Thursday, 23 February 2012

All hail Professor Self

Will Self has taken up a Professorship of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University. I don't know how much teaching he'll do, or whether the post is the humanities equivalent of the Professorships for the Public Understanding of Science which pop up here and there.

I've always admired Self: for (most of) his novels, but largely for his belligerent belief that intelligence and wit are more important that PR and political manoeuvring. In his explanation of why he's taking a post in education, he makes some excellent points - it's just a shame that none of the politicians tasked with running the education sector are anywhere near his intellect and commitment.

Having met more intellectually curious students than journalists, he makes the case for education as a cultural benefit to all:
academic environments are very often ones in which knowledge is pursued for its intrinsic value, while in the wider world the only value seen as accruing to almost anything is frequently financial.
and lambasts the narrow, reductive approach which masquerades as education policy these days:
That tertiary education is under a sustained assault by a political and – it often seems – social consensus that equates all education with training for increased productivity, only makes academe a still more promising environment for a contrarian
This is all true. Courses are either becoming 'vocational' or pretending to do so - all our course documents are full of 'transferable skills' claims. This might be changing, however: one member of our university executive pointed out that as our students will have multiple jobs in their working lives, using systems and techniques which change faster than every before, specific technical skills learned at university will be outdated within a very short period, whereas the analytical, communication and research skills learned on a good course will always be 'relevant'.

Self remains sceptical of the rather airy-fairy critiques coming from Occupy and friends (like Marx, I suspect their analysis is good but their alternatives are slightly amorphous):
While emotionally sympathetic to the protesters against increased tuition fees – and their siblings in the Occupy movement – what's struck me most in the last couple of years is the absence of theoretical rigour in their critique.
And so he sees his job to be asking the big question - the failure of neoliberalism. Finally, he expresses exactly what I feel my job is about (when it's going well, that is):
There is something mysteriously powerful that can happen when young, inchoate minds come into contact with older and more worldly ones in a spirit of intellectual and creative endeavour – if I believed in progress I suppose that's what I'd call it.
I don't necessarily think I'm 'more worldly' (though I am older than most of my students), but otherwise he sums it up. Now back to the administration… which I'm guessing he won't be expected to do. No 'maximum three learning outcomes' and 'blended learning entitlements' for Professor Self!

Here's the great man on Internet culture and anti humanism:

Other Self moments: his destruction of Richard Littlejohn and Nicky Campbell,

SELF: It is a 400 page... I've read 200 pages of it and that is a 200 page recruiting leaflet for the BNP.
LITTLEJOHN: Well, you can't comment until you have read the other 200.
SELF: Why? Does it suddenly turn into Tolstoy?

and his magnificent, sneering deconstruction of Olympics discourse on Newsnight:

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