jobs in my life and I have NEVER had a boss who I respected AS A BOSS, never did I feel that the person was more competent than average, that they deserved to be in the position they were in. There should be another way to live than just doing the same thing every day with your mouth shut and your nose up someone’s ass. Society is not life. No one cares, you see? It’s a game, a game of prestige and power. Real, profound creation has nothing to do with it. G. Tod Slone isn’t going to help them climb the ladder, so what good are you? They are corporate robots programed to disengage if within ear-shot of a certain non-sycophantic tone. Your tone gets them every time, they knee-jerk you into the garbage can. You’re not afraid of them or indebted to them or in awe of them, and this they can’t forgive. Your tone gives them a very easy excuse to dismiss you, to block you out completely. I get the feeling they would cross the street in order to avoid walking by you on the sidewalk. They have no way to argue your point, so they look the other way and forget it.

Martin Espada at U Mass? Well Que bueno-fucking-looyah They don't get much more Americanized than him, but still he's got that ethnic name, which looks so good on tables of contents and faculty fliers. David Hernandez is fast on his heels.

It’s a business to them, you’re right, a corporation, a pyramid, and they’ve worked very hard to get where they are, the little Roman slaves, completely brainwashed, and most of all they’re HAPPY like this. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s an incredibly protected (and recession-proof) world they live in: where else could you poeticize about the horrors of the outside world and then have dinner at a 5-star restaurant? (This is their argument that they are not slaves.) It’s a great party, man, they’re not gonna let you drag on in with your buzz-kill dope, or get them down with anything so stupid as the truth. You’re fighting peoples’ core beliefs, you’re threatening their white tablecloths, their sleepy-time fantasies that have become reality. They are so well fed and satisfied, how are you going to convince them that ESSENTIALLY they are off track, that their way is the inevitable way not only to the death of democracy but to the death of poetry? They will not listen to anything unsanctified, their ears are stopped with the cork of pretension. You might as well try to tell a Christian Jesus Christ was just a man.

G. Tod said...

Thanks again for helping out in Iowa! Good to hear from you as usual.
G. Tod

Good points. Thanks for raising them. However, it seems Thoreau is read in colleges across the country, though few if any professors would ever suggest Thoreau’s critique be put into practice, as in “let your life be a counterfriction…” I just chatted with the shelver at the Concord Free Public Library on this. He mentioned Prof. Pinsky was the chair of some Thoreau committee in these parts, which makes me want to vomit up little sputa balls in celebration. Clearly, Pinsky does not embody the dissident Thoreau; on the contrary, he emodies more the anti-Thoreau. Pinsky in tuxedo writing his tuxedo poetry. But these kind of oddities tend to be common in our society—crooked politicos decrying cynicism, poets denigrating truth tellers, and professors teaching Thoreau and Emerson and MLK.
Great metaphor on the lubricating organ! I’ve had scores of bosses too and confirm your findings with that regard. Deans are the worst of the lot!
Great point RE if you can’t be of use, they don’t want anything to do with you. How damn true indeed. Yes, you might as well try to tell a professor that death is stalking just round the corner, so why not “go upright and vital…”
G. Tod

mather said...


I agree with you on your assessment of these academicians but I don't like it when you accuse them of fucking up democracy. Fuck democracy. Isn't democracy the majority rule? Well, they're the majority: they rule. By definition they get the money and the fame and the girls. The problem I have is with that majority itself, with each non-questioning member of the majority, WITH EACH ONE OF THEIR SORRY ASSES, because they all add up to a filthy majority and a filthy world. Really, aren't majorities by definition the opposite of cutting edge, which is where art comes from? Many of these journals claim to be “democratic” productions, so what does that mean? It means they're about 500 pages long and publish damn near everybody that falls on the desk and none of them say a god damned thing.

One thing I hate about these academicians is they are exactly the opposite of what they claim to be, they are not artists, they are well paid professional liars with a mind-blowing belief in themselves because of, and protected by, the billion-strong squadron supporting them. It's always been this way, which tells me there's not much to be done about it except head the other way as fast as you can. You, especially, can't get in the door with your attitude, you live out a self-fulfilling prophecy with these letters which are at the same time attacks and pleas, but of course all anyone remembers is the attack. Just once I'd think somebody could get over the fact that they have been dealt an insult, and think that maybe it is an insult of TRUTH, and maybe they should take a look at themselves, alone, and think about it, and ask themselves why that comment by that Slone guy stung so bad. You are asking people to admit their lives have been wasted and everything they’ve believed in up until now has been a lie. Only artists find this out, and not because anyone tells them.


