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The Big Stupid Review


American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

Paul Fabulan: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey

By Kane X Faucher

By mid-October, a year later, my courses were in good stride. Assignments were rather representative of the wavering and waning level of academic commitment, the usual disproportionate ratio of laggards to gifted few. All was rather normal, actually. How things slid into the arcane, I had no idea. My teaching load was calculated to be just shy of being full-time, and thus I had no benefits. Instead, they put me down at 39 hours a week when in reality I worked nearly twice that in the "intangibles" such as answering stupid emails from students who could have found the information on their own, and in dismal marking (the time allotted to marking per student was, according to the brilliant accountants of the university, roughly twelve minutes a term paper). Dare I mention the long hours and days spent in unremunerated course preparation, all geared toward jazzing the lecture content as superficially media-rich as the endless online video circus? Dumb it down, and then dumb it down again, for educational quality is now measured according to bulk tuition revenue.

Too many of my students had their faces glued to their laptops and smartless-phones, checking their email and social networking sites, entirely incapable of keeping their attention for more than a few seconds. If they could click me away or minimize me like a window, they would. I remember, during yet another office hour when students didn't visit (and then would blast me for not being available at 3 in the morning on Monday because the essay was due the next day, the assumption that I am just a 24/7 ATM), I revealed my new policy toward the Internet addiction in my classroom to another contract faculty colleague.

"Take a stand against PEDagogy, and by this I mean against the permissive attitude toward allowing students to bring their personal electronic devices to class. Oh, there is clamor from the pro-PED people who slosh around their sloppy metaphors about embracing new technology and that it is better to teach the students to not be taught to fear it. Yet it is addiction, and I simply cannot countenance any behavior where the student's social life takes precedence over all else. And then we have the pro-PED retread of the old determinist argument about how nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented; namely, that we have no choice but to accept them as part of our lecture halls."

"But an outright ban is bit too heavy-handed, even if it is meant to counter 'distracted learning,' as it is called."

"We have university policies and regulations for a reason. Or is it that the administration will bumble about on this issue for fear of upsetting its student clientele? If so, that's pandering."

"You could implement a non-PED policy for your classes just so long as it does not contradict university policy."

"What's the point in me standing alone in playing the Grinch who stole the students' rights to wiggle their thumbs over their greasy screens? It won't make any difference unless the policy goes university-wide."

"Good luck getting movement on that. Administration's committees only hustle when the topic is money. Besides, the Dean wouldn't back such an initiative. He sees PEDs as great tools for students to learn the skills of on-demand communications when they migrate into the private sector."

"I know what the Dean's thoughts are on the matter. We are producing the gadget-dazzled ADHD employees of tomorrow who cannot hold on to a thought for more than a few seconds before some device is ringing, pinging, or zapping them. And when the boss comes down heavy because they missed another deadline, these overly coddled and entitled employees will blubber and then go on stress leave. What did Cory Doctorow call it? 'an ecosystem of interruption technologies.' And you know what happens next the more we permit these PEDs? It then becomes implicitly required that we carry them everywhere we go as well so that we can be harassed by the students 24/7. 'I think I deserve a better mark' and 'So, like, can you send me a list of sources so that I can write my paper?' Imagine it: no off-time for us whatsoever! I deserve evenings and weekends off like everyone else! I'm already enslaved by the administration—I don't need to be bossed around and harassed every hour of the day by my students, too!"

"Well, if you feel this strongly about the issue—and I do think you are blowing it a little out of proportion and assuming the worst – why not organize a roundtable at the next departmental meeting. Perhaps it would be useful to trade perspectives to get a better idea about the presence of these PEDs."

