The paradoxical dilemma in pedagogy and practice is the vast web meta-power reifies; I suggest Heywood is an academic hemorrhage “on theoretical phases” (Foucault M., The Archeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, 1972) in the larger realm of higher education.
—J. Peters, “Contesting Admission”
As I lay in the bathtub, smiling in moments of extreme happiness interspersed with extreme paranoia, Dr. B, the chair of the English department, began a discussion on the meaning of language. I spoke out loud, directing my remarks to the ceiling and debating every point. Dr. Harris chimed in to thank me for my work in the department and for being the inspiration for the television show. I felt vindicated. The English department was working with me again, and I was working with my college friend on a fascinating project. Apparently, our ratings were higher than Downstate University had anticipated, and we would soon be going national.
I was thrilled and relieved that my work on “Contesting Admission” had produced something significant in the academic world. I got out of the tub and returned to my room, continuing the dialogue. When the program ended for the night, Cynthia wished me goodnight, her last word echoing into silence like a recording coming to an end.
The typewriter continued to click away. Dr. H was writing new material for the next program, but I was preoccupied with the sound. I listened to the typewriter so intently that I soon heard another recorded voice. This time, it came from the bedroom directly above mine. It was my neighbor speaking. He was with the CIA, and he had a different and more convincing explanation of the noises from upstairs: I was living in a house owned and operated by the CIA.
I learned that Dr. H was working for the witness protection program, and that I had been taken into the household because I was being abused by my family, my friends, and the English department. My neighbor told me that it wasn’t Cynthia I had spoken to in the bathroom earlier. Instead it was a CIA training exercise that would prepare me for life in the witness protection program. I was being trained on how to use their equipment.
The recording from upstairs told me that if I continued to speak to my friends, my family, or anyone else, my tremors would continue. In fact, the tremors were punishment for being in contact with people I knew. Sometimes I called out for my mother or Cynthia or Dr. H, but when I did so, I received another painful barrage of tremors.
The recordings continued off and on until early morning when the vent in my room began to vibrate and the tremors became so overwhelming that I broke into tears. At daybreak, they stopped. I put on fresh clothes and moved the bed back into my room. Soon enough, they began again.
This time, however, it was the CIA talking to my friend Sarah. They told her I was going into the CIA and she could be my wife if she left everyone she knew behind and moved with me. The CIA then told me to get ready for my wife and prepare my room for the marriage ceremony.
I was so relieved that this conspiracy was finally coming to an end. I raced upstairs and pressed my ear against the door of the bedroom over mine. I heard the CIA tell my friend that she had to leave everyone. She began crying, saying that she didn’t want to. They continued to argue, and every so often, the CIA recording called my friend stupid and unwilling to cooperate.
My friend’s unwillingness to leave her world behind and the CIA calling her stupid and childish irritated me. I went back downstairs to my room in time to hear a new CIA recording tell me that I had listened to another training tape. Now Sarah was in jail for victimizing me, along with my family and all of my friends. The people in the witness protection program punished me with more tremors, which became so overpowering that I had to strip down naked.
At that moment, Sarah spoke to me through the vent. She said there was a bomb in the house and she was going to detonate it. When she did, the recordings would end, along with the show. Before I could take in the gravity of what she said, I heard a countdown timer. I grabbed a blanket to cover myself and ran outside. When the timer reached zero, the only thing that happened was my tremors began again. I went back into the house and got dressed.
I tried to go about my day as usual. I thought about the television show being produced at New London University. I could hardly believe I was making television history. But my thoughts were interrupted when the CIA recording directed me to go outside and start walking. The tremors began again. I was told that as punishment for believing a training recording and speaking to my friend, I would be tuned in to a live trial where all of my friends, family, and colleagues in the English department were being judged. After each person was questioned on the witness stand, a voice delivered a summary verdict, and cell doors slammed shut.
I understood that if I listened to the CIA and joined their program, I could move on with my life. So I got into my car and began driving around. The CIA voice told me that if I flashed my hazards on and off, it would notify the federal government that I was safely in the witness protection program. So I drove around town, flashing my lights at oncoming cars until I ran out of gas a short distance from my home. When I arrived back home, another recording revealed that Dr. H was from Belgium acting as a double agent in the CIA. My job was to banish her from the witness protection safe haven.
I went inside the house, asked Dr. H for her phone, and dialed 911. But instead of reaching an emergency dispatcher, the screen showed I had called someone named Dr. Cloud. The recordings informed me that this was the code word for the transfer of power from one witness protection house commander to another, and Dr. H would soon be expelled from the house. Dr. H watched me call 911, then said, “Okay, Jacques.”
The recording told me her acknowledgment meant that I now had possession of all of her things, including the phone, everything in her room, and all of her food, which was good news because my supplies were dwindling. After Dr. H said “Okay, Jacques,” she left the house and drove off. I strutted about the house triumphantly while megaphones outside proclaimed my full authority over the household.
I went to the refrigerator and began eating Dr. H’s food, leaving the empty containers on the porch to signal to the community that I was in control and healthy. I returned to my room to set up my command post. I knew that the community needed a sign to indicate a peaceful transition of power, to show that Dr. H would not return. I took a queen from her chess set and put it in the window to show that an heir to the throne was needed. I positioned two limes—a symbol for ovaries—to show the need for a child to be born who would rule as my successor. Another recording began. This time, it was Dr. H screaming that she would return to her command.
I removed the batteries from her laptop and phone so she would not be able to contact the house. At that point, police took over the megaphones, telling me to let the professor back in or the city of Liberty would use force. I froze, then lit a cigarette and sat in the living room where I could monitor anyone coming or leaving. I was surprised by the sound of the back door opening. I heard the jingle of keys as Dr. H walked into the house. She approached me, putting her hand on her bag to indicate she had a weapon.
I watched her closely for a moment. Then I put a knife in my pocket, took her laptop outside, and hid it in a rental moving van. More recordings announced that control of the house had had once again changed hands, and a voice encouraged me to use the knife to demobilize her vehicle. Instead I walked to my car and put it on my windshield. Then I walked over to the neighbors who were packing the moving van—where I had hidden Dr. H’s laptop—and asked them to hide the body, referring to me getting Dr. H out of the house in a non-violent manner. The neighbors appeared confused and offered me no safe passage home.
I needed to relax. So I went back to my car, where I had stashed my pills, and tried to open the doors. But I had locked myself out. A sudden transmission from the CIA instructed me to pick up a large rock and smash the windows, which I did. I climbed in, swallowed a few pills, and lit a cigarette. New instructions encouraged me to show everyone I was normal, so I took the rock and smashed the window on the other side to give the impression of continuity. As I sat down to finish my cigarette, I heard more police activity, but this time I saw flashing lights.
Excerpt from University on Watch: Crisis in the Academy (J PETERS)