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Ravings of a rambler

Last time I wrote on what Friedrich Nietzsche thinks of much of western philosophy, with a lengthy, yet long overdue tangent on priests. I was going to write a separate essay on them and I believe I had something in the works, an unfinished essay where that was going to be brought up, in detail, but, oddly enough, his short commentary on the issue in ‘The Will to Power’ is so to the point that I probably won’t ever finish that essay. Okay, maybe, but I think I’d rather use my time on something else.

Right, I can’t remember what it was that I was working, but I certainly didn’t keep at it. Instead, while at it, I came across Gary Wickham’s and Gavin Kendall’s ‘Critical Discourse Analysis, Description, Explanation, Causes: Foucault’s Inspiration Versus Weber’s Perspiration’ and then I somehow ended up reading their take on ‘The Foucaultian framework’ as well, as included in ‘Qualitative Research Practice’.

They comment on Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), which is these days also known as Critical Discourse Studies (CDS). I’ll comment on that first and then move on to discuss what I had planned for this essay, before I got tangled up in that other topic. I think it makes sense to explain things in this order. You’ll see.

Right, the gist of their article, ‘Critical Discourse Analysis, Description, Explanation, Causes: Foucault’s Inspiration Versus Weber’s Perspiration’, is that much of what’s great about Michel Foucault’s work and what we can learn from it goes to waste in CDA/CDS. Why? Well, according to them, and as I’ve pointed out in the past, the way Foucault does discourse analysis is already critical. What do I mean by this? I mean that he takes a closer look at whatever it is and goes to great lengths in understanding it and, more importantly, how it might have come to being. I was tempted to write that it’s about figuring out how it has come to being, but then I’d lock myself into thinking that it must have come to being in a certain way and, perhaps, not some other way. In other words, while it’s only likely that something has come to being the way we think it has come to being, fair enough, this is about leaving it open, entertaining the possibility that we might just be wrong, that we might just think that we are right. Maybe later on we come across something else and then that changes our view on that, so I’d say it’s better to hedge on that. Oh, and it’s not to be understood as a sign of weakness in one’s argument, that you aren’t sure, that you don’t know what you’re talking about, thus conceding that one is wrong about it. It’s rather about having a certain humility to it. It’s like yeah, I’d say so, but, at the same time, being open to the possibility that something has actually come to be that way in some other way or, at least, could have come to be that way in some other way had it not been the way you think it came to being. In short, it’s about being open to various trajectories.

Anyway, so Wickham and Kendall (143) mention the pros of Foucault’s work and what we can learn from it. In a nutshell, Foucault’s conception of power, omnipresent and relational, is way better than a Marxist take on it, which reduces it to a game of haves and have nots (or have yachts, as they say). He’s like Nietzsche 2.0 in that regard.

That’s, however, not what interests Wickham and Kendall (143). Without getting tangled up in all the details, they (143) agree with me on that Foucauldian (they actually say Foucaultian, but this is like the same with whether it’s Bourdieusian or Bourdieusard, so like comparing limes and lemons) discourse analysis is, already, critical and it’s not to be mixed up with what’s critical about CDA or CDS (now that’s more like apples and oranges). If you ask me, or them (143), the deal with Foucault is that he is all about analysis and that’s it. Sure, the man may have been an activist and held various views, which you may even disagree with, fair play to you, but you won’t find him telling you to trust him on how you should live your life. You may find him giving you tips on how you might live your life and, I’d say, he has good tips, well worth following, but that’s not the same as how you should live your life. It’s like take it or leave it. Do what you will with his work. You choose your own path.

To put this another way, Wickham and Kendall (143) don’t like how people mix Foucault’s work with something that just doesn’t mesh with his work. The (143) key word they use is teleology. To explain that fancy term, without getting tangled up on the explanation, telos is about a goal or a purpose. Each thing, whatever it is, is seen as serving a purpose, having an end, as opposed to having come to being for whatever reason that might be. This means that if there’s teleology, we think that it’s all teleological, serving a purpose, having an end or a goal.

Now, that’s just me, so let’s have a look at what a dictionary has to say about telos (OED, s.v. “telos”, n.):

“End, purpose, ultimate object or aim.”

So, if you ever come across that term, it’s just a fancy Greek way of saying that something is considered as having an end, serving a purpose or having an aim, a goal or an object. Let’s take a look at teleology then (OED, s.v. “teleology”, n.):

“The branch of knowledge or study dealing with ends or final causes; the study of phenomena which may be explained in terms of intention, design, or purposiveness rather than by prior causes.”

This makes sense, considering it’s a combination of telos and -logy, which is the common ending for the way of speaking about something (OED, s.v. “-logy”, comb. form), and -ology, which, in turn, is more specifically about the (scientific) study of something. So, if we think about teleology, it’s about studying how something has a telos, which, as I just pointed out, about serving a purpose or having an end.

Then there’s teleological (OED, s.v. “teleological”, n.):

“Relating to a goal, end, or final cause; dealing with or invoking the concepts of purpose or design, esp. in relation to the natural or physical world; of, relating to, characterized by, or involving teleology.”

So, simply put, if something is considered to be teleological, it’s about it having that telos, that goal, that end, serving a certain purpose. If you think that’s awfully religious, it’s because it is. It couldn’t be more religious (OED, s.v. “teleology”, n.):

“The theory or belief that divine purpose or design is discernible in the natural or physical world[.]”

So, Wickham and Kendall (143) don’t see the point involving Foucault in CDA/CDS because, like, why would you, if it is, at the same time, undermined by what it opposes, teleology. Now, you might be like hold on, hold on, what do I mean by that? Well, skipping some pages here, to where things get interesting, they (147) note that the thing with criticism or critique, to be more accurate, is that it involves morality.

But what’s the problem with that? Well, the problem with that is that you are thus criticizing someone or some institution for not adhering to what you think they should be adhering to. As they (147) point out, one might thus criticize some state institution, let’s say the school system, for its failures. What failures? Exactly! That’s the thing! So, no, not failures, but who it is that the system fails. This is where the teleology creeps in, as they (147) go on to point out:

“Practitioners of this form of critique … have successfully de-historicised their very own persona—the critic. They see themselves, and are widely seen, as the true representatives of universal and timeless ‘humanity’.”