"Presence? Invasion or infestation, more like. These kids spend all their class time checking their social networking accounts and texting one another, and then they howl in outrage when they fail the midterm, claiming that it isn't fair. And then they punish me on the course evaluations, perhaps even going so far as getting mummy and daddy to get a lawyer because precious feels she or he deserves a higher mark. And then they have the nerve to cry to their counselors that they feel stressed and overwhelmed... Because life itself is stressful and overwhelming, and yet I don't get the same consideration for when I have to be the students' trained little monkey and am still given their Nero's thumbs-down! Allowing PEDs is a losing proposition. I get blamed for the students not paying attention. But as for this idea that I can introduce some roundtable discussion at the department meeting is a clear way of burying the issue. People will have conflicting views and no decision will be reached. Everyone will want their say and they'll gobble up hours of our time to flex their academic ego muscles on the subject. And even if a tentative agreement on the issue to ban or reduce PEDs were reached, it would be stalled by constant revision of terms. By the time anything could be phased in, it would be a policy with no teeth, a whisper of suggestion that may as well not have been made. No, this is not a committee issue—this is an administrative matter that simply must be rammed through, and then deal with any negative consequences that arise on a case-by-case basis. Introduce it now, make refinements later."

"That's a bit despotic, don't you think?"

Yes, it was, but I was already souring in my position as the perpetually invisible academic, at the mercy of student course evaluations where I could be punished for not being the A+ Pez-dispenser the kiddies demanded me to be.

It was easy to get rid of me: I was just another of the growing number of contract employees, another of the casual labor force taking on the majority of undergraduate teaching duties the tenured professors wouldn't debase themselves to teach ever again, not even with gloves. For someone like me, to challenge the administration was asking for one's contract not to be renewed, good luck in some other bleak, terminal contract situation elsewhere. No, it didn't matter if you published and outperformed your tenured colleagues: "we do not evaluate anything but your teaching," which is a convenient way of demoralizing the labor force as anything more than lectern-riders for hire. Sharecroppers! That is the plight of the invisible academic, and at any point, on any tiniest technicality, employment axed. A decade in school for this, and that is called fairness. I know in other industries we are given the soft soap adage of alleged realism, that we should expect to change careers in these versatile times that demand extreme adaptability, but career change presupposes one is moving from one career to another, not from one terminal pre-career to the next. Never to land on that elusive thing known as career, while those with them tell us to abjure careerism as just plain no good, as old-fashioned, as dull. But having a career is not as dull as the anxiety of waiting for the sake of waiting, and whatever poverty results from it.

My dear academic friend, my little Icarus who soars toward that ultimate promise of tenure: go ahead and publish, go ahead and volunteer your time on their committees without any recognition or remuneration. Go ahead and teach all their required courses and believe yourself to be a solid and indispensable asset in their cabal. Go ahead and feel fortunate in your desperation to find any work in your field, to labor at half the wage, twice the work, and zero benefits. And should you be lucky to somehow get into their better graces and be on that coveted precipice of probationary status, watch as they delay, watch as they give you part time work by a different name, watch as they scheme with the higher administration to remove tenure in all but name only. And should they not be able to move in enough haste to make those changes or to prevent your climb, they will rig that appointments committee to deny you your tenure bid. And then what? One lame duck year to teach, a little concession to help you transition your way out of their sight.

That was my general attitude. I had made enough of a noise for the upper ranks to give me token inclusion to a high profile meeting. I was nowhere even close to the foot of the ladder and I was already bitter about the prospect of climbing it.

I had been invited to a special departmental meeting where we would be "graced" by the presence of the mysterious Martin Schulmann, Chair and professor of philosophy. How odd that those who professed the profession of philosophy were really its enemies in wait. It was indeed highly irregular that a member of another department would be invited to attend. As was my experience of departmental meetings, they were generally drab crawls and crab drawls, speaking of particular items of business: budgets, use of common supplies, enrollment figures, when to schedule more meetings, conference donations to affiliate departments, upcoming job talks, ascendant student stars, and so forth eventually leading to mundane inter-departmental tattle and eventually complete committee-related torpor and attention inertia as motions were passed, carried, or more often left to rot on that future margin of "business arising from the minutes" next meeting. Such meetings had their pecking order and their pro forma way of being conducted, something akin to Robert's Rules of Order meets the bland decanting of courtesan politics – but without the style and wit. Members were permitted to speak, and in priority sequence as well as putting up new motions, on the basis of what their rank was in the department. Being a sessional, I had just slightly less right to be there and participate than the table and chairs. However, I was puzzled when the acting Chair of our department (a man not long out of mothballs by the name of Lawrence Smithwick who had made his name on some fatuous garbage published twenty years ago on John Donne, and to whom I had to show the usual degree of occupational reverence) had announced the invitation of Professor Martin Schulmann. There were some murmurs and grunts acknowledging the irregularity, but this news was not met entirely without interest. If anything, although it meant bumping departmental business to a future date, it could prove to spice the proceedings up, or at least possess the potential to do so as much as the presence of a philosophy professor could.

