The hypocrisy of Gary Hall’s new book is nothing short of breathtaking. Pirate Philosophy (2016) is an expensive book ($54.20) that rails against the profit motive, a jargon-laden academic book that rails against the inaccessibility of academia, a poorly written book that rails against the declining quality of academic writing, and a profoundly disorganized book that rails against the scattered nature of twenty-first-century academic life.
I wanted to like this book. Really, I did. Because Hall addresses so many issues which are dear to my heart, such as: the obnoxious paywalls that increasingly prevent citizens from accessing research their tax dollars paid for; the misguided MBA logic that’s come to govern most of our universities; and the hypocrisy of “radical theorists advocating a politics of the Commons, commoning and communism, yet appearing to let little of this politics have an impact on the decisions they make (or that are made for them) regarding their own work, business, role, and practices as authors” (12). He promises to show us how to fight the neoliberal corporatization of higher education. He promises to show us how to transcend the neoliberal model of the entrepreneurial academic. And he promises to show us how philosophers and theorists can best support student protesters and the anti-austerity movement. But he fails to deliver.
At times, even he seems to be aware of how silly his book is: “I am aware that some readers may be scratching their heads at this point over the seeming contradiction evident in the fact that the argument I am presenting here is being made in yet another conventional monograph, signed with a singular author’s name, and published with a brand-name press” (98). Hall never really makes sense of these glaring inconsistencies. Instead, like a therapy junkie I dated briefly in the 1990s, he seems to believe that telling us that he’s aware of the problem—and showing us how smart and self-aware he is—is enough. Guess what, Gary? It’s not.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb once quipped: “The longest book I’ve ever read was 205 pages.” Thinking along similar lines, I shall henceforth be able to say that the longest book I’ve ever read was 159 pages. Pirate Philosophy brings to mind Nietzsche’s description of a scholarly book in The Gay Science (1887): “In a scholar’s book there is nearly always something oppressive, oppressed: the specialist emerges somehow—his eagerness, his seriousness, his ire, his overestimation of the nook in which he sits and spins, his hunchback.” Gary Hall has a rather sizable hunchback. It’s composed of abstruse prose. And it renders his radical political pretensions vaguely ridiculous—because, as Saul Alinsky puts it in Rules for Radicals (1971): “It does not matter what you know about anything if you cannot communicate to your people. In that event you are not even a failure. You’re just not there.”
The kind of constipated scholar Nietzsche ends up celebrating in “Faced by a Scholarly Book” is a high-minded elitist with little interest in politics. He does not wish to be read by the people; he wishes to be read only by his peers. What’s more, like the philosophers Marx mocks in his Theses on Feuerbach (1888), he does not seek to change the world; he merely wishes to interpret it in various ways. Gary Hall, is, to some extent, the very opposite of this monkish denizen of the Ivory Tower. It’s obvious (indeed, at times, painfully obvious) that he desperately wants to be cool, relevant, hip, accessible, and democratic: a man of the people, an activist, a revolutionary. He wants to do more than just interpret the world; he wants to change it. But he won’t. Not with a scholarly book like this.
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