In other words, what’s critical here is the attitude towards the system. That’s fine. I’m not against being critical of the system that we live in. In fact, I’m all for questioning the system and the powers that be, but that’s not what Wickham and Kendall (147) are saying here. The problem with this kind of view is that it supposes that the critic knows know what’s what, you know, like Plato, or, at least, can know what’s what, as I’ve pointed out a number of times in my previous essays and really emphasized in the previous essay, which then results in the critic being given the license to speak on behalf of others or, rather, of everyone.

I know I’m riffing here, quite a bit, and Wickham and Kendall might not agree with me on this, but what I like about their take here is how they (147) indicate that while, in the past, the critic considered the state as an ally, protecting the critic from persecution, in the sense that one has freedom of speech or expression, the right to voice one’s concerns, now the critic views the state as the enemy, as curtailing the critic’s right to express oneself. So, what’s interesting about this is the state used to tell people how to live their lives and that was considered to be fine, but as that’s now gone, it is now up to the critic to point out the failings of the state, how it fails and keeps on failing its citizens.

It’s an odd situation alright. I guess it’s partly correct. Then again, it seems all too convenient. I mean, I don’t think the state ever was for or against anyone. Its laws have always been arbitrary. Something tells me that a lawyer would be the first person to tell you that, how it doesn’t matter what’s right (good) and what’s wrong (evil), as what matters is that we have these laws and that’s that. I don’t think they’d be foolish enough to argue that the law is what it is because it has to be the way it is. Laws aren’t given. They are made up by people.

The problem with the critic is that the critic ignores what the lawyer already knows. The lawyer would argue that one is right or wrong, inasmuch as one is considered to be right or wrong, as that’s how laws work, but the critic would view the laws as failing people. To be fair, it is possible, if not likely that laws fail people, but that’s because they’ve been made up by people, people who are no different from the critic. The thing is, however, that the critic is never willing to admit that, which is the point Wickham and Kendall (147) make here. The thing with the critic is that, for the critic, the critic is always right. So, yeah, it’s exactly like it is with Plato, as I point out in the previous essay.

To be fair, they (147) acknowledge that Foucault is far from perfect in this regard. So, yeah, you could wag your finger at him. I think that’s fair. I don’t think he would challenge that and I don’t think he was apolitical. Then again, I don’t think you have to be apolitical and by that I mean that you can have your views and advocate for them, inasmuch as you acknowledge that you might be wrong.

At the same time, I think they are right when they (147-148) point out that Foucault was never interested in whether things should be like this, or like that, but rather in making us think, to think otherwise, to think by ourselves, for ourselves, instead of taking things for granted, instead of letting others dictate what and how we should be thinking in the first place. As they (148) acknowledge in reference to what Foucault himself had expressed, there’s no truth, only a politics of truth or, what he, at times, also referred to as the regimes of truth, according to which something is considered to be true or false, right or wrong, etc. That’s exactly what I meant when I pointed out that you can still have your views, inasmuch as you acknowledge that you can’t take it for granted that you right.

So, they (143) go on to boldly state that:

“[W]e are thereby suggesting that discourse analysis per se is a superior form of analysis to critical discourse analysis.”

To be clear, here discourse analysis is to be understood as what Foucault did, so, Foucauldian discourse analysis, which is then juxtaposed with critical discourse analysis. Anyway, why is the former superior to the latter then? Well, in short, it’s a superior form of analysis because it is, in itself, already critical, of the very things that one investigates, as I’ve pointed out in the past. It’s critical in the sense that instead of taking something for granted, we question it and look into how it came to being or, rather how it may have come to being, to leave things open for other avenues that could also have led to it coming to being, to avoid that teleology where this must have led to that, where it must have had a certain goal or an end, which is what is in front of us, or so to speak.

I think Alistair Pennycook (132) explains this so nicely and so concisely in his article ‘Incommensurable Discourses’ that I need to mention it again: (most, but not all) people doing CDA/CDS deal with serious issues, whereas those who opt for a Foucauldian approach look at issues seriously. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that issues typically dealt in CDA/CDS aren’t worth taking seriously, because I believe that they are worth taking seriously, but rather that one should not take it for granted that they and only they should be taken seriously and not something else, whatever that could be. It’s about having a critical mindset, to just about everything, rather than taking it for granted that there are things that are, in themselves, critical to attend to. The serious issues that CDA/CDS typically deals with are also what Foucault focused on, but that’s beside the point, which is to extend that critical view to just about everything.

To put that another way, as hinted by Wickham and Kendall (148), if you go the Foucaldian route, you are thinking big, way bigger than what you tend to find in CDA/CDS. To be clear, it’s not that you are against CDA/CDS practitioners, as such, or their research, but rather that you seek to understand what the situation is, only to shift your attention to how we might got to that situation, to better understand how we might do things differently, as they (148) imply, in reference to what Foucault states in ‘What is Enlightenment?’, when he (50) states that:

“The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”

Exactly! The task is to understand what’s what, here and now, by taking a good look at how we might have got here, because that allows us to then think where we might go from here. That’s what I mean by thinking big. It’s not limited to research. It’s a matter of education, albeit not in the sense that you tell people how they should live their lives, but rather in the sense that you help them to understand that they could live their lives differently. It is then up them to do that, to see what their options are.

What Wickham and Kendall (149-150) don’t like is when CDA/CDS practitioners take it up to themselves to give themselves the license to do the exact opposite, when it’s about “forcing description and explanation into the back seat and letting critique take the wheel.”

The way I’ve explained this issue in the past, why I’m not too fond of much of CDA/CDS and, in fact, have never been too fond of it, despite having written my MA thesis on language and politics, is that you can’t fit Foucault into Marx, but you can fit Marx into Foucault. By that I mean that if you go with Marx and then attempt to reconcile Foucault with that, yeah, it’s not going to work. But, if go you with Foucault, you can fit in this and/or that from Marx, because Foucault’s work is just way more expansive than Marx’s work. You lose much of what Foucault has to offer if you attempt to reconcile his work with a Marxist view. It just doesn’t work.