As if he were lurking right outside the heavy door with his ear cupped against it awaiting mention of his name, this Martin Schulmann rapped with rhythmic flourish upon it. Lawrence Smithwick shambled (venerable or fossilized academics give up the habit of ambulating like normal beings and take this on as a matter of age- and status-related fashion) and opened up to Martin Schulmann.

Schulmann was a short and stocky man of about forty-some years of age, with animatedly fiery—if not mad—eyes, corded neck, an acceptable academic paunch, and a crisply pressed royal blue suit with a dun-colored tie. It looked rented and ill fitting for his form, and his gaze was both discomfiting and wild as he scanned the room the way a cult leader or a car salesman reduces all warm, moving bodies to potential prey. There was a practiced grin on his face, and his teeth were of a pearly perfection that bespoke of some serious investment in cosmetic dentistry. I immediately felt antipathy to him, but at the time I could not fathom why; there was something awry about him that was at odds with me. There was perhaps something treacherous and opportunistic about him, secretive and scheming, malicious, manipulative and megalomaniacal… but I say this now in retrospect. Sinclair Lewis would have called him a Babbitt, but in truth Schulmann was a grey eminence.

"Colleagues, I would like to introduce Professor Martin Schulmann from the Philosophy Department, distinguished scholar and current holder of the National Research Chair for the Humanities and Social Sciences," heralded our department head. With such pomp and ceremony like this, it was almost palpable what was on everyone's mind: why and for what purpose was this seemingly unflappable man here? Was this some airspace for him to shill some upcoming philosophy-related event? A solicitation for a local charity of some loosely common interest?

I should add that it is not uncharacteristic of me to get a few beers before any meeting, and to become quicker to being irate on account of their unfortunate conjunction, whereas in better social situations I can be quite affable and fun loving. Drinking is indeed, for me, an environmentally dependent thing when it comes to mood.

"Greetings, all," he said with the slick and snake oil patter that his appearance already suggested on his behalf. "I don't mean to intrude and monopolize valuable departmental time, but I feel that you will all appreciate the importance of the subject I will address today."

The speech was too polished and practiced. I had to resist the urge to look over my shoulder to check to see if there was a TelePrompTer. Even the hesitations seemed rehearsed.

"As we all are pained to know, and live everyday in our occupational lives, every discipline in what can be called the humanities is in a state of crisis."

I always held those who invoked the word "crisis" under the highest suspicion, for if these same people weren't busy tooling a crisis in the background to confirm their bold claims, they were angling to derive opportunity from one–-even if the crisis was an artificially generated product of skewed and antsy perception.

He continued: "The number of departments across the country are grievously diminishing, and the funds for such programs by way of subsidy or scholarship opportunities for emerging graduate students in these disciplines is petering out along with public taxpayer sympathy which seems to believe that arts and education are luxuries while televised sports and military adventurism is necessary. We are all hard-pressed to convince the administration to justify our budgets year after year, and we are forced to pay out so many dollars less for each student, visiting researcher, and faculty member. This has signaled a decrease in quality due to something completely financial in scope; we are each of us highly qualified and are shackled only by budgetary constraints. The situation here on the ground is desperate and near to the breaking point."—the clichés had started to make me shift uneasily in my chair—"If we don't act now, a whole tradition of higher and refined abstract thinking that has more than proved its social benefit and worth culturally, historically, artistically, politically, and humanistically will perish under the weight of that demand for immediate results and a close-minded culture of bottom-line thinking."

