In his preface to Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, Foucault suggests that one of its lessons is "not [to] become enamored of power" (xvi) (if you wish to master "the art of living counter to all forms of fascism" (xv)). But he also says that we should "not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant" (xv). I generally interpret all this to mean that our resistance to power must not be undermined by "ressentiment". Do not, we might say, be resentful of power either.
Where academic writing is concerned, our resentment is often directed at the power of editors and publishers. Last week, Thomas Presskorn drew my attention to a very instructive statement of this attitude towards academic writing by Levi Bryant, who is known for his work on Deleuze. As I said in my comments to his post, it would be difficult for me to disagree more completely with his approach than I do, and part of my disagreement stems from having been there myself. I know, I dare say, exactly how he feels. After a long struggle with similar "tics and phobias", I have a more joyful (less sad) attitude towards the academic discourse, "even though the thing one is fighting is abominable," as Foucault puts it (ibid.). I have learned, I think, that my resentment of the power of discourse lay in something closer to my being enamored with it than I had hoped. It lay in something like envy, which is also, of course, a crucial component of Nietzschean "ressentiment" (standard Kierkegaard translations render "envy" simply as "ressentiment").
The first thing I should point out is that there is a less than constructive, and ultimately sort of false, humility in Levi's post. He begins as follows:
I ordinarily don’t like to give advice on writing as I don’t believe I’ve attained the status as a philosopher, academic, or writer to speak with authority on these sorts of issues. I often think of myself as a sort of rogue, scoundrel, or hobo that wanders about at the margins of the academy without having really established myself in any way. In other words, I have a pretty low opinion of my work.
That this humble "hobo" is constructing this position out of his ressentiment can be seen in his response to my criticism, where he (quite rightly, I should add), points out that his work (and therefore his reflections on how he produced it) is worthy of some respect:
Perhaps you are unfamiliar with my own scholarly work. As someone who has done fairly well recognized scholarship– I’d direct you to my book on Deleuze –I’m not exactly speaking out of the blue, nor am I some young, idealistic upstart as you patronizingly suggest.
Moreover, on the Q&A on his faculty page, where we also learn that he is a perfectly respectable professor of philosophy, he tells us that, "I have wanted to be a professor since I was roughly 15 years old, so I haven't really considered other possibilities." It is not at all surprising that such a person would describe himself as a "rogue, scoundrel, or hobo", but it is, I would argue, also a pretty typical symptom of academic ressentiment.
That Levi sees his writing as an extension of the art of "non-fascist living" can be seen in his disparagement of journal articles and conference papers:
In my core I am profoundly anti-authoritarian, suspicious of any groups, and resistant to any demands. [...] When it comes to writing I struggle to complete articles and conference presentations. Rather, I experience blog posts and email discussions as far more valuable and rewarding. [...] What is an article but a line on the CV that falls into oblivion, killing more trees along the way, never to be heard from again. What the hell are we doing in writing articles?
As I never tire of explaining, an article is not just a line on a CV. It is, when it is done well, a contribution to an ongoing conversation among knowledgeable peers. It is not simply a genuflection to disciplinary authority, a falling in line, saying the same old thing, although it obviously can be all of those things. But so can any other form of writing (Levi valorizes blog posts over academic texts). The academic, "professional" literature is not just a "demand" that we write, it is an opportunity to engage with with what is known on a subject.
I'm out of time this morning. I'll take up Levi's very important treatment of originality on Wednesday. Needless to say, I worry that all this looks like an attack on Levi, and in a sense it is, but it occurs to me that when Levi suggests "setting these weird little ticks aside", he is granting half my argument. He's giving me a finger and I'm taking the whole arm. I am making explicit what he has perhaps already implicitly said. By way of apology for this, then, let me repeat that I'm after my own sad self here, not Levi's.