Why? Why doesn’t it work? Well, it’s that teleology, that Wickham and Kendall (143) bring up. To avoid all the jargon that’s typically associated with him, Foucault is all about looking at the history of whatever it is that you dealing with in order to understand how it might have come to being. We are in the habit of thinking that whatever we are dealing with has always existed, until we put in the hours to realize that it’s not the case. So, if something emerges, like that, like out of the blue, how on earth can it have some end, goal or purpose? That’s the point. It can’t. Just as something can appear like that, it can also disappear like that. To put that another way, it’s we who give it purpose, there and then, until we don’t, until we no longer need it, until we no longer uphold it, so that it fades into obscurity. Oh, and a lot of things are or, rather, have been like that, so that we are no longer even aware of them ever having existed. It’s weird, really, just to think of it, there having been something that we are no longer even aware of, like being aware of a non-existence of something that may or may not have existed, because, well, we can’t know if it did or didn’t exist, because have no understanding of what it is or, rather, was.

Anyway, I dubbed that MA thesis as a descriptive study, already in the title, in the sense that Wickham and Kendall (142) refer to it in their article, as only involving “description, explanation and the possible identification of causes”, as suggested to me by my then thesis supervisor, because it certainly wasn’t done the way it would be by CDA/CDS practitioners would do it, as a matter of what Wickham and Kendall refer to as critique in their article, because that would have involved taking sides, going beyond that, all that description, explanation and trying to work out how we might ended up with such and such, and thus telling the readers how it is, followed by telling how it should be. Plus, I simply wouldn’t have been honest about it, had I pointed out that saying this and/or that, in this and/or that way, for this and/or that reason, is, in itself, the cause of how things ended up. At best, I could say is maybe, but I wasn’t willing to say even that. I think it was a smart move to limit myself that way, to not get carried away by the importance of the topic, how it is a serious issue, to use Pennycook’s (132) wording of it. It just made way more sense to understand how it all functions, because that allows me and others, my readers (not that anyone has ever read that thesis, really), to understand how things get done in politics, by saying this and/or that, in this and/or that way, rather than attempting to explain how things must have happened, with recourse to my findings, and then suggest how they would be in the future, not to mention to ponder whether it is a good or a bad thing.

It is, of course, debatable whether that thesis is truly descriptive, in the sense that I generally understand language as always performative, as about doing things with words, and never as constative, as about describing something as this and/or that, as true or false, as J. L. Austin explains it in his book ‘How to Do Things with Words’. In that sense, I’ve changed my views quite considerably in the last ten years or so. Then again, I get what Wickham and Kendall mean by that when they refer to Foucault’s approach as descriptive. It’s about abstaining from telling people how to live their lives. I think I’d call that being analytical, as opposed to being descriptive, but the label isn’t that important. I get what they are after and that’s what’s important for me.

Wickham and Kendall (149) summarize their beef through Ruth Wodak’s book chapter ‘Critical discourse analysis’, as also included in ‘Qualitative Research Practice’. Now, me being me, and thus not willing to simply take their word for it, I’m going to take a look at the original. What does Wodak actually state in her book chapter then? Well, as acknowledge by her (186), the thing with CDA/CDS is that it’s not just one thing, one theory or one method, as I keep telling my students who are keen to do CDA/CDS, thinking that it’s a thing, with a theory and a method. No. It’s not that simple. She (186) prefers to think of it as a program or as a school. If you ask me, that doesn’t tell you much. I guess that’s the point, to avoid making it what it is not, as just mentioned. Then again, I’m not too fond of labeling something as a program or a school either. It makes it seem a bit orthodox. It’s supported by her (187) statements on how that program or that school is indebted to Critical Theory, aka the Frankfurt School, which is another way of saying that it has strong Marxist roots.

It is, of course, one thing to say that some research has its origins somewhere and another thing to say that it means that one has to pay homage to these origins, but that’s what Wodak goes on to add when she (187) states that:

“Critical theories, and thus also CDA, are afforded special standing as guides for human action. They are aimed at producing ‘enlightenment and emancipation’.”

This is exactly what irks Wickham and Kendall (149), because, as Wodak (187) goes on to add:

“Such theories seek not only to describe and explain, but also to root out a particular kind of delusion.”

By this she (187) means that CDA/CDS is a matter of awareness. Now, to be fair, I kind of agree with this. I think the point of research is to make people more aware of how the world works, but I disagree with that how CDA/CDS or what it largely builds on, Critical Theory, can enlighten us, so that we find our way out of this and/or that situation. The problem with such statements is the underlying teleology of it. There is this presupposition that the world is supposed to move in a certain direction, which what irks Wickham and Kendall.

If you take the Foucauldian route or, well, I guess it’s actually the Nietzschean route, it is up to you to figure out what to do with your life. There’s no must or must not, no should or should not. Instead there’s just could or could not, just might and might not.

While I agree with much of what Wodak (187) has to say about CDA/CDS when it comes to language and power, there’s this staunch belief in that the researchers somehow know better and it’s up to them to be the ones who show people the way. It’s vanguardism. It’s something what Plato would say. So, yeah, I agree with Wickham and Kendall (149) in this regard.

To her defense, Wodak (187) does mention, for example, that most, and thus not necessarily all, CDA/CDS practitioners would agree with her statements. Then again, while she (187) does acknowledge that, it’s still pretty much CDA/CDS is like this and seeks to do that. If you ask me, that leaves very little room for disagreement. Either you are for enlightenment and emancipation, or you are not. Either you are one of us or you are not. I don’t know about you but calling CDA/CDS “heterogeneous school”, as she (186) does, is just … what to even think of that. A school of thought that’s heterogeneous? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Michael Billig makes note of this in his book chapter ‘Critical Discourse Analysis and the Rhetoric of Critique’, as included in ‘Critical Discourse Analysis: Theory and Interdisciplinarity’. He gives credit to CDA/CDS, and I agree with him on that, but the problem for him (42) is that it may have ended up as what it sought to oppose. I think he is bang on when he (43) states that:

“As a critical paradigm establishes itself so it takes on many of the characteristics of an established discipline.”