He took a pause to take a breath, but more for emphasis. He was waiting for his words to take effect, waiting for his audience to comprehend the hopelessness of our situation in its entirety as if we did not live in the stench of it every day. I knew the trick all too well: feign sympathy for a cause only to lure the listeners in, and then reverse everything, play the savior. He was no friend of the humanities—that much I could tell. He was buttering us up. We all knew what was happening: we'd be forced to expand our graduate programs as a jobs program to justify the pay of our faculty, bring in more tuition, and in all but name transform education into a skills-training program like a trade college. Whenever the big question of education as commodity came up in hard times, there was never a shortage of self-styled reformers both inside and outside the university gates. They would come with fancy presentations and gooey-colored pie charts.

"So," he continued with his diatribe of appeal, setting up the shill. "What is the answer? Allow the forces around us to continue applying the squeeze while we passively watch us shrink in number and force? Jump ship and hope that the sciences may use our skills for remedial research tasks? We are a collective force now!" he pounded this out with syllabic rhythm upon the conference table. "The solution is at hand: we collectivize our efforts toward a collective strategy! But, you may ask, the problem is so complex, the bureaucracy alone an impossible thicket… Well, if you will allow me to sound off a tad arrogant for a moment, I have isolated the problem, the very key and crucial problem that has held us from prosperity."

The room hummed with the anticipation of the answer, although I could see that half of us were setting up for disappointment.

"As we all know, be it in the arts or sciences, to solve a problem we need to isolate and articulate the question, and to do so properly and with precision. Colleagues, we have been blinded by our myopic engagement with our texts, our research, our glass bead games, our inconsequential honors, our publications that no one reads, our itinerant conferences, our endless references in colloquium proceedings… In sum, my colleagues of humanitas, we are…out of touch!"

The point was intended to elicit consensus. Most of the assembled summoned what murmurs of agreement they could.

"What use, asks the average citizen, is another philosopher? How does reading Shakespeare increase quarterly profits? Does a study of the Hopi Indians have any corporate relevance?"

"Well, hold on," interjected one professor. "You are confusing our purpose. Is it necessary that we serve the public in these ways, to make ourselves accountable to these matters of a non-academic concern? If so, then what prevents me from making the argument in reverse?"

"Colleague," he palliated. "I could not agree more. Yes, I acknowledge the inherent value of all that we do, else we'd be working in other industries, but let us face the brute and real facts: the they-world that asks us to justify our salaries is demanding a return on investment. So far, little return—of the kind they desire—has been manifest. It is the iron law that culture must always follow money. They have the money, and we are the heralds, sentries, proponents, and stewards of culture. Ha, at this rate we may as well just throw our diplomas away, ditch our jobs, and beg on the streets! Unless&hdllip; unless!… Yes, unless we think about things differently."

I was disappointed, but not surprised. His great criticism of the way things were came down to the fact that we were each of us Jurassic in our methods, approach, interests, and relationship to a changing university and a changing world—ho-hum, heard it before. Being "out of touch" was, to my mind, the very constitutive identity of any and all academics since the very institution was decidedly built on the defiant principle of being "out of touch." Universities lumber forward slowly, distrusting all that is new as potentially just another vogue fashion, a fraud, a jape, another fad jitterbugging out of the limelight and into obscurity, a vulgar populism, another will o' the wisp, another Internet meme. Since our main "product", if it could so be called, was knowledge, we had to do everything ponderously and characteristically slowly. To ask a university to quicken its pace and get in step with the tumult of the quotidian world was as unthinkable as berating the elderly for being old.

While there was a low mumbling din, I took advantage of the situation to direct my voice at Martin Schulmann who was readying himself to pontificate further, looking as though he had become enormously self-satisfied with his role.

"Dr Schulmann, if I may… If you have come all the way from the Philosophy Department to tell us that we are impractical, then I fear that you have not told us anything new. We're not reinventing the social web, we're not finding devious new ways of betting on insurance. We study and teach on subjects that are not linked directly to moneymaking."

"Some things require constant reiteration; we quickly forget or overlook the facts," he said, barely concealing his irritation. He could now spot a cynic. I, of course, shuddered at the mention of "facts" since those who brandished those words usually had statistical graphs or bottom lines lurking behind them, and would be quick to mount an argument with the figureheads of simple logic-chopping.

