Saturday, July 16, 2005
Just got back from a short vacation to find the news awash in information hysteria. A journalist goes to prison for a story she never wrote, police swoop down on unwary consumers whose crime is that they purchased the new Harry Potter before its official release, and a supercilious midwestern academic writes a maddening column (even by Chronicle of Higher Ed standards) smugly defending his department's right to eliminate bloggers as job search candidates, based on the things they say in their entries. And we like to point the finger at China for controlling information? "Ivan Tribble"'s Chronicle column is getting a lot of attention in the academic blogs right now, but I wonder if his column might not serve as a lovely object lesson about the naivete with which even academic readers approach the blogosphere. "Tribble"'s argument is that blogs too often reveal objectionable opinions, enthusiasms and personality quirks best left to private obscurity in the job candidates who write them. Once you see the "real" personality of a blogger, his argument goes, you might strike them from your short list of tenure-track candidates. "Tribble" doesn't give his real name, which further ratifies his sneaky ethos.
I like "Tribble"'s column. I like it a lot. It is either the stupidest thing I have ever seen the exceedingly-stupid Chronicle print, or it is one of the subtlest satires exposing the totalitarianism of tenure-track academe to come along in a while. Let us suspend the idea of authorial intention for a moment, and give this piece of writing it's performative due. The fact that "Tribble" has written under a persona radically deconstructs the argument he seems to be making about the "realness" of blogger personality. Is he too real to sign his real name, or does his "Tribble" persona point to the necessary impersonality of all good writing? How can this foregrounding of authorial masking not call attention to the strategic positioning of any authorial address? By posing as the cowardly man behind the curtain operating the sadistic and intimidating Wizard-machine, doesn't he expose the cowardly hypocrisy of an academia that on the one hand defends tenure as that last bastion of free speech, while on the other uses the gruelling job market, periodic review, and tenure processes to regularly screen, study, and eliminate nonconformists and freethinkers from its ranks?
Then there's the lovely choice of his name. Tribbles, as any Star Trek fan knows, are the most innocuous of creatures--that is, until they multiply like rabbits and clog up your ship's ventilation shafts. Ivan Tribble may be the small-time gate-keeping, standards-bearing dweeb you hope never to have to work with, but "Ivan Tribble" is an academic everyman, one who serves as an eloquent warning to all of us of the darker side of tweedy, self-replicating mild-mannered professors.