He (43) lists all the typical features that you’ll find, courses, textbooks and study programs that are established for the students and the journals where the researchers compete for recognition. What really seems to bother him (43-44) with this is, however, that the students who are taught all this and the grad students who subsequently compete for recognition are unlike their teachers. What does he (43-44) mean by that? Well, for him (44) the problem with that is that their teachers started out as the heretics, if you will, only to become their own thing, among other things, like a new denomination, if you will. Their students are then just paying homage to their teachers, as he (44) goes on to point out:

“The young critical academics, by contrast, will find themselves working within a paradigm and its career structure. In short, success will bring a ‘critical orthodoxy’, which will have its own institutional and economic bases.”

Now, if you are wondering what in the world is a ‘critical orthodoxy’, you’ve understood the problem. It’s an oxymoron. You are supposed to be like: wait what? Again, this is also what Wickham and Kendall (149) point out. I think Billig is also correct when he (44) notes that:

“Thus, the movement of success may be from a position that was interdisciplinary, even radically anti-disciplinary, to one that is itself disciplinary.”

To be fair, this is not something that affects only CDA/CDS, as noted by him (44):

“This occurs because academic disciplines are social and institutional practices rather than inherent qualities of academic texts.”

This has happened before, with other fields and disciplines, and appears to have happened with CDA/CDS as well. Well, okay, I’d say so anyway. I’d also say that this has happened to linguistic landscape research, which is at times abbreviated as LL or LLS. It’s now a thing, not unlike CDA/CDS with courses, textbooks and probably even study programs. Sure, some advocate for heterogeneity and I’m all for that, regardless of my own preferences, but I’ve struggled to fit in with that crowd, largely for the same reasons I never really found myself agreeing with CDA/CDS.

It’s for this reason that I’ve come to prefer landscape research, in general, because it is certainly heterogeneous. It’s not a field, nor a discipline. It touches on geography, architecture, art history, semiotics, and I’m sure many other established fields or disciplines, but it’s not, strictly speaking it’s own thing and none of the existing fields or disciplines have dibs on it. The great thing about it is that you can pretty much choose the way you do it. You might get some pushback, yes, and there are some gatekeepers, yes, but that’s people for you. There’s certainly no canon way of doing it, nor no pantheon of people that you should be looking up to and citing for their approval, and for the approval of others. There are some big names, yes, but they are often irrelevant if your way of doing landscape research is completely different. I tend to mention Denis Cosgrove’s and Richard Schein’s work, as well as the work of the Duncan’s, sure, but someone who approaches landscape through, let’s say, phenomenology might not find them that important. Conversely, someone like Tim Ingold, Christopher Tilley, Yi-Fu Tuan, or John Wylie might be of interest to you if you approach landscape through phenomenology. I’m pretty sure that there are ways of doing it that I’m not even aware of, so all of these names might be just useless to you and if that’s the case then, well, great, no need to pay homage to them, because it’s that heterogeneous.

Feel free to disagree with my views, on CDA/CDS, on LL/LLS, on landscape research, or on whatever, but, be that as it may, I couldn’t agree more with Billig (44) on that:

“Young academics should not seek to identify themselves with a defined way of doing academic research, but should see themselves as engaged in the critical analysis of discourse.”

Now, I’d go as far as stating that this is actually applicable to all academics, not just young ones, but I get what he is after with this. It’s difficult to change the old guard, because, well, they done what they’ve done, for decades, and it does look bad if you turn your back on what you’ve started. I’m all for that, if that’s how it is, but, yeah, I get it, it does invalidate your CV in the eyes of others, so I don’t see that happening, at least not on any scale that matters, regardless of the field or discipline.

I’d say that’s exactly Billig is after here, how it doesn’t take much for something that starts out as revolutionary to become conservative. To be clear, I’m not writing this, nor anything else, for that matter, to say that there’s some conspiracy among the CDA/CDS practitioners or among LL/LLS practitioners, for example, but rather that it is difficult to stay true to your cause, or so to speak, because there is little incentive in that, whereas there’s a ton of incentive to make what you do into a thing, if not a product, and then market the … out of it. Universities love that. They all want you to come up with something new, something that they can claim as their own, something that they can put their brand on, and then market it as where it all started, where the brightest minds in that come together, and where you, yes, you, the future student, can also learn about it and, if you are like them, a bright mind, you too can become like them, if not one of them.

If you want my advice, I wouldn’t want to do just more of the same (well, more of virtually the same, to be accurate, as something being actually the same is an impossibility). I think it’s the worst thing you can do. Sure, focus on something, for a while, but then just move on. That’s my tip. That’s what I do anyway. When people asked if I’ll continue doing what I did for my doctoral thesis, I was like, no, no, nay no, never, hell no. Why? Well, for two reasons.

Firstly, I don’t think I had a lot of success with it. I felt like whatever I did, wherever I pitched my work, it was so out of bounds that it didn’t conform to anything that’s established. The responses often felt parochial. The education crowd were polite, gotta give them that, as I believe I’ve mentioned, but it just wasn’t up their alley. The sociologists were, perhaps, the most supportive crowd, but, well, I don’t think it was exactly their cup of tea either. Geographers were also helpful, but I guess it was just too wacky for them. While supportive, I think they didn’t want to get involved, because it might have come across to others in other fields or disciplines as stepping on their toes. The language people concerned with LL/LLS were probably the most likely candidate, but I struggled with that crowd. I think I just didn’t fit in with my views that were largely shaped by existing landscape research and my own Deleuzo-Guattarian views. So, yeah, no matter who I dealt with, it felt like whatever I tried, no matter how I tried to explain it, why I do what I do, the way I do it, it just didn’t get across.

