For the Weekend: Aretha Franklin: Natural Woman

This is perhaps the most awesome inside-baseball academic subtweet of all time. Timothy Burke: "The academic star system of the 1980s and 1990s in the humanities created a group of people who believed they were better than everyone else and a group of people who were invested in believing the stars were better than everyone else...

...This has done lasting damage to the humanities. For one, because most of the anointed stars rested their star power on supposedly understanding and contesting the operations of power. And yet they've frequently demonstrated that they neither understand it nor contest it. For another, because most of them enacted absolutely lethally phony forms of performative anti-institutionality while being the recipients of absurd institutional license and protection, a position that's been imitated by many non-stars and harmed faculty governance.

The stars should have been our leaders in a deep sense: they should have been 1st to the barricades about the casualization of labor, 1st about thinking institutional futures, 1st about thinking the humanities in resilient and imaginative ways. They not only were not first to show up as leaders, but in many of those cases have actually accelerated or contributed to the developments that they should have opposed. The star system has been a central engine for producing contradiction, self-aggrandizement, inequality and infantile anti-institutionality in humanities academia.

Stars themselves were harmed by it: many of them started as the leaders they were meant to be. But they were not tempted by some knowing Mephistophles; they built the bars of their own gilded cage. What's happened in the letter about Avital Ronell's case is only one small kaleidoscopic glint of 15 years of that kind of cluelesslessness.

It would be nice to think that this is their problem, or be modestly disgruntled and sour-grapes feeling about the inequalities. But it's far more than that: the star system made the stars our most defining public face. And this has hurt the rest of us grevously...