G. Tod Slone said...

Yes, democracy is rule by the majority. BUT it is also supposed to be an enlightened system where minorities are permitted and encouraged to voice opinions in the agora of ideas and where citizens are encouraged to question and challenge all things in an effort to improve society.

As mentioned, my experience in academe and literature affirm that minority viewpoints are not only discouraged but highly scorned. What highbrow literary journal would permit a page of your or my viewpoints? I cannot think of one. Can you? Yet most are perhaps supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, a government agency. Should a government agency be supporting literary journals that stifle alternative opinions?

For me, democracy is indeed the key. By encouraging students not to be critical of the canon and to keep their heads firmly implanted in the sands of their specialities, far too many professors do grave disservice to democracy in America.

You state: “Many of these journals claim to be 'democratic' productions.” Well, I can’t think of any that make that claim. Give me some examples.

It is difficult for me to believe that those living the lie are unconscious of that fact. I think most are fully aware of it and that includes professors and poets.

Yes, the “insult of TRUTH”! I like that a lot. Great expression! If it helps, one professor last week (not those contacted in this blog) wrote to tell me he reflected for six months about my accusation that his hiding behind anonymity was indeed cowardly and especially so for professors. Thus, miracles do happen now and then. If they did not, I wouldn't have put up that blog entry. I figured, come on, man, out of the 60 contacted at the University of Massachusetts, surely one professor will step forward as a dissident spirit and respond favorably. Yes, I know, I'm still waiting...
G. Tod

mather said...

Ok, your definition of democracy is more complex than the simple “majority rule”, and that is fine, as long as you define your terms, for often people use terms like democracy and liberalism, etc. in different ways, because language is imperfect and very flexible. As you know some terms can be bent to mean almost anything in any context. You must tell these people what you mean by your idea of democracy and exactly why they are fucking it up. Actually they are ruining not just democracy but pretty much EVERYTHING except an easy status quo. They thwart all healthy society, all art, all openness and honesty and spiritual discovery.

You're right, I don't have any exact examples of journals that claim to be democratic, though I know I've read many blurbs in the past testifying to that. Anyway, I'll bet if you asked them if their journals are democratic, 9 out of 10 editors would say yes. They truly believe they are. They believe they are giving voice to minorities by letting the blacks and the hispanics and the lesbians speak. They only believe in minorities if they are HUGE, when they are big enough and organized enough to wield some power! You are a minority of one, a "protest march of one" as Bukowski said, without a team of lawyers on your side, and so you're out on your ass. Why can't you just protest the war like everybody else?


G. Tod Slone said...

Well, I like to look at it rather as the spirit of democracy in the same light some refer to the spirit of the law. Well, I have been telling them what I mean: openness to other points of view, criticism, and hard truths. By the way, Professor Nelles just called me a “dullard,” I suppose in the spirit of democracy. His comments really do illustrate the kind of professors some of these universities (perhaps many) have hired. Perhaps their existence helps explain student drop-out rates.
You’re right. Surely, 9 out of 10 lit journals would say they’re “democratic.” Damn good point on why don’t you just protest the war like everyone else. But as mentioned, these professors need to be shaken out of their complacency. They need to be forced to look at themselves in the mirror. Not all professors. 99.9% of them. Is it not odd that not one of those professors contacted has responded on this site? Not even the student newspaper editors contacted (four newspapers)have yet responded. We are on the downward slope as were the Romans.

mather said...

This is for Charlotte Walker. I just read your poems on the AD site about Jori Graham and laughed out loud. I don't know why I hadn't read them before. I remember reading Jori Graham's book after she won the Pulitzer, or the book which won it for her, I can't remember, but the poems were all about 10 pages long with the lines all over the page and nothing making any sense at all. For this she won one of the biggest prizes of all. How much money did she get for that? How much ego reinforcement? It makes me ill, literally. I thank you for writing your poems and for naming names, and for keeping a dissident attitude all these years despite the myriad pressures to conform.


mather said...

