Thursday, April 10, 2003

the lull that follows battle; the silence of defeat

The next night was not one of struggle but of silence. In the tranquil death-chamber, beside the dead body now in everyday clothing – here, too, Rieux felt it brooding, that elemental peace which, when he was sitting many nights before on the terrace high above the plague, had followed the brief foray at the gates. Then, already it had brought to his mind the silence brooding over the beds in which he had let men die. There as here, it was the same solemn pause, the lull that follows battle; the silence of defeat. But the silence now enveloping his dead friend, so dense, so much akin to the nocturnal silence of the street and of the town set free at last, made Rieux cruelly aware that this defeat was final, the last disastrous battle that ends a war and makes peace itself an ill beyond all remedy.

- Albert Camus, The Plague (Part Five, Chapter Three); translated by Stuart Gilbert

The above quote could stand as an epitaph for just about any person, thing or occasion, but I like to think that it has only been saved from trite over-use (as a sort of greeting-card-quality stock recitation at eulogies) by its numinous beauty.

Of course, it seems particularly apposite today, as the Iraq war is simultaneously essentially over, and yet is inevitably still to claim its last, cruellest casualties, even as the euphoria waxes all round.

Call it synchronicity, but today also has brought a personal, bittersweet last-disastrous-battle/end-of-the-war dichotomy for me – although I’m not sure which is which. As a thirty something academic, without a job of any kind for the last five months, I’ve been offered work in a call centre. Not just any Australian call centre, either, but one that sits proudly and aggressively at the coalface of globalisation. Since 1999, half its inbound calls have gone to India to be serviced, and half to Melbourne.

I am baffled by the economic logic as to this. Upon some reflection, though, it seems the perfect place for a former academic to work – the job smells both of wanton privilege (at $30k, Australian operators make six times what their Indian, exact-same-job counterparts do), and also of volatile toxicity. Like all Australian universities at the moment, this call-centre is wedged in an epistemological no man’s land – like a sick joke that can’t properly decide whether it wants to be clinically taboo-breaking OR funny, and so ends up being neither.

The Nelson/“Crossroads” review into higher education – now complete, but only to be tabled as part of the May commonwealth budget – apparently will put more money into universities. In the meantime, one academic thinks that his peers have been "stunningly successful" as an industrial lobby group in recent years:,5744,6256603%255E12333,00.html
Concording with this view, a HR consultant explains the current palpable pessimism within the higher education sector as a hiccup, relating to staff shortages at either end – top overseas academics are unaffordable, being paid comparatively much more in the United States and Europe; meanwhile, there are apparently (unspecified) difficulties in filling junior lecturing positions:

Which is the battle, and which is the war? In the case of higher education, the “winners” are already crowing in self-proclamation and/or spin-doctoring, anticipating something, all with a euphoric zest that I can’t even understand, and never will.

Are they possibly just like me, only content to bask, and parade around in in the glory of their own six-fold times earnings, a win that can be celebrated, despite the unimaginable cruelty of its accomplishment and execution.

Victory can be relative (and usually only is), but Peace is absolute – Peace equals hideous defeat, worn in silence.

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