To be fair, part of that’s on me. I do like to do what I do the way I do it and I don’t like to be told that I have to do things some other way just because that’s what others do. I am well aware of how that may and probably does come across as, let’s say, abrasive, and that there’s a price to pay for that, but the thing is that such way of thinking makes zero sense to me and I just won’t have that. It’s simple as that. When I set out do something, I’ll do that and it’s up to me to decide how I do it. You will not have any say in that. You can suggest something, yes, and I may even thank you for that, but I reserve the right to think of it what I will. If it works for me, then it does. If it doesn’t work for me, then it doesn’t. If you’d like to see something done, in a way that you’d like to see it done, why don’t you do it yourself? Don’t tell me that I should have done it, the way you would have done it, when I have done what I have done, the way I have done it. It accomplishes nothing. I mean, if I’ve already done it, it’s not like I’m going to do it again, just because you would have done it differently or because it’s not how things are typically done in some field or discipline. If you so badly want it done, the way you want to do it, or the way it’s typically done in some field or discipline, why haven’t you done it already?

To be productive, I’d say that it was more like talking past one another. I would have welcomed more dialogue, more back and forth, but that’s not how the academic world works. Making progress is tied to review processes, which, in my experience, can hardly be said to be about dialogue. With publications it’s all about being judged, according to some criteria, which are set by the judges. The feedback can be useful, but it rarely is. Most of it is just someone telling you that instead of doing what you did, the way you did it, you should have done something else, in some other way. The good thing is that you at least get feedback (assuming that your work goes to review, which is, of course, not a given). That’s often not the case when you apply for grant money or for a salaried position. You either get that grant or that position or you don’t, without any feedback, not even whether your application was ever read by anyone. Based on my own experiences, I imagine the review process as me pressing the submit button, like yes, good work, followed by someone, somewhere, checking who’s this muppet who sent this, and then pressing either button A) for print, so that it gets read, or B) for print, so that it gets printed, only to automatically go to straight to a paper shredder. In my case, I’m pretty sure it’s always option B), unless the person accidentally presses the wrong button, going for option A).

On top of that, it’s worth noting that I didn’t have the luxury of doing that in the first place. Why? Well, because I didn’t have any funding beyond an initial grant to get things started. That’s why. It’s a vicious cycle. You need to have funding to make progress and you need to make progress to get funding. Alternatively, you need to get a teaching position to make it work, but, guess what, you need have made enough progress, to have that prestigious doctorate, to get a teaching position. So, imagine me, trying my best, only have my work rejected three months down the road or, even worse, half a year or year down the road, just because someone doesn’t understand it, doesn’t like it or didn’t even read it properly.

These days it’s not that bad, because I now have the required credentials, having made it, just by persisting, really. I still have to endure that to some extent though as now you got to get your work out there, published, to get funding or to get hired again. But now that I get paid to do what I do, just the way I did back then, but without getting paid for it, it’s like playing the same game but on easy mode. It’s still frustrating, that’s for sure, and sometimes also infuriating, that’s still there as well, because you still have to play that game, but now there’s just way less pressure to deal with. Now it’s more like a pleasure to write an article, because I get to write, as opposed to how it was when it felt like I had to make it, because, well, I had to. I wouldn’t be writing this if that hadn’t been the case, if I hadn’t made it.

Now, you might be wondering how is that I got hired then? I have no clue, to be honest. I’ve wondered that myself. I don’t think I have a great track record. I’m pretty much a nobody and I wouldn’t blame you if you think that I have the personality of a sheet of sandpaper. My guess is that I was, no, not the right guy, but the only guy available at the time and later on they realized that, damn, this guy can actually do all this, doesn’t complain about it, and, somehow, the students actually like him. Okay, I’m pretty sure not all students like me, but, overall, I get the feeling that they do like me. Oh, and I don’t think they like me because I’m like a bottle of fine wine. No, no. I think they like me, inasmuch as they do, because I’m more like can of strong lager.

When it comes to these essay, I write these essays … because I just do. It’s a pleasure and I get way more out of this than I do from a finalized article. Why? Because I can write just about anything, combined with just about anything, the way I do, without having to think what someone else thinks about it. I’m constantly out of bounds and that’s the charm of it. I don’t have to worry about word limits. I can just go on and on, and on, and on, if I feel like it, or stop abruptly and never return to that, whatever it is that I was dealing with. Plus, I can happily ignore any standards of writing, by which I mean that I can be as formal or informal as I want, when and where I want. Oh, and if I feel like fixing or changing things, I can do that. I can fix any typo, error, wonky sentence structure, wrong word, or the like, on my own, just like that. Also, I may not end up writing on what I thought I’d be writing on for the next essay, possibly because I got carried away by something else and just forgot about it. I can do that, on my own, because, you know what, these are my essays, not someone else’s essays. I don’t plan to go from one topic to another, just like that, but if it happens, it happens. I can also just delete anything, like that, gone, because that’s how it works and that’s part of the charm of it. There also essays that I’ve worked on but never finished, as I pointed at the beginning of this essay. I may or may not finish them in the future. I might or I might return to them. I might write the whole thing again, unaware of that I’ve already written about it. That can happen. Oh, and it has happened. It’s a bit … how to put it … not only absent minded, but unproductive. Then again, maybe unproductive is not the best word for that. I mean it is as I do try to be productive, no matter what I deal with, as opposed to not contributing anything and, like, just nay-saying, or the like. Then again, it isn’t, because it may come across as me implying that I think that I and, by extension, others must be efficient. Now, don’t me wrong, I do like efficiency. Like I do prefer that, let’s say, a light bulb uses less electricity, as opposed to one that uses more electricity for the same purpose. At the same time I don’t like the idea that everything must be efficient. Like this writing sure isn’t about efficiency. It’s certainly not optimized. I mean I’m currently basically just rambling. The end results, this, what you get to see, in one shape or another, as I do reserve the right to make changes, as I see fit, if I see fit and whenever I see fit, and you just have to live with it, are pretty messy. I can write in other ways, keep it tidy, but this is not it. With this it’s all about creativity. It’s like just doing what I do, without thinking too much about it, because it makes it possible for me to end up where I didn’t think I would end up and to encounter all kinds of things on the way. So, while you may see these essays as an end product, as work, for me it’s about the production, about working on it. Without thinking too much about it, I just write and that’s it, because it’s a pleasure to just write. That way I can work on myself.

