Stars

Two things that have me thinking this morning: First, the thread from Timothy Burke beginning here:

And second, the thread from low end theory beginning here:

Putting these things together: The academic star system into which my corner of the humanities fell at some point a few decades back has not only done inordinate institutional damage through the kinds of privilege it has created and upheld, and thus the kinds of labor that it has allowed to roll off of some shoulders and to land on others. It has not only done grievous political damage both within our institutions and to the relationship between the university and the public by undermining the solidarity that we should have been working toward and replacing it with a destructive form of competition. It has done both of these things, and it has done substantial intellectual damage to our fields, concentrating resources on established and rising stars and so preventing others — and most especially, those who as a result of that concentration of resources could not find secure work within our institutions and thus were squeezed off of the platforms that might have given them voice — from producing the work that might have led all of us in new directions.

The particular situation that prompts these thoughts, whatever it may in actuality be (and I do not at all think I have a picture that is either complete or accurate), is symptomatic of something fundamentally broken at the heart of our institutional structures. Changing that is going to require entirely new ways of understanding who and why we are together, and what it is our institutions of higher education are for.

Right now, they are in very large part for the creation and maintenance of stars. And that orientation, if we do not change it, could well be the end of us.

Themes

Sigh. I am wrestling with a few problems here, which have me a bit stymied. The theme you currently see1 is a child theme of Independent Publisher 2, which is a WordPress.com fork of Independent Publisher, originally developed by Raam Dev. The thing I like about the entire Independent Publisher family is the extent to which it allows focus on the text; it’s typographically clean and engaging, and pretty flexible overall.

Except for a couple of things. The original Independent Publisher doesn’t support a full-width cover image — not a deal-breaker, but I’ve grown a little attached to the one I’m using here. And its single-column layout winds up looking pretty odd on individual post pages. Independent Publisher 2 takes care of both of those issues, and adds a range of other functionality.2

But Independent Publisher 2 doesn’t really support post formats, which Independent Publisher does quite well. I’ve managed to do a bit of tinkering with my child theme’s functions.php in order to approximate post format support, which is necessary to my micro.blog integration, but I’m running into oddities that make clear how partial that support is. For instance: if I use the post date to automatically create a title for my Asides,3 those titles appear on the posts, which, if the posts were really being treated as Asides, they wouldn’t.

So I have a few options:

  1. Figure out how to hack Independent Publisher to support the full-width header image I want.
  2. Figure out how to hack Independent Publisher 2 to fully support post formats.
  3. Find a new theme that actually does all the things that I want it to do, and looks the way that I want it to look.4

I’d be happy to receive your suggestions!

Looking Forward

Today started with a bang: two back-to-back meetings over coffee, each of which was filled with possibilities for extending some of the projects I’ve been working on here. I left each meeting profoundly excited, and I don’t think it was just the caffeine.

I’m prone toward optimism, generally speaking, even when things are a little hard. But I worry at times that my optimism is little more than a defense against complete disintegration, because when it begins to slide, it can feel awfully hard to figure out how to move on. And of course the last two years have seriously challenged that optimism; at moments it’s been hard to stave off the certainty that everything is terrible, in fact, as the evidence seems determined to prove.

So the disappointments (multiple disappointments, in fact) of the last couple of weeks were proving harder to bounce back from than I wanted. How do you move forward when it seems like the paths forward are being closed off?

Today, I think I found a new path, with the help of two enthusiastic colleagues. I shouldn’t be surprised, I think, that the thing I most needed was connection with some folks as committed to our common project as I am. But it was pretty astonishing to recognize how much brighter my outlook became after those two meetings. Because I think that’s the deal with my optimism: it’s not that I assume that everything is or is going to be good, but that I see a means of making it better. It’s not a matter of looking up, but instead of looking forward.

12 August 2018, 12:03

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Lexington for the Transylvania Seminar: fantastic conversations about the principles and practices of liberal education; great new colleagues; a bunch of amazing meals. But I’m ready to get home now, and ready to get back to work with my @CALMSU colleagues on building responsive, just, generous institutional structures in support of higher education for the public good.