This past week, I probably made a mistake in agreeing to help coordinate the North Dakota University System’s Arts and Humanities Summit here on the beautiful campus of the University of North Dakota. Of course, the funds might suddenly evaporate as the state and the NDUS braces for budget cuts, but that’s not something I can worry about now.
In any event, I am not one to let reality interfere with a bad plan.
As I started to think about how organize or coordinate the work of arts and humanities faculty across the state, I tried to steer my thinking away from some of the more fruitful recent conversations: The Bakken Oil Boom, Entrepreneurial Humanities, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) and THEMAS (Technology, Humanities, Engineering, Math, Arts, and Science), or whatever. Instead, I drifted increasingly toward looming budget cut, the role of the administration in shared governance, and the upcoming national, state, and local elections. One thing connected these phenomena in my head: outrage.
What if we hosted an Arts and Humanities Summit and made it forum for outrage. That’s right: the entire event would constitute an airing of grievances. From studies of campus space, to rampant agism, sexism, administrative incompetence, bureaucratic overreaches, paper work, assessment, compliance, and the erosion of shared governance, faculty in the Arts and Humanities across the state have plenty of reasons to be aggrieved.
What is more interesting is the use of outrage (and outright rage) to express their frustrations with the system. I’d like to use the summit to explore outrage itself as a form of academic, political, and public discourse. I expect that a focus on (out)rage would attract the usual smattering of thoughtful and critical essays that consider the role of outrage as a challenge to prevailing hyper-rational neoliberal discourse, or as a sincere expression of exasperation or even the shifting definition of outrage as a way to marginalize the inconvenient, incompatible, or otherwise unyielding voices. Outrage provides a way to push back against the stifling conformity of professional life and culture. Social media, The Donald, and the “town hall meeting” all provide public venues (yeah, I consider The Donald a venue) for projecting outrage into the crystalline fractures of the public sphere. Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include some critical engagement with the Jeremiad as a genre that lends often lends itself to outrage in the public sphere. (It also happens that one of the authors of the best recent treatment of Jeremiads in American politics can bring outrage as well as anyone I’ve ever met!).
The great thing about this summit is that we could arrange not just for calm, detached academic talk about outrage, but also to offer a forum for outrage. I’m sure every campus in the system has its own expert practitioners of the art of outrage. What if we got some of the most deeply outraged faculty in the system to come to UND and to BE OUTRAGED. Like the famous dozens of early rap music, we could arrange a series of lecterns and invite each of the arts and humanities faculty to drop some genuine, earnest, sincere, outrage on us.
Maybe it’s delusional, but I can even imaging recruiting a couple outrage artists from the community. Terry Bjerke, a local candidate for mayor, brings a particular brand of outrage to the fore. Al Carlson, an outspoken and outraged legislature, can drop outrage like few others in the state. Again, it’s not so much what they say, it’s how the say it. A summit dedicated to outrage would probe the tender intersection of sincerity, conviction, and public display to critique key aspects of contemporary political and professional theatre. Plus, it would be amazing to bring together the most deeply aggrieved and outraged members of the community and celebrate their intensity, conviction, and art.
File this one in the idea box.