So, if you ask me to tell you what the secret sauce to this, to this blog, to these essays is, the only answer is that there is no recipe to it. I just do what I do. I just write what I write. I don’t do what I’m expected to do. I don’t even know what that is. I’m off the rails.

Okay, okay, I acknowledge that others have written about what I write about, yes, and that I agree with them, to this and/or that extent, but I don’t write what I write, the way I write, because I think it will get me somewhere, to be in the good graces of some important people. I’m pretty sure that train already left the station when it comes to me. That’s the price you pay for that. Oh, and I’m pretty sure these essays aren’t doing me any favors in this regard either.

To be clear, I do give credit where credit is due, assuming that I’m aware of others and what they’ve stated before, but that’s about it. I write a lot about the works of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, as well as those of Michel Foucault, to the point I’d say my own thought is Deleuzo-Guattarian and Foucauldian, but I do it my own way. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to read their works. I just did. Why? I honestly can’t give you a definite answer. I’d say out curiosity, to entertain the thought that maybe, just maybe there’s something to them. That’s the best answer I can give you.

I will not be asking for someone’s acceptance to read their works the way I do either. To be honest, sometimes I have no idea what they are saying. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter, really. Oh, and sometimes I get it later on. It just suddenly hits me and I’m like, oh, oh, ooooooh! Now I get it!

But do I really get it? Can I prove it to you that I get it? Well, that’s tricky. Yes and no. I believe that I can often explain it, what’s the deal, the sense of it, and I assume that you get it, but it is really up to you to get it. I can do my best, but I can’t guarantee it. It either comes through or it doesn’t. Maybe it comes through later on, so don’t sweat it. Just take it the way you do. That’s probably a letdown for anyone who wants to know what’s what, for sure, but that’s the thing. It’s not about what something means, but whether it makes sense to you.

I don’t know if this will help, but don’t take it too seriously. Don’t be like oh, I need to consult the panel of experts on Deleuze and Guattari, or Foucault, or whoever it is that whose work you happen to appreciate, in order to be sure that you don’t misunderstand what you’ve read. I prefer to do things on my own. There’s no need for some tribunal that sets the record straight, to make sure this and/or that is interpreted correctly. So, as much as I appreciate books, book chapters and articles on the authors whose work I appreciate, I don’t know what to think of publications dedicated solely to this and/or that author. I understand that if you work with something fairly bizarre, something outside mainstream, it’s very difficult to get published because you are, indeed, not part of the mainstream. At the same time, a part of me thinks that it’s counter-productive to do that, to focus (almost) solely on this and/or that author. Doesn’t it result in an echo chamber? I get it that it lacks the usual hostility, that’s great, but isn’t it a bit like retreating? Isn’t it like being the heretic, having all these objections to the powers that be, only to end up doing what it is that you used to object to? Isn’t heresy only heresy inasmuch it remains a heresy, in opposition to what’s generally accepted as the true belief? If it becomes its own thing, replacing what it opposes, doesn’t it become what it opposed? So, as I like to think, if you are to be true to yourself, as a heretic, mustn’t you remain one, never settling for this and/or that, staying constantly on the move, to prevent yourself from settling down? That’s why I prefer to say that things are the way they are, for now.

That’s also the issue I take with textbooks. To be clear, I’m not against textbooks, as such. A lot of them are good and contain good insights. I think it’s just better to read them as takes on someone else’s takes. They are not the definitive account of something. Far from such. Keep an open mind and you’re good. Don’t feel intimidated by big names, like the ones I keep referring to. They can be difficult to understand, at least initially, yes, there’s that, but don’t feel like you need read someone’s else take of their work to understand them. They can be of use to you, no doubt, but just do your thing. Oh, don’t let others bully you to conform to their views or whatever views happen to be considered correct in some field or discipline. Agree to disagree. See for yourself. Let it happen. Let it work on you. Then build your own take on what you’ve read.

To be clear, I do find it helpful to read what others have to say about others, but I prefer to read the originals without recourse to what someone else thinks about them. I think it would the worst disservice to them, to their works, to their legacy, to turn them into some idols to worship. If you ask me, what matters is what you get out of them and how you make that work for you. For example, I’m indebted to Deleuze and Guattari’s take on landscape, that’s for sure, but it’s far from certain that what I say that they say is what they said, because they aren’t at clear about it all. I’ve had to work my way through a lot of what they’ve written about the topic and then present it to others in some form that I’m, no longer, certain is their take on it, as opposed to my take on their take. Plus, my take on their take is likely influence by reading of a lot of landscape researchers, who, in turn, have their own sources of … inspiration. That’s it! I’m not simply following Deleuze and Guattari, nor Foucault, but rather inspired by them! I think that’s way more fruitful than to argue with people whether you should or shouldn’t explain something like landscape this and/or that way. I also think others will benefit from doing the same. I mean, if you read my Deleuzo-Guattarian take on landscape, feel free to cite it, to be true to it, but, at the same time, if you disagree or feel like you want to modify it, don’t ask my permission to do that.

Anyway, I didn’t want to experience more of what I experienced while working on my doctorate. I’m not saying that it was a pointless endeavor though. It wasn’t all bad. That kind of treatment was just so frustrating and, at times, infuriating that I opted to do something else, to take what I found valuable in that and do something else with it, instead of continue doing what I did. While I’m a bit unhinged, as are most cool people, if you ask me, and willing to do a lot of things others might not be willing to do, not to mention endure, yeah, I’m not a masochist.