Good rewrite, you really hammer it home, though even if you say the same thing one million times in one million ways, they still will not hear you. As soon as you drop the first unpleasant image they stop reading, or maybe their eyes continue to scan the words but nothing sinks in. I think it's odd that no student working on any of these college newspaper would speak up to you, at least to pretend to outsmart you or outwrite you. Also I think it's strange that the tenured professors won't speak up, I mean, aren't they pretty safe in their jobs? Not one of them will step out of line, even when they have permission. They're like elephants tied up with string. They would never have gotten where they are if they didn't really believe in the system, if they hadn't said: Take me, train me, I'm yours, right from the start. I don't think they really think it's right and good for life and literature. I don't think they really care about literature at all. They are protecting their wealth. In their eyes you are not a dissident, but a criminal, annoying at first, but soon they will call the cops on you. The cops are their best friends. I remember you saying that you are banned from college campus somewhere! Haw! Good job! These people don't need literature, only people who are truly alive need literature, suffering and questioning people, individual people, people who can THINK FOR THEMSELVES, and when you are so comfortable with the current system, there is no life, you have fallen dead into it, smiling. You have surrendered to it, you have sold your balls and your heart and you have basically promised to die defending it.

It seems like these academic writers don't seem to understand just how big the industry and the institution has gotten in this country, this higher education, MFA programs, they don't seem to see just how MANY of them there are, so almost exactly alike. How can they know this and still act the way they do? How come no one wants to step out of it and shake it off? Because that's where the money is. That's it. It's so simple and so sad. Of course there are many creative writing journals that aren't immediately connected to a university, but if you poke around a little you almost always find MFAs at the head of it, with the same names and the same attitudes. They don't have as much money, but they're just as dead in the water.

What's to be done? I have no idea. But, T., I have realized what you really are: a journalist. What you are writing is journalism, I think pretty good journalism. Keep doing it.

G. Tod Slone said...

I agree entirely with you that THEY will likely not be able to grasp (hear) the message even if I hammer away at it a million times. But as mentioned it is in my blood to criticize THEM. Whether or not they choose to HEAR is not really my concern. What I really am trying to do here is find the handful of English professors in the country sufficiently open minded to consider The American Dissident. I sincerely believe that handful exists. Sklar is one of them. Now, I’m looking for the other four. As for student editors, some are good, many are bad and “kept” by their English professors. During the five years I taught at Fitchburg State College, the student editors refused to publish anything I submitted critical of Fitchburg State… and over and again I submitted. In part, thanks to them I created The American Dissident.
Your point on it being odd that tenured professors safe in their jobs are fearful of speaking up. I’ve often thought about that and even written about it. My conclusion is that the 5-7 year tenure process weeds out those apt to go against the grain in any manner whatsoever. Journalist Charles Sykes put it eloquently and accurately in his book Profscam: “Tenure corrupts, enervates, and dulls higher education. It is, moreover, the academic culture’s ultimate control mechanism to weed out the idiosyncratic, the creative, the nonconformist.”
Well, Mather, I’ll have to quote you in a future essay because I really love this sentence: “In their eyes you are not a dissident, but a criminal, annoying at first, but soon they will call the cops on you.” That actually happened to me at Walden Pond on several occasions. It is an accurate observation to say the least. Yes, I was and still am banned from the McKay Campus of Fitchburg State College where I used to have my office. Campus police one day knocked on my door and escorted me and my things out and away from McKay Campus to another building. ONE professor complained she was afraid of me, yet I have no record whatsoever of physical violence.
No, I’m a dissident poet. Artists who have never even written poetry have been called poets. Poet is a spirit and I have that spirit.
BTW, this particular blog was sent to a magazine on ethics for publication. It was rejected: "The essay is too pointed for general dissemination, so I am sorry but I cannot use it. Thanks, Bob."
"Pointed," now that's an interesting term! But I wrote back: "Now, come on, Bob, dig down way deep, and tell, if not me, yourself why you cannot use that essay. Best, G. Tod" Bob is, afterall, a tenured college professor...


G. Tod Slone said...

PS: You will notice that professor editor's total lack of interest in the very subject matter of this essay: the need to radically change the academic culture for the sake of the nation and democracy. In fact, it is the same for the 60 other professors contacted.