PHL289: THE PHILOSOPHY OF ADJUNCTING
Instructor: Kevin Temple
Office hours: By text message
There is no such thing as the Philosophy of Adjuncting; but rest assured, this course is authentic, for I am being deliriously underpaid to teach it. As the “instructor of record,” I have made the syllabus distinctly my own because that tiny gasp of freedom is to tenure what adjunct pay is to an actual salary. What have I put on it? Nothing of use. It is self-defeating, for that is what a philosophy of adjuncting must be.
- THE STRUCTURAL PROBLEM
Week 1: Marx on alienation
My adjunct friend says, “The irony of adjuncting is being alienated labor while teaching future alienated laborers about Alienated Labor.” Read the Alienated Labor section of Marx’s “Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts.” Alienation happens in a bunch of ways; for example, when instead of doing something great on your own terms, an arbitrarily powerful person forces you to do it his way. He ruins what you do by breaking it down into a series of distinct tasks, automating whatever can be automated, measuring how long each remaining task takes, and then paying you as little as possible per task. That’s how administrators created adjuncting. It’s almost like they’ve read Marx.
Week 2: Adorno saw it coming
We discuss the “culture industry.” Universities as a whole have what Adorno called a “culture monopoly.” As such, he says, “They cannot afford to neglect their appeasement of the real holders of power if their sphere of activity in mass society … is not to undergo a series of purges.” Well, guess what? The purges happened anyway. This is why we commute.
- THE PERSONAL PROBLEM
Week 3: Aristotle’s psychology
In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses akrasia (weakness of the will) as a problem of poorly developed virtues. But, he says, if you want to know why people suffer from akrasia, look to their socio-political circumstances. They are products of their social condition. Does this also explain the weakness of the adjunct’s will, whose reason tells her to quit and yet she does not? What is there in the social milieu of an adjunct that propagates this weakness? Anyway, don’t blame the victim (me).
Week 4: Augustine converts
How do we overcome weakness of the will? The big moment comes in Confessions, Bk. VIII. Here we study the structure and mechanism of conversion that allows Augustine to finally embrace Christianity. Like an adjunct, Augustine is wracked with despair, knowing fully that he must leave behind his self-destructive way of life but being unable to break the habit. Only after witnessing an acquaintance convert (for us, quit adjuncting) through a moment of self-transcendence does he find the guts to leave his old ways behind. Only, for Augustine, it was wanton Manichean sex he had to quit. You’d think it would be easier for adjuncts. Why is it not?
III. THE COSMIC PROBLEM
Week 5: Schelling gets evil
In Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, evil is the force that undermines and disrupts the system of all existence. And yet, it is the same power of disruption that gives rise to and constitutes the system that strives to know itself in the first place. The tension between disruption and creation is life. Does the necessity of evil mean that the destructive corporate administration of universities cannot be overcome? Is the inhumanity of traipsing from one campus to the next to teach unorthodox theodicies for less money than we can make begging an ineluctable thread in the fabric of existence?
Week 6: Nietzsche and the university as tragedy
Or perhaps it is better to see the administrators as the power of imposed order. Then we adjuncts can play the destabilizing force. Nietzsche pits Apollonian, orderly structure against the Dionysian music of disruption in his Birth of Tragedy. In the perfect work of art—the Attic tragedy—these two forces are combined. Today, the university is the tragedy, and the students are the Greeks who witness the sublime coincidence of the semblance of rational order and its shattering by barbaric desires. In that case, we adjuncts have to play our part. We must stoke the titanic ecstasy of our students to resist administrative order and redeem the world! But the pay still sucks.
Week 7: Plato’s fever pitch
What makes a just university? We follow Socrates in Plato’s Republic as he tracks the birth of a simple city with a basic division of labor and no luxury. We watch as it becomes the feverish city, dripping in luxury and requiring constant military protection. Modern universities are like the ancient polis. The feverish city is like a university overrun by corporate administrators. They must be brought under control of the philosopher-guardians. The only way to do this, Socrates argues, is if we adjuncts take away the administrators’ children at birth and raise them ourselves.
Week 8: Galileo’s gift o’ gab
Forget about the Copernican system. Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems models the rhetorical genius we now need. In the dialogue, Simplicio (an authority on the Catholic reading of Aristotle) cannot grasp the idea that the earth goes around the sun. Salviati patiently but relentlessly presents empirical evidence and well-reasoned argument to show that it does. Is convincing university administrators to make more tenure stream hires (or at least pay adjuncts a living wage) not exactly like convincing a seventeenth-century Catholic authority that the earth goes around the sun? Galileo’s Dialogue is the playbook. All we need is patience and an Italian villa.
Week 9: Fanon by analogy
Adjuncts do not suffer anything like colonial violence, but is there not a structural analogy between the Wretched of the Earth and the wretched of the university? Are neo-liberal administrators not colonizing higher education? This helps explain the paucity of help adjuncts receive from tenured faculty. For the tenured professor is like the urban proletariat of a colonized country: they are anti-colonial but do not rise up because they have everything to lose. The adjuncts, in this analogy, are not the proletariat, but rather the country peasants with everything to gain. We rural masses are naturally rebellious and prepared for insurrection. The power of the adjunct lies in her independence from the neo-liberal ideology. She is ready to act.
Week 10: Arendt on living the active life
What does it mean to act? Arendt launches The Human Condition by distinguishing the contemplative life that aims at eternal thoughts from the active life of striving to achieve immortality through one’s deeds. Is this why adjuncts are so screwed? Did we choose the vita contemplativa because we did not want to act in the world, subsuming all our action under in our eternal thoughts? Maybe it’s time to reverse the subsumption. Even an adjunct can live forever.
For the last five weeks of the course, class will not meet. Instead, students are required to spend, for each week, eight hours travelling between home and various college campuses. You must write the term paper during these hours while loitering in fast-food chains and uncomfortable public spaces. Bonus points if you can figure out how to connect to the various on- and off-campus wireless networks you encounter. Please email me your grade if/when you do.