"Perhaps," I continued, "but I would be more interested in what you propose as a solution to win us the monies and adherents that would bring our failing departments the prosperity you seem to suggest we deserve."

I had set him up perfectly; he could not have asked for a better cue. I was more interested in rolling this along so that this meeting could be adjourned, and so that I could go out for a much needed cigarette.

"We must regiment ourselves and streamline our departments; set benchmarks and research quotas; professionalize our graduate students through aggressive marketing; match our research interests to topical and relevant issues of the day; drain the bloated body of our terminology of all useless and esoteric jargon; in short, a complete revision and reformation of our discourse!"

This was said with considerably impassioned appeal. His eyes scanned wide and wildly. I was convinced that he was mad. Such a proposition would entail such logistical finesse, not to mention a kind of commitment embraced by departments all over. It was unwieldy and unmanageable a plan if anything, and I spared nothing to tell him so.

"Dr Schulmann, do you have any idea how impossible it would be to implement such a wide-ranging plan? It goes well beyond ambitious, and its scope is far too large."

I was going to continue, but it appeared that half the present company was actually interested in what Schulmann proposed, and they flicked a hostile gaze at me signaling that I should hush. I was already out of line as I was a non-voting nobody.

"There will be nay-sayers," he went on, now addressing the group as a whole. "For as long as we think such a thorough overhaul of our methods and approaches impossible, we remain the dust of irrelevance. It is only our intransigence that seems systemic."

I was becoming quite ill with his constant return to the word "irrelevance."

Schulmann pattered further with some parting phrases that I scarcely could record for my indignation, boredom and incredulity. He made a gift of some thick-reamed document to our Chair, claiming that it was the "blueprint of change." His life's work? I would question the "relevance" or even sanity of a man who made university reform the purpose of all his research. Such people are better suited to be administrators or opinionated janitors, not university professors.

Most of us were too stunned by Schulmann's little speech. He left briskly with a feigned warmth and a business-like satisfaction with his presentation. We bumbled half-attentively with the remainder of our itinerary until we adjourned the meeting, earlier than usual. Most of us were leaving still chewing on the recommendations Schulmann had put forth. I, for my part, was doing the same, but for different reasons: I was more interested in what his game actually was, and if it were some kind of opportunistic power grab. Gavrilo had warned me of Schulmann's ambitions, and it would have appeared that his proposed "reformation" was going to be the crown jewel in his bid to gain some momentum toward… toward what? Was he angling to become the next Dean? The thought of it made me feel, with good reason, uneasy.

Lawrence Smithwick pulled me aside once the meeting was over. I was going to be reprimanded somehow, and the insult of it all was that he was going to frame it in his grinning, condescending politeness.

"As much as we appreciate your input and presence at this meeting, you are as much a guest as Dr Schulmann. It would have been better not to interrupt Dr Schulmann and let him finish, and then allow some of our established faculty pose questions."

"No one was really posing any questions," I snapped.

"And nor could they given how much of the floor you took up. Besides, we must first review the document Dr Schulmann was kind enough to give us. I am sure once we review it, we will be in a better position to ask for clarification questions. We don't want to seem unwelcoming. We must be collegial and show our due diligence to different points of view."

"Just not to the casual workers," I muttered.


"Nothing. Any chance I can take a look at the document?"

Lawrence gave me vague consent, which meant after we're done with it and no further changes can be made, and even then we'll forget to tell you.

Two months later, I had taken more than I could handle, being stuck in this limbo position. I was non placet. Lawrence Smithwick was officially reappointed to another term as Chair, and so I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss my grievances.

He was a dead man in a dead office. A tall, thin, nothing of a man occupying or obstructing a role best served by someone else.

"What is on your mind?" he said, his eyes droopy and glazed.

"Simply put, I want career advancement. I've been teaching a lot of courses with good reviews for a while now."

"Yes, and we appreciate your teaching for us," he said in that way some administrators have mastered in making your employment seem as though it is conditional on your continued desire to do it rather than them cutting you from the team. "As you know, the budget is not the best, and so we're still in a hiring freeze."

"We've been in a hiring freeze for years now."

