Is the Higher Education Turboencabulator Fixable?

Is the Higher Education Turboencabulator Fixable? November 13, 2015

What do you do about all them academic circles not getting along, staying in their boxes? (Kandinsky, Color Study – Squares with Concentric Circles detail, 1913; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-AuthorDeath-70) .
What do you do about all them academic circles not getting along, staying in their boxes? (Kandinsky, Color Study – Squares with Concentric Circles detail, 1913; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-AuthorDeath-70) .

Higher education is broken. Nobody knows this better than people within humanities departments. This is always lost on those bent on scapegoating the fiction of Cultural Marxism, or some other phantom.

It’s something I spoke about with my friend Dorothy Cummings McLean in a piece she did for the Catholic World Report:

The funny thing is that theology departments are discovering gender theory as the next big thing just as humanities departments are trying to jettison them. The factions created by politics of identity have made academic departments almost ungovernable.

In other words, conservative and liberal higher education groups constantly bicker among each other competing for ultimate victim status. What’s worse, they bicker within their own groups just as frequently. The result for academic research is the proliferation of ever more specialized knowledge, fragmentation that is unintelligible to outsiders, irrelevant to everyday life. The discourse of identity politics is as turgid as the prose in the perennial science-jargon-joke (around since 1944), the Turboencabulator:

The original machine had a base-plate of prefabulated amulite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two spurving bearings were in a direct line with the pentametric fan. The main winding was of the normal lotus-o-delta type placed in panendermic semi-boloid slots in the stator, every seventh conductor being connected by a nonreversible trem’e pipe to the differential girdlespring on the ‘up’ end of the grammeters.

Judith Butler is an excellent example of turboencabulator language, but it’s not like she’s the only offender. See, for example, the language of the blurb for the theology book Cloud of the Impossible (I hope my friends in Oregon will forgive me for this):

The experience of the impossible churns up in our epoch whenever a collective dream turns to trauma: politically, sexually, economically, and with a certain ultimacy, ecologically. Out of an ancient theological lineage, the figure of the cloud comes to convey possibility in the face of the impossible. An old mystical nonknowing of God now hosts a current knowledge of uncertainty, of indeterminate and interdependent outcomes, possibly catastrophic. Yet the connectivity and collectivity of social movements, of the fragile, unlikely webs of an alternative notion of existence, keep materializing–a haunting hope, densely entangled, suggesting a more convivial, relational world.

Encabulator cloud is more like it.

However, things are not entirely hopeless. There is a systematic thinker who can help higher education become truly interdisciplinary rather than ever more turboencabulatory.

Jean-Pierre Dupuy makes the case for organizing higher education around this thinker’s work in The Mark of the Sacred:

Only a madman or a crackpot, disregarding all the conventions of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, could make the following outrageous claims today: That the history of humanity, considered in its entirety, and in spite – or rather because – of its sound and fury, has a meaning. That this meaning is accessible to us, and although a science of mankind now exists, it is not mankind that has made it. [And] that this science was given to mankind by divine revelation. That the truth of mankind is religious in nature . . . That madman is Rene Girard.

If you don’t believe Dupuy, see just how many disciplines Girard’s theories have already transformed and unified. Girard is a great systematic reconciler like Church Fathers Aquinas and Augustine.

Higher education can ignore Girard, but then it will be stuck with endless repetitions of the turboencabulator:


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