Secondly, and, I’d say, way more importantly, I learned a lot during those years as I started dabbling with all kinds of stuff, doing all kinds of trials. At that point, I was pitching my work to journals, just basically waiting to get my work published so that I could get on with my life. Most of the work for my thesis was done in a couple of months with the initial half a year grant money. Putting in all those hours at the start made it all possible. So, if I am to give credit where credit is due, it’s the people who worked at School of Languages and Translation Studies, who, unlike just about everyone else who’ve ever read my research plans, gave me money to get things done, there and then. They must be kicking themselves for that decision, considering how I only made the School like what, eighty to ninety thousand euro, depending on how you calculate it all, taking into account that initial money and the money that I got to brush things up at the end. What a foolish investment! Anyway, I can’t remember how much time I spent on the data, initially, flipping through it all, doing all that annotation, again, and again, to make sure I wasn’t inconsistent, but, what I remember, going through it took me, let’s say, a month, give or take. It was grueling, bordering Augean, with more than eight hours per day spent on that, that’s for sure, but that’s work for you. That was a looooooooot of mouse clicks. That’s for sure. I had all the data already then, in 2015, and all it needed was to be out there. That proved to be the toughest part, which is pretty silly, because it’s not like you want to read, right now, something that was investigated years ago. And I know, it is what it is, but if I could choose, I’d rather not have it be that way. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Anyway, what matters now is that the rest of the time, all those years after that initial stage, was just me just reading, one article after another, one book after another, while waiting to get things done. So, yeah, this means that I now know a lot of stuff, which is way out of my field. It’s so out of my field that I don’t think I even have a field anymore. That’s nomadism or transversality for you. Oh, and it’s way above my paygrade and something tells me that a lot of people don’t appreciate that, because I haven’t asked their permission to do so. I don’t mind that though, because, as they say, haters gonna hate.

Oh, and don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’ve had it tough in life. I haven’t, which is why I’m not fond of complaining. It lacks humility. For example, it is certainly frustrating when you have to rely on others, only for them to mess things up. It makes me feel like I need to do everything because people can’t be trusted to do even the simplest of things. Then again, I know that they have their own issues to deal with and it’s only likely that my issues are very small compared to their issues. I know it won’t do any good for me to blame them, even though it is they who messed up and not me. I’m well aware of how I’m in a pretty privileged position to spend my days wondering about something that doesn’t even matter, really, like whether it’s better to express something like this or like that. In reality, no one cares about such. I don’t want to make a fuss about what others do, even though it may greatly frustrate me, because that could mean that they could lose their jobs or the like, only to replaced by someone who might have also messed things up just like the other person.

To put that in another way, to connect this point to the earlier remark, that haters gonna hate, don’t hate the player, hate the game. It would be tempting to hate the hater, to get rid of that hater, but that doesn’t change anything because hate is part of the game and haters thus hate because the game creates the expectation to hate. This means that you need to turn your attention to the game, which is another way of saying that you need to focus on the system, to what makes people hate in the first place, as opposed to focusing on the haters who may not even have any other option than to play the game. It would also be tempting to congratulate oneself for getting rid of a hater, by, for example, exposing their hatred, let’s say for abusing one’s position, but it’s only likely that the triumph won’t last long as that hater will probably be replaced by another hater, because that’s how the game works. That hater might not be as bad a hater as the previous hater, okay, fair enough, but that new hater is a hater, nonetheless.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I or you should let things slide. I’d say I’m an ardent critic, of just about anything, especially of any powers that be, but you have to think of the big picture. For example, if people mess things up, it is worth considering why that might be the case. Do they fail at something because they can’t be bothered to do it properly or because they are incompetent? Or do they fail at it because they don’t have enough time to spend on it? It is, of course, possible that people don’t care or that they don’t know what they are doing, but I reckon that you still need to take into consideration that they might, for example, get paid so little for what they do that if they dedicate themselves to it any more than they already did, they won’t get more done, which means that they won’t get paid enough to make a living. That’s probably how the game works, so it’s worth taking into consideration.

To give you some concrete examples, think of anything that’s produced in the developing countries. If you buy a cheap product made in China, don’t expect it to have all the bells and whistles, nor to last for years, if not decades. Similarly, if you hire some Indian company to do the software that you need, just because the company is willing to do it super cheap, don’t expect to be super good. Or, if you opt to outsource your customer service to people who get paid very little and are, possibly, even incentivized not to provide any reimbursements, you can’t expect high customer satisfaction. To be clear, I’m not saying that people in China or India, for example, can’t do a good job. No, no. I’m sure they can and I’m sure many do. It’s rather that people, especially in western countries, aren’t willing to pay for quality and then have the nerve to complain that the cheapest thing isn’t up to their standards. It’s like what did you expect, cheap and good? If you are, in essence, trying to rip off someone else and then feel like you’ve been ripped off when it’s no good in your opinion, you’re a hypocrite. It is as they say: play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Okay, high cost does not mean that you’ll get a better product or better service. You might simply be paying for something isn’t that good. A store might be asking for, let’s say, ten euro for something that costs them cents or, a couple of euro. But that’s not what I’m after here. There’s always the possibility that you are duped to pay a lot of money for something cheap. I’d say that’s especially the case with parts that you need to repair things. Why? Well, because it’s in their interest to make people pay them for the work, to repair what’s not working, or have people buy something new instead. So, yeah, something expensive doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t sold something that’s poor quality. But, again, that’s part of the game. Hating the players won’t do you much good, if you keep ignoring the game.

What I’m saying is that you need to think for a moment before you object to something. Is it warranted? What good does it do? To be clear, I think it’s fine to object to something if it is warranted. In fact, I think it’s highly important to voice your concerns, especially when you are objecting to the powers that be, when people appear to be abusing their position, and especially if they are doing their best to prevent you from objecting to it. This is why I think transparency is very important. It’s all about responsibility. If you are in charge, you are the one who should take the fall, instead of the people who simply do your bidding. That’s, of course, rarely the case. It’s typically the grunts who get the blame and who get sacked, for just following orders. But this is exactly why I think it is in your interest to oppose such arrangements.

Oh, and this does not mean that you should be a douche about any of it. Just blaming people for their shortcomings won’t do much good. I think it’s way more productive to think of how whatever isn’t working or was done incorrectly could be fixed, ideally as soon as possible, and then have it fixed. If there’s a problem, why not fix it, right here, right now? That’s what I do when I notice a typo, a missing word or the like with these essays. Boom. Done. Easy.