"Yes," he said sadly and that there was nothing that could be done. "Your best bet is to apply for a full time position when one comes up."

"But there haven't been any full time positions posted since I started here."

"Well, you can always apply to other schools."

He knew damn well the situation was as grim everywhere else. He knew I wouldn't "apply to other schools" for fear of losing even this small illusion of job security. When things are as bad everywhere as here, may as well just stay here. It was beyond frustrating that there was nothing I could do: publish and volunteer on a whole bunch of ridiculous committees, it would not put me in position. The only movement was down, and at the very moment my evaluations flagged, I would be turfed.

I ducked out to tie on a few.

An Intermission

Solidarity would be undercut by the adjuncts who tired of being peripheralized, feminized, housewifized, proletarianized, segmented labour. In a salvo published online entitled Our Feudalism, a self-styled Neo-Bolshevik hammered at each point of grievance, each barbed nail struck with the blow of angry logic. We reprint selections here:

Our Feudalism
by Zarko

What is to be done against the continued proletarianization of our labour, much of it providing unacknowledged benefit among the tenured, but is repaid in institutionalized prejudice. We who have remained unseen are the buffers for market oscillations, the vagaries of finance, the first to be offered up in games of investment risk, the reserve pool of serfs who are appointed at the last possible moment to take on the burden of unexpected enrollment bulges. In the absence of any truly strategic plan in staffing policies, and with no enfranchisement of our kind in the chronic denial of granting us any job security, we are the peripheralized, the housewifized, the casualized, and the marginalized.

See our tenured oppressors who have taken on ever more managerial functions and then complain that they have not the time to perform their precious research. Yet, see how we may research – producing in quantity and quality that which may surpass their efforts! – and it is ignored: calculated blindness! The tenured say that we diminish the quality of education by simply existing, but our expanding indentured labour pool is the financial driver of the institution, and we teach a majority of courses, and our teaching is not from yellowed pages. We perform our teaching duties much better than the complacent lot who think teaching "women's work." And little do those of the lofty professoriate realize that we do not work part time hours – we are always working, even if they refuse to admit that we remain active in research and service for a third of the pay, with no guarantees, no continuity of employment, and no career progression prospects! How they malign us as being lesser! How they continue to blockade us from the decision-making processes for curriculum design! How our ranks swell to outnumber them, but we have little to no representation in our departments or even in our union with its hollow claims of solidarity!

We must now seize the means of production, for we are the true force of production. If necessary, we will splinter from our ineffective union that only finds new ways of patronizing and marginalizing us, rendering our concerns as invisible as we haunt the hallways while the tenured lower their gaze to pretend we are not there. We demand proportional representation everywhere: in our departments and in our union. No longer will collective agreements be made without our concerns coming first! And even if we must form our own shadow faculty, and if we must mutiny by rallying to our side the students and sympathetic, it shall be so. All forms of resistance must be used against the unearned privileges of the tenured, for as they devalue our labour, they devalue all labour! We will meet their demoralizing and patronizing attitudes with stern rebuttal. We will force them to open up the budget to sponsor our research. We will blacklist anyone who employs exclusionary tactics to prevent our meaningful participation!

The public does not know the atrocities that occur in the trenches of academia. They are fattened with no longer relevant opinions that we are all making gold-plated salaries and receiving immense entitlements—but this is not so! The entire edifice of higher education is supported upon the backs of viciously exploited labour. If we perform the majority of necessary labour for the institution, then we are entitled to pay and privileges commensurate with that proportion! The central administration must confront the shameful conditions of labour in our institutions, and they must take decisive action. Failure to do so will only mean that we will collectivize and channel our anger into tactical moves that will apply pinpoint pressure to sabotage the institution itself.

We demand full enfranchisement, access to resources, adequate office space, prorated salaries, a conversion formula for attaining job security, academic freedom, and access to due process so that we may grieve arbitrary dismissal or contract non-renewal. These demands aim to achieve the very basic, fair, and human needs of our vast labour force. We not only demand fair consideration, but we will militate to seize it if need be.

