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  • On Being and Becoming Affiliated
  • Jeffrey R. Di Leo (bio)

In The World, the Text and the Critic (1983), Edward W. Said introduced a theory of affiliation which has played a significant role in much of the subsequent work on affiliation. In this seminal study, Said spoke of “the increasing dependence of the modern scholar upon the small, specialized guild of people in his or her field (as indeed the very idea of a field itself)” (20) as one of the signs of the increasing role of affiliative relationships in modern scholarship. Said identified “affiliation” as a “kind of compensatory order that, whether it is a party, an institution, a culture, a set of beliefs, or even a world-vision, provides men and women with a new form of relationship” (19). Whether affiliation is indeed a “new form of relationship” and whether it follows from “a failed idea or possibility of filiation” (19) is less important for current work on affiliation than Said’s proposal that “affiliation can easily become a system of thought no less orthodox and dominant than culture itself” (20). Following a line of thought related to Said’s, many of the articles in this issue of symploke illustrate how disciplines can be viewed as affiliative systems. If nothing else, to examine the effects of affiliation on the academy is to uncover systems of knowledge and value often overlooked in our profession.

With the exception of some fine theoretical work such as Said’s, affiliation has not met with a high degree of academic speculation. This is particularly evident with regard to the significance of affiliation in contemporary professional and intellectual life. Nevertheless, there has been growing interest in the examination of the academy as a political and economic system. Discussions of the job crisis, the identity of our disciplines, and our scholarly and educational standards are ongoing. It is my belief that we are always [End Page 49] already implicated in logics of affiliation by our participation in academic communities, and that we must regard questions of affiliation if we are to make progress in improving political and economic conditions within the academy.

Academic culture operates as an affiliative system, yet the importance of affiliation remains largely unscrutinized. How many of us have taken the time to identify our affiliations and to understand their influence on our performance as academics? Who has thought about how membership in particular social, political and professional communities such as the MLA shape our identities as intellectuals? How does our affiliation with particular critical theories or schools of criticism affect our teaching and writing practices? How are the values that we associate with good scholarship connected with our affiliations? Even if these questions have crossed our minds, few of us feel the need to pursue them with rigor unless we are directly affected by them. In this regard, my own experience with thinking through how systems of affiliation have affected my academic self-identity is not much different than most: I simply did not consider such matters until I identified them as being problematic in my career.

On Becoming Affiliated

My first major encounter with systems of affiliational thought was when I notified members of the philosophy department where I was a Ph.D. student that I intended to pursue doctoral studies in both philosophy and comparative literature. A number of the more honest philosophy faculty advised me not to “dilute” my philosophy degree by becoming affiliated with a “soft” subject like comparative literature. One professor even told me that “Reading novels or watching movies might be a good way to relax, but it is not serious intellectual labor.” The dominance of this line of thought among professional philosophers in America will be familiar to those affiliated with philosophy in America, and those who break with this stance are more the exception than the rule.

At the time, I understood and expected reservations like these from some of the philosophers, particularly the analytic philosophers who where quite outspoken in their animadversion to literary studies and other forms of “non-rigorous” thinking. Many American philosophers shared Richard Rorty’s opinion that

One will not be encouraged to go to a prestigious American...

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pp. 49-63
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