(ACADEMIC) DIVA IN TOWN: ABOUT NOT PAYING HOMAGE

SHE is in town, the one who made all that possibly with the publication of that book back 20 years ago, invited once more to illuminate us (at great expense, with public money). I saw her years ago, one among a crowd of adoring admirers and I liked her very much because she deflated her hyperbolic introduction by claiming she had no idea who that ‘other’ woman, the one the presenter had described, was. Last time, when she was here talking about matters totally unrelated to that book, I didn’t attend, finding the announced lecture little enticing, too dependent on her fame. This time, I haven’t really paid attention to the seminar she’s teaching and, from anecdotes I’ve been told, I feel even less inclined to pay homage.

This is what we do, right?, pay homage –“rendir pleitesía” as we say in Spanish. I’m not so snobbish, or such a bad case of green envy, as to think that visiting scholars do not provide us with valuable occasions to fertilize our local wasteland. Yet, the higher the reputation, the less willingness I see to seriously engage with local scholars and students, which is what the visit should be about. I don’t know how or why but we, relative ignoramus, have created a circuit of academic divas (and divos, does the word exist in English?) that, somehow, takes us for granted here in the academic Third World. I wonder if they ever truly realise where they are in their travels around the world. Of course, notice that these travels tend to begin in the USA, occasionally in France, Britain or Germany, and that hardly ever lead to reciprocal invitations. Actually, how could they? We don’t have luminaries here –they all moved long ago to the States or dream of leaving the wasteland behind.

Of course, this is our fault, for admiration totally precludes real intellectual work. I see too much of that. Groupie admiration leads nowhere intellectually, though it might supply you with the odd orgasm (of the mind, I mean…). I’m all for debate, which only happens when people occupy similar positions, when the diva/o understands that now and then it’s quite healthy to stop acting as one, slum down and connect.

We should write papers, perhaps a PhD dissertation, about academic stardom in the same way we write about other kinds of stars, and place this diva alongside Madonna or Marylin Monroe. Maybe this way we’d discover how these mighty brains produce: on rich campuses, under the initial mentorship of well-connected names, networking with others like them, not having to carry out dirty admin work or teach undergrads. Do I sound bitter, maybe uglily jaundiced? Well, of course I do. In academia we are all aspiring divas and divos –don’t we all crave for admiration? Yet, above all, I am tired of not seeing Spanish names in international bibliographies and of the fact that so few nations produce ‘invitable’ guest speakers. Why don’t they have divas this big in Roumania? In Tanzania? In Colombia? How come the list of big names is so small in this big world?

Or, rather, how come some names are so big in this small world of ours that none cares for outside? Say Bauman, say Spivak in the streets and see what happens. Say Lady Gaga in class… Oh, no, she’s from that country. Say Shakira, then, and see who’s the real diva, whether you like her or not, and why some fields of knowledge should have none or just very modest ones.

As for myself, instead of attending her seminar I’ll attend that other seminar and see what my younger colleagues have to say.

2 thoughts on “(ACADEMIC) DIVA IN TOWN: ABOUT NOT PAYING HOMAGE

  1. Nice to see you keep on blogging with unfailing energy and interest, Sara! Who knows, you may become a diva of the academic blogosphere : ) Couldn’t you drop a couple of clues as to who the diva was, if not the actual name? Well, as to the academic jet-set it’s a way of life you must be an extremely active and sociable person if you are to enjoy it – and most academics are not – but in general I also find that the jet-set are also useful nodes of information, it seems to flow their way or they seem to be able to use it in a relevant way. I find that usually one does better to go and listen the keynote lecture than the modest colleague next door, though there are exceptions everywhere.

  2. No ambition to become a diva one way or another… Keeping my sanity is enough. Yes, I know, plenary speakers, star guests, mauy illuminate us and I have some great memories of having listened to some big names. What surprises me is the disproportionate amount of attention some big names get, disproportionate in terms of the real world out there. Thanks for the comment!

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