To those of the tenured aristocracy who refuse to see us as peers, we will consider this a declaration of class war and thus we will in turn refuse to acknowledge your legitimacy. We will agitate with the full strength of our numbers and the full complement of our tactical means – even if it means violence or the destruction of the corrupt institution itself. For, it must be said that an institution built on the foundations of inequity must not stand, and that swift and decisive means are essential to cut out the rot. We must stand shoulder to shoulder to answer the contract faculty question, and reforms are needed immediately.

The institution will no longer request us to perform added duties for free. We will not recruit for your programs, will not write reference letters, will not give of our labour without proper remuneration. Up the present time, we have performed these added duties outside of our contract stipulations in the hopes that such labour would be recognized as (use as?) being in good faith with our academic units and that such labour would be counted toward our progression. Instead, it has simply been expected and ignored. We hereby withhold any labour falling outside of our contracts unless we are paid fairly to do so. No longer will the false carrot be dangled only to be taken away! And no longer will the stick of contract non-renewal cause us to cower and be obedient slaves. Should we withhold all our labour, the institution would collapse. The tenured and their research do not provide significant funds to the university revenues, and so it is long overdue that the tenured must adjust to an economy of scale. They must no longer overestimate their worth while underestimating ours. An underestimation of our labour, our skills, our strategic competence will prove fatal for the security of our tenured princes and princesses, and the day of retrenchment is coming, and soon the tenured will also experience what an "academic minimum wage" feels like!

The brave salvo from Zarko (a nom de guerre customary in times of revolution to avoid reprisal) resonated with the contract faculty. Their passions for justice stirred, there were outbreaks of wildcat strikes and even instances where particularly prejudiced tenured faculty were abducted by gangs of contract faculty for forced re-education and shaming. Central administration looked upon it all with joy: the powerful unions were tearing themselves to pieces, and so management could employ divide and conquer strategies. Zarko was hailed as a saint of the revolution against the degradation of academic labour. There was no shortage of tenured faculty who mounted resistance against Zarko's claims, many times in print supported by dubious statistics or with equally dubious appeals of entitlement or tradition. "Zarkoism" became a frequent topic in faculty council meetings, and much discussion focused on ways to resist the insubordinate challenge to long-standing authority. But even among the full time faculty there were disagreements; younger faculty members were more sympathetic to the Zarkoists, possibly on account of their own personal experiences in living as transient workers being fresher. It should also be noted that women and visible minorities were also more inclined to sympathize with Zarkoism, but in a less militant and more moderate way. Sympathy extended only so far as to reject the stentorian demands and to salvage the more reasonable requests. This took the form of including more contract faculty into the social life of departments, and a host of other token measures (many of which died on the order paper). Still, the longer established academic gentry were resistant to making any moves that might appear a capitulation to Zarkoist principles.

An argument taking place in the dreams of Paul Fabulan:
"Enough of your part-time woes, Jonkil; no one likes a complainer."

"But the complaints are absolutely legitimate!"

"You're a follower of Zarkoism and his tantrum-manifesto, are you?"

"And what if I am?"

"Then any hope you may have for a secure position in the university is over. You start preaching Zarkoism and watch how fast your contract does not get renewed, and you get blacklisted. Tattle travels at the speed of light—especially in academia. Your reputation as a troublemaker will precede you everywhere you apply. The university has a way of turfing agitators from its walled garden."

"But you are complicit with our exploitation?"

"Of course. You work so that I can enjoy various privileges that—let me remind you – I earned through the trials of tenure review. I sacrificed six years of normal life on the verge of burnout publishing myself raw, sitting for hundreds of hours in committees, and teaching an overload of courses. I've earned my right to scale back my work repertoire. I simply don't have the energy to sustain that level of activity anymore. Besides, central admin has downshifted a lot more managerial functions to faculty members."

"Whereas I teach overloads, research and publish, and everything else as though (should this be italics?) I was on a probationary tenure-stream, and yet none of it counts for anything."

"Yup. That's about how it works now. And although I feel a bit bad for those like you fighting to get into the charmed circle, my sympathies end where it might endanger my earned privileges. Sorry, but I look out for myself first. This is not a democracy, nor is it some happy little classless commune. This is an institution that is defined by the pomp of its hierarchies."

