The Careerist Security of Noblesse Oblige

A response to Mel Gregg’s response to my comments on her blog. The below numbered comments are drawing on some ideas being developed for the Autouni event where I will hopefully be a giving a paper (of some description, the exact nature of which is yet to be determined) with Sandy. Hopefully the below does not come across as too pretentious. It is deliberately written as a provocative and unfinished manifesto.

The substance of my response is based around an interrogation of the below quote from Pierre Bourdieu posted by Mel on her blog, in relation to her comments about her future (‘defer gratification’), and the “Poverty of Student Life” document forwarded to me from Sandy. The PoSL document apparently served as something of a catalyst for the events of May ’68. I suggest that its focus on the society of the spectacle and other related engagements with the ‘then-contemporary’ society (such as the critique of desire by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus) needs a thorough going over for the post-Fordist, post-9/11 era.

“The career is merely the time of waiting for the essence to be fulfilled. […]This all contributes to a world without surprises; and helps to exclude the individuals capable of introducing other values, other interests, other criteria in relation to which the old ones would be devalued, disqualified. Noblesse oblige: it establishes simultaneously the right of succession and the duties of the successor; it inspires aspirations and assigns them limits; it offers the young an insurance which, being of the same order as the assurances offered, implies patience, recognition of the distance and therefore the security of the elders. Indeed it is possible to get the assistant lecturers to resign themselves to have nothing for so long and to such an advanced age, to hold merely subordinate positions in a hierarchy where the intermediate degrees (which moreover are few enough) are defined only negatively through lack of certain attributes attached to higher positions, only because they are guaranteed eventually to have it all, and all at once, to pass without transition from the incompleteness of the assistant lectureship to the plenitude of the professorship, and, by the same token, from the class of impoverished heirs to that of legitimate title-holders.” Pierre Bourdieu, Homo Academicus

1) The career is a segment of subsumption or durational relation within the total society of the spectacle: a willful acceptance of a given field’s social correlates not for the sake of ‘having it all’ as Bourdieu would have it, but for the sake of the guarantee. The determined posturing of a careerist’s determinations is a microcosm for the subterranean plight of entire populations. [Here the figure of the ‘student’ may be a useful site of experimentation — a tool and nothing more — but more on this later.]

2) Why do so many people wilfully enter into the ‘university factory’ to become part of the ‘new’ technocratic regime of ‘specialists’? The key point here is that in the 1960s it seemed the most logical critique centred around a mass seduction of entire populations so they were spectators within the society of spectacle, ala ‘desire’ entering into and overdetermining circuits of exchange.

3) There is a security to subsumption in an era of rising debt levels, the ‘mortgage belt’ and neo-liberal economics producing precarious workplaces. Such material socio-economic insecurities have been skillfully rearticulated by the ruling classes as the threat of terrorism. Def: Security is the superposition of one moment upon the next in a serial form for the sake of a calculated futurity (expectation). Security = expectation. Once security has been attained, then it is sensible to discuss subsumption of these relatively secure populations by the spectacle.

4) Resistance does not come from a denouncement of the society of the spectacle from those who are happily secure in careers, that is, within positions where the ontological relation to the future is one of superposition and, hence, expectation. Only those with a taste of enforced precarity – some youth, the poor, some women, some ethnicities – can know what it is to live a life that labours towards failing the expectation of failure; there is no surprise.

5) We must move beyond the figure of resistance as being that of refusal. The epitome of which is the punk whose sloganeering reflects a refusal of the banal security (futurity) implicit within the society of the spectacle. “No Future.”

6) ‘Refusal’ is often captured by the machinery of capital as the standing reserve of [consumer choice -> expected satisfaction -> consumption -> exchange].

7) Instead resistance is exactly the creation of alternative modes of security. Remember, State-based security within late capitalism is a relation of futurity; a futurity where the ‘essence’ of the society of the spectacle is realized in every life and serialized in everyday life; every life reproduces the society of the spectacle as a trajectory where one moment is ‘leadingly’ superimposed upon the next.

8) The production of alternative modes of security is a radical act prompted by the collapse of the social welfare state. The accelerated introduction of neo-liberal economic policies that strip workers of security is the greatest act of damnable self-hatred that capitalists have ever launched upon themselves.

9) The production of alternative modes of security is the conservative’s worst nightmare. Once alternative modes of security are produced why is there any need to rely on State or charity based security? What is it that these governmentalities actually do for you?

10) What makes students very interesting in all this, as the “Poverty of Student Life” article states, “The student’s old-fashioned poverty, however, does put him at a potential advantage–if only he could see it. He does have marginal freedoms, a small area of liberty which as yet escapes the totalitarian control of the spectacle. His flexible working-hours permit him adventure and experiment.”

11) The freedom from totalitarian control of the spectacle may allow a small area of liberty. The liberty is exactly neo-liberal insecurity. It is this ‘liberty’ that must be capitalised upon, especially postgraduate students who are on a scholarship and have a little more freedom than those not on a scholarship. (In terms of security, and at the most basic level, for the poverty of the university student this often means finding a place to live. At more complex levels this means employment networks, social networks, and so on)

12) The first sign that one may be ready to join such alternative modes of security may be a contempt, or, at the minimum, a dissatisfaction with the society of the spectacle. The second sign is a contempt for the relevant ‘expectations’ by which one becomes subsumed and incorporated into the circuits of desire/exchange.

13) The move beyond such tropisms requires a yearning; an opening to the future through a double acceptance of the present. Such yearning is a manifestation of a pure revolutionary spirit.

3 replies on “The Careerist Security of Noblesse Oblige”

  1. hi Glenn,

    I think I’m more of a relativist than Angela when it comes to names (I think that’s part of her and Thiago’s fights about democracy).

    I may be more of relativist about names than you are too, though, as you say in your piece that refusal is also exhausted. Presumably the type of security we want – I definitely want something similar to what you want as I work in similar circumstances – could well be called ‘refusal’ depending on how one cashes out that term. At a minimum it’s a refusal to live in the conditions that our bosses are happy to be in, actions to demand, create, and defend that kind of security might well entail certain direct refusals of work.

    When you talk about configuring sustainable ways of life that are worth living and their being able to cope with novelties, it strikes me that such modes of life might already exist in embryo now (if they don’t in some miminal or potential sense then they can’t), and also that the instantiation of such ways of life would precisely be a form of novelty in a sense, one in conflict with aspects of the rest of the world.
    take care,

Comments are closed.