From EvieWillWhittle

Call me Ishmael

The traveling Jan, Rhonda, and Wayne show hit town last week peddling its wares. I poked my head into one of the campus performances and I wasn’t quite sure what fairytale I was in. A ‘blend’ of several, perhaps: ‘Aladdin’s Lamp’ (‘new universities for old’), ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ (a cash cow is taken to market and swapped for a fistful of magic beans), or ‘Pinocchio’ (‘see, no strings attached!’). Like everyone, I’m partial to a bit of magic every now and then, it sustains the spirit if not the flesh.
But on reflection I think that a more cautionary tale is a better parable, say, Moby-Dick and the obsession with landing that big fat white whale (although taking on the insights of an earlier posting, if Ahab had been faced with an Etan, the Pequod wouldn’t have set sail …). For those that haven’t read it (it is a big fat book, and I figure that there’s no workload allocation for professional reading so…) it’s not only a tale about the destructive obsession with pursuing the ‘big’ or rather the ‘mega-biggest’ thing (management think that an annual growth of 2.5% every year is sustaining and sustainable so that by 2020 we will have 50,000 students), it’s also a salutary tale about the madness of buying bad ideas and jumping on board the ship of fools.
Perhaps someone could help me out, but I just don’t understand the rationale of ever expanding ‘bigness’ other than as some looney chase. And we’ve already had some fallout as whales will persist in turning into albatrosses. This year not surprisingly, as blind Freddie could have seen it coming, Usyd decided to do a spot of whaling itself and cut in on our act of over-fishing the waters. Our ‘responsible’ future-facing managers (whose jobs it is to ‘manage risk’ and do risk assessments, have a look at the the looneyversity’s financial plan) over-estimated the quantity and value of this year’s catch. They had to share it with other whaling interests, and then, rather than walking the plank, they had the raw prawn to call it our (read here yours and my)‘deficit’ and to snip our research travel budget.
At the looneyversity, where ideas are scuttled before they leave shore, it doesn’t take a stargazer to see that the only kind of travel funding you’re likely to get in the future will be for the next ‘biggist’ thing. Biggerisms twinkle across the looneyverse. Take one of our more fatuous ‘mottos’, ‘Higher. Smarter. Further.’ (than what, you ask?). Like another little sparkler, ‘Getting to the Future First’, it belongs in the looneybin. Limitless assertion, it seems, is an expansive heliocentric teleology for which the obdurate nature of matter is no obstacle. Late last century, a canny old thinker (Neptune forbid!) put his finger on it when he wrote about ‘development’ as the ‘ideology of the present’. ‘Development’, he said ‘is reproduced by accelerating and extending itself according to its internal dynamic alone’. As Lyotard proposes, this ‘logic’ has no limit other than ‘the expectation of the life of the sun’. It’s a stellar concept, and an ‘excellent’ guiding light for our futurity.
The maritime metaphor needs a final squeeze. Wazza is jumping ship. Off to ACU to ‘help develop their research program’ (Jan said, or words to that effect). Project ‘Blend’ wont be the same without him. UWS’s decision to snip the ‘expensive’ school of contemporary arts a few years ago while using their research outputs so that we scored a ‘4’ (world class ranking) in creative and performing arts for the last round of the ERA was a stroke of pure genius. Talk about transforming bodies that matter (to use Judith Butler’s terms) into stardust …

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