War is strange


I think I have to give up, reality is just to creative for me to challenge it as an artist. I am still following the visual output of ISIS quite closely and I came across a short add for an ISIS app for children. They are supposed to learn their letters and religious war songs. Please note the ISIS flag on the phone. I must say, I was quite baffled, when I stumbled upon this today.

It was especially strange to look at this short, animated clip, since it was on one of the official looking ISIS feed, that at the moment is full with images from Fallujah and other places of war and death.

War today is strange.

The Lazy Side of Corruption

This now might get somewhat angry…. or maybe frustrated.

I struggle with the fact that higher education in the arts is utterly broken in Germany. At least that what it seems like to me. And at least it seems broken, if it comes to the question of how professor positions are filled.

It might be jealousy on my side, since I really would love to teach at a university level and therefore I do, from time to time, apply to certain positions. But I have to be realistic and realize that my chances are zero.

If you apply at an art school, one of the key qualifications that is asked for is something called experience in teaching. Don’t get me wrong, that would definitely make sense, if there would be open and fair ways to gain this kind of experience. But maybe they do not exist. The easiest way would be, if one of the professor you have been studying with, invites you to teach a course at your old school. Maybe after that, you teach another and so on. There is no need for you to go through a tedious application process and that seems very convenient for the professor as well.

Another way would be, getting invited as a guest professor at a certain institution. If there is a application process at all – most of the time there is not -, that would be on invitation only and might be limited to two or three people. But again, most of the time, just one person is invited and that person is to teach for a limited time.

It is quite strange that public institutions – and that are almost all universities in Germany – seem quite happy with such an internal selection process. In both cases, the selection is made by professors behind closed doors, out of a pool of people they already know. That is what one might call a perfect example of networking. To me it does drift into the murky waters of corruption. Sure, if you already get along with someone, the chance seems quite high, that things work smoothly for you. But that is the exact definition of corruption. If you use your position in your interest, that is it.

This system also creates self-replicating networks, I know for instance of one case, where the child of a professor is now the assistant of a former student of that professor. How do we know, that this person is the best choice for this position? We do not know and I am sure, that no one cared to inquire.

Sure, the universities are not breaking any rules, since most laws allow them to fill positions in precisely this way. I still think this is problematic. These lax laws were meant to make life for university staff easier, but the system is broken. Take for instance my alma mater in Berlin. If I trust the information on their website, there are times, when close to fifty percent of the professor positions are filled with guest professors. And I am not even counting the assistant positions, which fall in the same intransparent category. Everything is filled from within the network of knowing-each-other.

I think it becomes a massive problem, once “teaching experience” is a requirement for any chances in an application process for a real professorship. I have to compete with a closed and intransparent network – and I can’t. The system requires a skill, which only members of the system receive. I do not see a conspiracy theory at work here, rather it is a classic example of laziness. But still this causes me quite some troubles.

Yes, yes, it is much easier to just choose someone you know over spending a lot of time looking for someone you do not know already. That is the path of least resistance and this path is a friendly looking, once you are operating on the inside.

A couple weeks ago, I ran into a student at this university and since I did study there before, of course we ended up talking about the way things are going. He mentioned the fact, that some students are currently fighting to keep one of the guest professors as a real professor at the school. Fuck it, the path of least resistance looks so easy. Even these students seem to follow it. The guy they want to become a professor has never applied for his current position and in a way, I was never able to compete against him, no matter how skilled I might be. And now the students want to deny me another opportunity to prove my skills. In some moments that makes me sad, in others I can get quite angry. Currently I feel resignation.

We should stop using quotes

I mentioned this before, but I find quotes a strange thing.

Yesterday I visited a conference/lecture series at a fancy place in Berlin – or at least I tried to do that. I just survived two lectures and then I had to leave. Maybe the nice weather played part in my decision to go somewhere else, but to be honest, it was more the academic style of the two lectures that drove me away. Especially one of the two talks was just a collection of quotes and it remains unclear to me, whether there was actually a unique idea hiding somewhere in this talk or not.

“He said this, and he said this, then she said this” … what is the point of a talk like this? Of course, in academia, people are supposed to quote in the right way and using as many names as possible during your talk, you might be seen as someone who knows the texts you are supposed to know. Not only do you prove your literacy, but maybe you can show off your great ability in memorizing.

Besides that, what’s the point? Very often, while talking to friends and colleagues, the term academia or academic is used in a negative way, describing the thing I am trying to talk about above. Many academics seem to see their role in being hard to understand to appear prolific. The problem seems to be that philosophy and other genres of cultural science are inherently open to everyone. Everyone could ask questions about the things philosophy or sociology are talking about. And everyone might be able to find answers. Maybe not everyone finds good answers, but who could be the judge if one answer to an abstract question is “better” than the other.

So the answer to the problem of openness of the field seems to be to make it artificially more difficult to participate. That might be called professionalization. Art seems to do the same thing. Since, in theory, everyone could produce art, the response is, to make the field less accessible and make references more crucial for your role as an artist. Even art in high-school does the same thing. You want to talk about art? Well you better know you Picasso, Cezanne, or Beuys, or you are not qualified to participate in the debate. Of course this is the problem on a very basic level. Once you enter academia, your “Picassos, Cezannes and Beuyses” are different and definitely more complex.

Along with this come certain texts you are supposed to know, certain thinkers you need to admire – or hate – and certain quotes you need to know by heart. IF you want to participate in the debate. Very often in such debates the actual content seems not to be that important.

This now might sound cheesy, but I do believe that most ideas could be explained in an easily understandable way. Not too complex and not too boring. Maybe one two paragraphs should be enough. But sure, if you are judged by the size of books you publish, or you are paid by the number of words you write… then it might be another story. I am not calling for a tabloid newspaper style of writing and actual events might be very complex and thus require extensive analysis. I am talking about text that take hundreds of almost indecipherable pages to explain one simple idea the author happened to come along.

But the problem I see is multi-layered. Why is it, that someone who wishes to be worthy of participating in philosophical conversations is supposed to know much about the history of philosophy? One might argue that you should know where ideas come from, or who came up with a certain concept first. I think this is bullshit. Just because an idea or concept has a name attached to it, it is not important who thought about what first. All that is to it is that this is some kind of eternal branding – once a philosopher has uttered a word and someone wrote it down, it seems as if there is now a weird copyright to a thought – a copyright that never expires. That is wrong on many levels.

This is connected to the issue I am having with quotes. Why do ideas need to be branded? Why is there no need to quote everything? Like:

“Wipe your ass till the paper is clean, or your butt hurts.”
Mom ca. 1981

Only the “important” ideas need to be properly addressed? I don’t like that. If a concept is good, there is no reason why just one person should come up with it. Plus, everything I know, every thought I have every concept that guides me through live is to at least 99.99% a composite of things I have experienced through other people. And the same was true for folks like Immanuel Kant or Karl Marx.

The Internet, our possibility of a constant access to all human knowledge, just makes things here more and more difficult. With the help of Google, every idea could easily be identified as plagiarism. Even the sentence with the ass wiping (without the quotation marks) results in something like half a million results – so it seems possible that my mum was plagiarizing the concept of butt wiping.

I’d say, let’s try to engage in conversations about interesting things, not giving a shit, where certain ideas might have come from – once they fit into your argument or your view on the world, they have already become entirely yours. I know it is hard, I myself have been conditioned by academia to follow the weird rules and hunt for mis-attributed quotes others use.