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  • The Institutionalization of Author Production and the Performance Imperative as an Ontological Fiction
  • Patricia Mooney Nickel (bio)


On May16, 1967, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn signed his name to an open letter to the Fourth Writers’ Congress in the Soviet Union. The letter—addressed to the Congress, members of the Soviet Writers’ Union, and the editors of literary newspapers and magazines—called for the abolition of all censorship and “defence of Union members subjected to slander and unjust persecution” (Solzhenitsyn 1972a [1967]: 110). Solzhenitsyn typed 250 copies of the letter and, to avoid spreading the risk of being associated with its contents, addressed the envelopes in his own hand (Burg and Feifer 1973). In the letter, Solzhenitsyn challenged the union’s use of “censorious labels” such as “ideologically harmful” and “depraved” (1972a [1967]: 107). In support of his claims, Solzhenitsyn detailed his own experience, listing eight specific instances of the persecution to which he was subjected, including the confiscation and sequestering of his writing with the effect of his work being “smothered, gagged, and slandered” (1972a [1967]: 112). [End Page 53]

More than thirty years later an anonymous political scientist in the United States signed a letter addressed to the editors of PS: Political Science and Politics and American Political Science Review (APSR) with the nom de plume Mr. Perestroika and sent it by e-mail to fewer than twenty recipients.1 At the author’s request—“Please Spread this Letter as widely as Possible”—the nonanonymous recipients forwarded the letter, which proposed that the discipline “ponder over” a series of questions regarding the leadership of the American Political Science Association (APSA), the content of its journals, and the achievement of their popularity/productivity through unsolicited circulation (Perestroika 2005 [2000]: 9). In the letter, the anonymous author implied that the APSA and the publications that it sanctions are elitist and irrelevant. The thesis advanced in the title of the letter—“On the Irrelevance of APSA and APSR!” (subtitled “Let Them Know We Exist”)—is supported through a series of questions about the APSA, including an inquiry as to why its publications and meetings are ignored by political scientists with nonmainstream interests. In conclusion, he rallied, “I hope this anonymous letter leads to a dismantling of the Orwellian system that we have in APSA and that we will see a true Persetroika in the discipline” (Perestroika 2005 [2000]: 11, misspelling in original).

While I do not want to imply a direct parallel between the experience of the author in the Soviet Union in 1967 and the experience of the author in the United States in 2000, considered together these contests between author and institution over the exhibition of culture and politics illustrate the stakes involved in author production and the way that the governance of such production inhibits transformation of the present. This essay explores the intersection of culture, politics, and governing through the lens of the institutionalization of author production. I argue that institutional disciplining of texts (cultural/knowledge products) according to the demands of the ontological productivity (author production of truth) necessary to maintain the productivity of ontology (action based on ontological assumptions) reveals how generative rules of exclusion not only protect the boundaries of legitimate representations (ontological products) but, through the production imperative (reason for social action), also maintain the value of the ontological derivatives upon which the present organization of knowledge depends.

The Institutionalization of Author Production as the Management of Ontological Products

In 1969 Solzhenitsyn, best known for his documentation of the crimes of Stalin as a material reality, was called to a meeting where a quorum of members of the Writers’ Union was to discuss how to rehabilitate the consciousness of its authors. Several members testified that Solzhenitsyn’s production of texts degraded the version of reality valued by the Writers’ Union. In his defense, Solzhenitsyn responded:

You accuse me of blackening reality. Can you tell me according to what theory of knowledge the reflection of an object is more important than the object itself? . . . We have got to the point when what matters is not what we do, but what is said about it. . . . Our basic problem is that of truth.

(Quoted in Grazzini 1973: 14...


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