Ivory Tower or Snake Pit? Reading Response to “Rhetoric and Competition”

Ivory Tower or Snake Pit?

Hutcheon’s article was published in Common Knowledge by Duke University. This journal is aimed at holding intellectual conversation among schools of thoughts especially in academy. From this point of view, Hutcheon used examples from her own life and her specific study area —— literature and language study to convey her idea about competition to the readers. Lots of citations from notable scholars are used to help depict the vivid scenes or endorse her standpoints. Meanwhile, her reputation and professional experience made her work irrefutably credible.

Compared with Bateson’s work, one of the obvious differences stands out is the focus. As a cultural anthropologist, Bateson attempts to remove the perpetuating idea of competition from the public’s mind, in order to make sure the survival of human in Anthropocene. The example and evidence Bateson used to support her arguments cover different areas, including mythology, biology, sociology, etc. As for Hutcheon, the focus shifted. It is restricted to academy only. The most trivial reason for that is the difference among intended audience which is consistent with what we learn from this week’s lecture. The relevance audience can extract from the words with themselves is the first key elements to build a successive conversation.

On the structural level, Bateson used chunks to divide the whole article into two major parts —— the destructive consequences when beings are lack of collaboration with each other, and the productive results when people embrace cooperation. However, in Hutcheon’s work, she illustrated the current academic situation and possible explanation, and offered potential solution by the timeline of etymological development of the words “agon”. Hutcheon’s work seems to me more logical and well-organized than Bateson’s, at least, at the first glance.

Bateson interpret “competition” as organisms working and functioning independently to strive and thrive. Hutcheon gave this word a completely different meaning in her article. The “competition” becomes the game between one academic and any other peer. She clarified the existing problem in nowadays “Ivory Tower” —— Academics who should be deliverers of knowledge become gladiators armed with words and opinions and destined to destroy others. People in academy only think there must be only one winner in the game for its zero-sum feature. The idea of critical thinking should be considering both presented and absent evidence, and taking into account both one’s own view and the alternatives. Nevertheless, the understanding of critical thinking is reduced to find the flaw and overturn the whole of others’.

In the last week class discussion, our group find out that the absence of bright side of competition makes Bateson’s words not convincing enough to change our perspective. Hutcheon emphasized the importance of non-twisted critical thinking and this is supposed to make her arguments more rational than Bateson’s. It’s crucial to give credits to the critique without contentiousness as provocation. In order to build a good model for her peers and future academics, she showed us how to reread others’ articles in a more inclusive and plural way. Ironically, she used tons of rhetorical questions which seemed like moderate proposals but actually still struggled to influence others. To some degree, these make her words a little bit unsurprisingly aggressive.

Overall, I totally agree with Hutcheon’s idea of not being aggressive to others only for sake of winning. To me, the essence of competition is achieving not fighting which means competition is benign if we handle it with positive attitudes. As poster slanish117 wrote, Hutcheon and Bateson both are encouraging people to “engage in a more “cybersystemic” existence that privileges coordination and cooperation over individualism and competition”. Hutcheon tried hard to display the truth that cooperating with an inspiring and competitive rival can lead to a win-win situation with salient gains we get from each other. It is undeniable that competitions are required to achieve progress in academy. But we should keep in mind that benign competitions are without aggressiveness and brutality. The most efficient method to make all study areas develop fast is to clean the tainted academic competition before the academy turns to a more wolfish place.

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platonic_Academy#/media/File:%22The_School_of_Athens%22_by_Raffaello_Sanzio_da_Urbino.jpg

Reference: https://mschandorf.ca/2019/01/14/culture-of-me-vs-culture-of-we/

1 Comment

  1. I totally agree. I think that Hutcheon’s paper was much more convincing and powerful than Bateson’s, despite making similar arguments about the nature of competition. As you mentioned I think her use of rhetorical questions was an interesting and somewhat confrontational choice, but overall was effective in getting the reader to think about the message of her paper. It’s interesting to think about competition as being simultaneously harmful and productive, depending on the intentions of the discourse, which I think was adequately and equally addressed in the paper. Great post!


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