Sobriquet 71.3

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Douglas Texter's "Institutional Crisis: State and Scholar in Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game and Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz," despite the essay's title and its ostensible foci, adds relatively little to the critical discussions surrounding either novel. This is not to say that Texter's essay is not worth reading -- it most certainly is -- but it is much less about critically exploring The Glass Bead Game and A Canticle for Leibowitz than it is about charting "the relationship between political power and academic knowledge" (123). Curiously, for an essay claiming to "develop the argument of . . . William Spanos, who has noted that post-secondary institutions of education tend to erase their own historical and political roots," Texter's "Institutional Crisis" barely mentions -- and does not cite even once -- the postmodernist critic upon whose work the author claims his own study is built (123). Rather, Texter's essay seems considerably more indebted to Lewis Mumford than to any other theorist, though the general thrust of the essay -- that is to say, the critic's contention that the academy has always served state interests -- is consistent with Spanos's thinking.

Texter's reading of A Canticle for Leibowitz largely serves to illustrate his observations that "Big Science can only exist when the state, despite its protestations to the contrary, engages in inherently authoritarian projects" and that academics work in "collusion with authoritarian rulers," thereby absolving themselves of the moral obligations accompanying potentially dangerous experimentation and research (136). This "collusion, combined with a reductionist view of human beings, over-determines the direction of scientific development and leads science down a grand avenue that ends at the intersection of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" (136). In other words, Texter's reading of Miller's novel is fairly standard: A Canticle for Leibowitz, in the critic's estimation, represents "a sharp critique of academic hubris" by depicting the destruction caused by a Cartesian view of technological advancement as inevitable (137). If technology's march is inevitable, the argument goes, advancement will occur without regard to humanity's (in)ability to responsibly wield the tremendous powers scientific discovery unleashes into the world. This mentality, especially when adopted by the Joseph Oppenheimers and Thon Taddeo Pfardentrotts of the world, can lead to annihilation because it allows the otherwise scrupulous intellectual to claim that he or she is merely a cog in the great Cartesian clockwork of human advancement: it is going to happen if I do it or not. This, of course, leads to if I don't do it, someone else will and, ultimately, to if I do it, it won't be my fault because it would have happened anyway. One need only replace "it" in the preceding sentences with "the Bomb" to see where this logic can take us, especially when legitimated (and enabled) by the state in the form of sponsored research and commissioned experimentation. Thus, scientists and scholars simply cannot view themselves as the tools of abstractions such the state or history or progress lest they risk enabling the destruction of humankind. Miller's novel, then, "criticize[s] systems of thought that claim to be comprehensive and universal but actually attempt to reduce the fundamental irreducibility of culture and human beings" (140).

Work Cited

Texter, Douglas W. "Institutional Crisis: State and Scholar in Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game and Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz." Extrapolation 49.1. (2008): 122-141.
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This page contains a single entry by Sobriquet Magazine published on March 14, 2011 11:08 PM.

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