Thursday, 9 June 2005

The Advantage of the Deranged

One might have thought that a derangement of the mental faculties would be of some disadvantage to an intellectual career, had one not time and again met with the most absurd and idiotic pronouncements in spittle and ink by our most celebrated academicians.
.....But a derangement of the mental faculties has one advantage in the academy which elsewhere would be seen as a liability and a danger: it allows that one might proclaim without necessity and with effulgent whim the boldest connections between things, which thitherto would have been deemed absurd, and thus it yields a never ending supply of what the academy esteems most: originality.
.....We are so used to thinking of originality as a good thing, that it is all too easy for us to accept originality per se as a good thing. But only a little thought is required to understand that originality by itself is a sorry and silly thing. An estimation of orginality per se would have us esteem a computer made of custard that doesn’t work above an old and conventional computer that does. Of course, when it’s put this way, no one would countenance originality for its own sake.
.....But as I say, in the paper-mill of the academy, where consequences are barely perceived and where, presumably, matters are thought to be epiphenominal, originality in all its unfettered and insane glory reigns. There is good reason for this. A never-ending supply of originality means a never-ending supply of work. If academicians restricted themselves tomorrow to saying what is both original and sensible, or just sensible, academicians would find themselves a week next Tuesday circling the classifieds. But with a working ethos that esteems orginality above all, there is no end to what can be said, and thus no end to academic work.
.....The modern academician finds himself stuck for something to say only for a short while; for with orginality trumping reason and evidence, there is nothing to stop him forging ahead with that ground-breaking work on the hitherto unsuspected link between paper clips and hegemonic systems of power.
.....For him there is no lifetime of barren struggle looking for the causal connection between x and y, only to find there isn’t one, because to him x and y can be picked at random and made to stick with the glue of some esoteric and hermeneutic theory. Indeed, the more disassociated x and y are, the more bold, shocking and original is the forging of a link between them.
.....In the atmosphere of untrammled orginality, the befuddled and irrational half-wit suffers no disadvantage; on the contrary, he blazes a trail.

If you have a favourite academic loon, please recommend him or her at The Hatemonger’s Quarterly, whose “crack young staff” are running an
Academic of the Month competition.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

Are not what is 'obvious' and 'original' exactly the same thing? When Einstein perceived the universe he saw something obvious, it's just that it was obvious only to him, which also made it original.

Very few people are truly original. Most of what passes for originality in the academy is surely not. It’s just barren thinking. But this barren thinking is sometimes necessary before something successful emerges. And this often pops up from the strangest places.

The computer made of custard analogy strikes me not so much as an example of originality but of modification.

It's lucky we have originality or we wouldn't have the internet. If you suggest that the internet was just an obvious leap from the stand-alone computer, I would have to ask the question - but if it's so obvious then why didn't you or I think of it?

Deogolwulf, is this about 'originality' or about the culture of academies?

PS I'm interested in what you consider 'originality by itself' to mean.

Deogolwulf said...

"Original" as in newly conceived; "obvious" as in plain to sight. I'm not too sure why you think they are the same thing.
Einstein's view was not obvious even to him. It took great insight. His view was both original and descriptive of a state of affairs in the world. The academicians whom I characterise produce work that strives for originality but is disregarding of the state of affairs in the world.
It is very easy to be original by itself (and all I mean by this is being original with no attendant usefulness or description of the world.) For instance, if I say, "Kipper-kettles leap about the pantry when the Conservatives take power" I am being orginal in my "observations", but it is nonsense. On the other hand, it is very difficult to say something about the world that is both original and true.
I'm not too sure where you get the idea that I think the internet was an obvious development which anybody could have conceived.
I am not, moreover, against originality in genuine development and discovery, but I do think it better to say nothing about the world than to say something both original and false about the world.