Ren knocks on Compton’s door.
‘Compton, what’s all this cuggermugger I hear about Verna winning a grant?’
‘The postmodern sisterhood. They look after their own.’
‘But even by their standards she’s dumb. Wouldn’t they give it to someone a little brighter?’
‘You overestimate the intelligence of the ranks. There’s not much there. And it’s partly about loyalty, and politics. Verna might have fencepost levels of intelligence, but she can be trusted to write what she’s supposed to, and remain an acolyte, without straying off the reservation, as they say.’
‘So what’s it about?’
‘You haven’t seen? I’ve got the description bookmarked. Here, let me print it out for you. You’d better sit down while I do this, it’s going to be a bit of a shock.’
After the printing has finished Compton passes Ren a piece of paper for perusal.
‘Recon(cept)ualizing the Vacuum Cleaner:
God, Slave, Function, Liberation’
Vacuum. Cleaner. Clean. Vacuum. The diffraction of the void. The nothingness of space at the heart of the assemblange. A womb? To give: birth: to: [multiple possibilities]. A parallax view of a revolutionary machine with an atomic energy-driven core. Liberator, or captor? Is it our tool, or we it’s?
In the political ecology of things the humble/mighty vacuum cleaner has been ignored, but nothing played a bigger part in womens’ lives in the twentieth century. This project explores the metaphysicks, the politicks, the in(tra)fusion of this mash-chine from a postmodernist perspective, sucking in Foucault, Irigaray, Derrida, Baudrillard, Kristeva and Lyotard. A multiple-meaning/multiple-conclusion approach has been derived from the recent breakthroughs of Hoskaveda, allowing the fullest/weakest focus/pan on the Booth/Kenney invention, which created a Russian revolution/holocaust in the suburbs of the privileged/enslaved. Calibrations are reset, and a machine is created anew, only this time in the form of word’s and idea’s, which create their own powerful force and irresistible attraction.
‘This is utter bilge. How much money was she awarded for this?’
‘One hundred and fifty thousand pounds.’
‘One hundred and fifty thousand pounds? This cannot be real.’
‘How is she going to spend that much money on this baloney? The result will be a few papers that you could write up in the pub one afternoon once you’ve knocked a few back.’
‘Three years of teaching and admin buyout for her.’
‘Three years? THREE FUCKING YEARS? No way is this real. This is a prank. You’re shitting me, aren’t you?’
‘Plus she gets a PhD student funded to do this with her.’
‘A PhD? On some fake bullshit on vacuum cleaners?’
‘Could have been worse. She could easily have got two or three PhD students out of it.’
‘This doesn’t even read like something Verna could have written. It may be idiotic, but it shows a bit more invention than she’s capable of.’
‘Well spotted. The word is that Adalia helped her write it. Reads much more like something Adalia would write, rather than Verna the Learner.’
‘So is Adalia on the grant as well?’
‘No, she was just lending a hand, as a favour. So she is of course mightily pissed off that Verna has landed such a big grant with it. Big by Philosophy standards, anyway. They’re not speaking. Not that Verna will care.’
Ren screws the piece of paper up and throws it at the wall. ‘The whole grant system has gone insane.’
‘Conquest’s third law of politics,’ says Compton. ‘The simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organisation is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. Or parasites, I would add. In this case that is, to some extent, literally true. The Continentalists, for instance, who are both enemies of scholarship, and parasites, have infiltrated the system. It’s Kimball’s “long march through the institutions” in action. Once they get in to the system, they’re very difficult to get out, and they work hard at getting more of each other in. In a way, that’s also what the Robotikin has done. Got himself into the system, so he and the people like him can give each other grants. Did you know about his grant from a few years ago?’
‘I knew he had one, but I don’t know the details.’
‘Philosophy of architecture. Not as loopy as Verna’s of course, but still total dejecture. A complete waste of taxpayer’s money. I can’t even tell you what it’s about because I can’t remember, it’s like trying to grab hold of fog. Something about structural integrity, I think.
‘Isn’t philosophy of architecture a bit like philosophy of sport? A kind of artificial field invented, or expanded, by people desperate for a field that isn’t too hard to make a name in for yourself?’
‘You might say that. I couldn’t possibly comment. Robot has this little group of philosophy of architecture people who all refer to each other’s work, and referee it. Outside of that group there isn’t a person on Earth who would have the slightest interest in anything that lot say. No other philosophers care. No architects care. It’s of no relevance to anyone handing out money for architecture projects, public or private. Even the members of the group wouldn’t be interested if they weren’t making a career out of it. Yet Warhol was awarded two-hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds for it, all paid for by Uncle Sucker.’
Ren just sits and shakes his head, completely donnered.
‘Didn’t you know?’ says Compton.
‘I didn’t know he got that much money.’
‘That’s why he has so many PhD students. Most of them are funded through his grants.’
‘Is that why his students are all so dull? Because they have to work on his boring ideas?’
‘I expect that’s the reason.’
‘I don’t even really get how you can work on someone else’s ideas as a grad student in Philosophy,’ says Ren. ‘In science, sure. You run some experiments as directed by the PI. But how do you write on a philosophical topic as directed by the PI? It’s got to be your own work or it’s not a PhD, so the PI can’t just tell you what to write. But your ideas are unlikely to be that close to the PIs. What if you end up thinking up ideas that are very different?’
‘In theory you go with your own ideas if they end up differing from the PI,’ says Compton. ‘But often in practise the PI will guide you closely. Especially if it’s someone like Robot. It’s not really your PhD. You take his skeleton, and add a bit of flesh to it. With writing joint papers it’s even more fraught. If you want to appear on a joint paper you’d better be mighty fictile and agree with the PI. And the PI will expect you to subordinate your views to his or hers. You’re right that this sort of funded collaboration doesn’t really work in Philosophy. Two or three philosophers who find that they have similar ideas on something can collaborate, but hiring in collaborators? Do you hire the best candidates, or the ones who agree with you? It’s just more examples of philosophers pretending to be scientists.’
‘And Verna is pretending to be God knows what.’
‘Pretending to be an intellectual, I think.’