"What if we were to withhold our labor?"

"Go for it. We produce such a large supply of doctoral students in our expanded graduate programs that we'll always have a big, fresh supply of replacement workers. In a situation of labour oversupply, you don't really have much of a bargaining position."

"We can take what is owed us by force."

"Sure, go right ahead. Get arrested. The university and the press will paint your little insurgency as a kind of terrorism. What little say you have now will be removed completely. Zarkoism as a movement will be the victim of spin. That's what is precisely the matter with Zarkoism: it advocates violent resistance whenever there is an institutional blockage. But, in resorting to violent methods, the movement loses all credibility and abdicates any public support. A movement like that needs shrewder and more subtle means of insinuating itself into the system by the proper channels; the problem being that their opponents are smart enough to have anticipated those."

"So what do you recommend for improving the conditions of us teaching serfs?"

"Recommend? Improvement is impossible. Either you accept the chronic lowliness of your position that will most likely never change, or you abandon academia and pursue another career path. There is certainly no career here."

"Do you give this little pearl of wisdom to graduate students?"

"Are you kidding? Why would I want to discourage my clients? I have no qualms about lying to them, feeding their dreams of achieving an academic career. If I told them the truth, why, we might have fewer students and thus less money. However, I do think that even if I did confess the reality to them that they would still come... We are creatures of conspicuous exceptionalism: no matter how dire or improbable a situation, we seem to think we are somehow special enough to beat the odds, that the situation only applies to other people. What about you? Surely you're a bright chap who probably knew while in grad school that there was no hope of real employment. And yet here you are, fighting against the tide, rejecting reality. Very noble, yes, but also incredibly stupid. And what will be your reward for these pointless heroics? Eventually you'll just give up, become bitter. Later in life you'll come to regret all your angry young man (should this be in italics?) efforts. They will haunt you precisely because you will then have the wisdom to understand that you raged for nothing."

I was beginning to smolder and so was not ready to reply.

"I don't expect you to like me, Jonkil. In fact, let's dispense with this hollow collegiality that seems so pretty in theory but is not evidenced in practice. We do not have the same interests. This is a war and we are opponents. It just so happens that my side has the upper hand. We have all the power and privilege, and you have nothing but your anger. Your group is like Palestine. It's just the way it is, and it is not going to change. If you were to ask me to be frank and respond to my feelings about you and the other contract odd-jobbers, I would say that, no, I don't like any of you. It's not because I feel guilty and that your exploitation makes me feel uncomfortable with my own privilege, but because it is entirely natural that I should despise you as a possible usurper. And, hence, why I will lend my support in any possible way to ensure that your group is continually marginalized, contingent, precarious, and demoralized. Your group is the only buffer between my position and the absolute bottom. And I'd be more than happy to sacrifice you instead of myself when times get tough. History is proof enough that human beings are most comfortable when there are the powerful few and the powerless many. It is entirely natural to our species to reject all the fluffy ideas of equality. There are alphas, betas, and gammas. It isn't fair, but power has nothing to do with fairness. Power has everything to do with exerting force to minimize or remove any power the underlings might attain. Power is unfairness incarnate."

"You leave open the possibility of a true insurrection. History is also filled with beheaded kings."

"Certainly. And if you succeed, more power to you. But don't expect me to bend my neck to the axe. I will do all that I can to prevent your empowerment since that empowerment comes at the expense of my own authority."

"I would feel cheated and disappointed if my opponents simply surrendered."

"Then you can expect a bitter fight, and one I believe you will lose. You are not stupid enough to believe that we will respond favorably to the truthful claims of Zarkoism. No matter how logical, true, and fair Zarkoism's points are, we will find ways of resisting them. Perhaps your kind still cleave to the belief that having truth and justice on your side means the battle is won. Not so. Those in power have little need for truth and justice unless it is convenient for our purposes. Besides, we decide what is true and just. You don't need to convince us that what you say is fair and true. We know it is. Just don't ever expect us to acknowledge it. We are more than willing to violate truth if it means preserving our power."

The Infinite Grey is expected to be published in March 2013 by Civil Coping Mechanisms

© Kane X Faucher 2012