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Bookmarks FAKING YOUR WAY TO TENURE Robert Hughes's Culture ofComplaint: The Fraying ofAmerica (Oxford University Press/New York Public Library, $19.95) is a splendid book. It wUl make its author myriad enemies—the pious ideologues of the political right, the thought-police ofthe puritanical left, those who view education as really a form of personal therapy and art as a means of politics, both know-nothing, prejudiced multiculturalists and blinkered Eurocentrists (if there are any left; we stUl have a few in New Zealand)—along with whiners, complainers and, especially , levellers of every stripe. In other words, a significant percentage of the mediocre minds who inhabit and fumble about the controls of the educational and cultural bureaucracies of modern life. The Culture of Complaint Hughes has in mind is the contemporary glorification of victims and therapies. Where the fifteenth century was eager for saints and the nineteenth century looked for heros, today we subscribe to the cult of the victim. As Hughes put it, "to be vulnerable is to be invincible," and every month brings new trends in victimhood: "Complaint gives you power— even when it's only the power of emotional bribery, of creating previously unnoticed levels of social guilt." Victimhood takes many forms, for example, the failed artist whose plight surely results from being (check one or more) black/woman/gay/third-world/ indigenous person/HIV-positive/etc. Hughes notes its corrosive effects on feminism , which used to gain adherents by promoting the positive image of the autonomous, active, responsible, achieving woman, but which now in some of its guises has given this up in favor of "woman as helpless victim of male oppression—treat her as an equal before the law, and you are compounding her victimization." The most recent fashion demands that responsibüity for aU our inadequacies and unhappiness be placed on our parents: "whatever our folly, venality, or outright thuggishness, we are not to be blamed for it." The search for the abused Inner ChUd, Hughes says, comes just at the time when Philosophy and Literature, © 1993, 17: 402-409 Bookmarks403 it might be more helpful for us to figure out where the Inner Adult has gone off to. Hughes steers a liberal middle course between ideologues of the right and left. He heaps contempt on right-wingers—who want to get state control "out of the board room and into the cervix" and on the litde martinets of the left, including feminism's "large repressive fringe, self-caricaturing and often abysmally trivial, like the academic thought-police who recendy managed to get a reproduction ofGoya's Naked Maja removed from a classroom at the University of Pennsylvania." The impulse whichjoins these two extremes is their repressive puritanism, their demand for conformity and intolerance of independent thought. The war between education and television, he says, has been won—by television . In addition to TV's baleful effects, the 1960s hostility to elitism has given us an education system with "an enormous and cynical tolerance of student ignorance, rationalized as regard for 'personal expression' and 'self-esteem.' " Thus we have a generation ofstudents "untrained in logical analysis, ill-equipped to develop and construct formal arguments about issues." They don't know how to mine a text for information, and when called upon the only position they can take is "what theyfelt about things." With all topics thus subjectivized, and each new generation of students going through the teachers' colleges to instruct the next generation, we have, as Hughes puts it, "the entropie background of our culture of complaint." Hughes's regard to the absurdities of political correctness and the more excessive multicultural demands in education have received most of the attention in press reviews of Culture ofCompfaint. But the book also has a few passages addressed direcdy to the scholarly climate of universities. Hughes, a college dropout who had the undeniable advantage of a demandingJesuit high school education in Sydney in the 1950s, sees straight through the simple-minded conformity of university academics who would be cultural or intellectual critics. First, there is this nastylitde problem ofwriting ability: "With certain outstanding exceptions like Edward Said, Simon Schama or Robert Darnton, relatively few people...


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pp. 402-409
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