So, anyway, where was I? Right, I just wanted to do something different. Oh, and I’m already looking forward to doing something else. I’m not already done with current project, no, but that’ll come to an end eventually. I’ve stated this before, on a number of occasions, but I believe in explaining how things work, while also exemplifying how they work, instead of doing same kind of studies one after another. That’s what I mean when I emphasize the importance of education, as opposed to research. If I do that and you understand how I do it, then you can do it too and then I don’t have to do it after that. So, as I’ve pointed out in the past, I think my job is to make myself redundant. That gives me the opportunity to focus on something else, until I make myself redundant again and so on and so forth.

Have I succeeded in making myself redundant? No, I don’t think I have. What I do is difficult, certainly out of the ordinary, which makes it difficult for others to do what I do, the way I do it. Is it impossible? No. It is not. Anyone can do it. Even people without fancy degrees can do it. Getting to understand it is hard work. You have to put in the hours to understand what I understand. There are no shortcuts with that. Then again, I don’t want to do something over and over again, because it is redundant for me. It’s like I’ve already explained this, so why would I want to do it again and again? I’d rather focus on something else, which I haven’t deal with previously. Sure, there’s always some overlap, but that’s not the point here.

For example, I shifted my work from landscape, in general, to nightscape, because it allows me to challenge landscape. I still have some work to do with that, but it won’t be that long until I move on to something, which I already know, but I just won’t tell you. It’s related to landscape, but it’s something that hasn’t been done a million times already. I might do something in between these two, between my current project and what I’ve planned for the future, but we’ll see.

Right, moving on to the other text by the two, now with Kendall being listed first and Wickham being listed following Kendall. So, what I find interesting and relevant here in their book chapter, ‘The Foucaultian framework’, is their own account of their career progression. In summary, they (133-134) comment on how they did the unthinkable and adopted or, rather, adapted a Foucauldian framework at a time when it certainly wasn’t fashionable. They (134-135) mention how they initially struggled with the Marxist orthodoxy, but then gradually had their way, so they could do their own thing. What I find particularly interesting about their (135) account is how having to teach forced them to rethink their own views:

“When we started teaching, of course, we found ourselves, as it were, seemingly drawn into the role of missionaries among the ‘savages of orthodoxy’, trying to attract the students away from the orthodoxy of their texts and, it must be added, most of our colleagues.”

In other words, they were the heretics back then, at least in the eyes of the Marxist orthodoxy, and ended up attempting to convert their students to this heresy. However, it didn’t take long for them to realize that by doing so they were no better than the people they opposed, as they (135) go on to add:

“We were quick to see that a missionary zeal would feed into many of the assumptions of the very orthodoxy to which we were opposed.”

In other words, they were falling into the trap that Billig mentions in his book chapter. They (135) note that they simply thought that the students had to be saved from the academic orthodoxy of their time, without realizing that the students weren’t really part of that game, probably because they were oblivious to it all:

“More than this, we were quick to see that the missionary zeal was misplaced: the assumption that the students were somehow automatically of the orthodox faith, in need of ‘conversion’, was wrong. The students were not wedded to anything at all and were just as happy to learn a Foucaultian approach as they were any other.”

While their experiences are from the 1980s and 1990s and from Australia and the UK, so I can’t comment on how things were here in Finland back then, but based on my own teaching experiences from the late 2010s and early 2020s, I totally agree with them. You gotta let the students decide for themselves. If they like what you do and the way you do it, cool, cool, but if they don’t, well, that’s too bad, that’s too bad for you. Like I couldn’t give a damn about most of linguistics, but if someone, for some reason, that I cannot fathom, like why on earth you’d want to do that, wants to spend their days learning about the intricacies of grammar, it’s their prerogative to do so. While I’ve changed my mind about literature, it’s still not my thing to study it. That said if someone else wants spend their time analyzing some novels, hey, be my guest. I’m in no position to tell my students that if they write papers in my writing class or in my seminar, that they have to do discourse analysis, pragmatics or sociolinguistics, not to mention cite my favorites, let’s say Mikhail Bakhtin and Valentin Vološinov (to stay on linguistics, and because they are pretty darn good, gotta give them that). If they want to do such and to learn about such, they are in luck because I happen to know a lot about such and, conversely, if they want to know more about, let’s say, grammar or literature, I’m most definitely not the best person to consult. I try my best to help them, regardless of what the situation is, and I do try to read stuff that doesn’t necessarily concern me, nor my immediate interests, but might be of interest to my students. I mean, isn’t that my job? Plus, the way I see it, because that’s what’s expected of me, I actually get to learn from them.

If you ask me, as much as I like some of my students, for, you know, being bright, I do not want them to be like me, do what I do, the way I do, in hopes of getting into my good graces. If they want to be like me and do what I do, the way I do, that’s fine. Again, it’s their prerogative. That said, I must leave it up to them. They must find their own way.

Firstly, it would be self-serving to make my students act and think like I do. I think it would be a waste of their potential. The world doesn’t need another me, someone who does what I do, the way I do it, because I already do that. Okay, I don’t mind similarity, but I’d have them do their own thing. To put that in another way, if I were to collaborate with someone, on something, I’d prefer if they know something I don’t know and/or if they can do something I can’t do, at least not in that moment anyway.

Secondly, I’d be no better than the people I oppose if I imposed my will on my students. There’s no shortage of people who do that, so it doesn’t do any good to act like they do. As Friedrich Nietzsche (69) puts it in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, the thing to remember when fighting monsters is that one easily becomes a monster oneself when fighting against monsters. This is the difficulty that comes with heresy. It is so tempting to simply start doing what it is that the people you opposed did. Why? Because letting go of that heresy, turning it to orthodoxy, puts you in a privileged position, as its heresiarch, and those close to you get to share on that privilege. In other words, it’s difficult to avoid becoming a monster because being that monster is a pretty sweet gig. That’s the lesson here, students (I’m kidding, I’m kidding, do as you will).

That’s it, for now. I don’t have anything else to add here. What’s next then? Well, I don’t know. I’ve been reading and making notes, but nothing concrete. I might finish one of those unfinished essays, but we’ll see. I can’t say for sure.

References

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  • Nietzsche, F. ([1886] 2002). Beyond Good and Evil (R-P. Horstmann and J. Norman, Eds., J. Norman, Trans.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
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