REACTION: The Star Chamber of Stanford: On the Secret Trial and Invisible Persecution of a Stanford Law Fellow

Author Rony Guldmann responds to my inquiries:

Dear Luke,

Thanks so much for reading my book and publicizing it on your blog. I’m truly grateful. As to the question of whether any part of the book reflects mental illness, I will just say that an affirmative answer would have to involve a radical redefinition of mental illness, which, as a philosopher, I certainly can’t rule out.

Still, I have to disagree with some of the suggestions in your review. You say that some people will interpret my claims as “delusions of grandeur,” such as the “Belief that you are a famous or important figure, such as Jesus Christ or Napoleon.” However, I consistently describe myself in the memoir as one “most lacking in symbolic capital” (a phrase I borrow from Bourdieu), thus evincing that I was, and am, fully cognizant of my actual place in the world. Did I entertain an outsized conception of my potential? Perhaps. That all depends on what becomes of the memoir and my other writings (hence my discussion of “moral luck”). But even if I did, that’s just human, not mental illness. I’m not ascribing the “delusions of grandeur” judgment to you. You are indeed correct that some people will view me that way, as is confirmed by responses to my Facebook advertising. But it’s important to acknowledge that this interpretation is belied by what I actually say.

Also in connection with the mental illness hypothesis, you write that “[m]any people will read this book and diagnose the author with schizophrenia.” Fleshing out this diagnosis, you cite Liah Greenfeld’s Mind, Modernity, Madness: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience, where the author observes that the schizophrenic’s mind is “completely deindividualized” and that his will is “completely incapacitated,” making the schizophrenic a passive vessel for “culture in general.”

As to the alleged incapacitation of my will, that is belied by the very existence of the memoir (approximately 135,000 words). It is further belied by the memoir’s companion volumes, Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression (almost 300,000 words) and The Critical Theory of Academia (about 97,000 words). I note that much of this was scribed as I was pursuing a high-pressure career as a class action attorney.

As to the alleged deindividualization of my mind, that is belied by the singular intellectual stimulation and entertainment value that you acknowledge having derived from the memoir. Your own accolades for the book suggest that my mind is, to the contrary, completely individualized (perhaps so individualized as to be deemed pathological by a pathological culture).

On both counts, your own review indicates that I am the very opposite of a schizophrenic, based on Greenfield’s criteria. In light of this, I would simply repeat Cosmo Kramer’s famous riposte to Seinfeld’s charge that “you’re crazy”: “Am I? Or am I so sane that you just blew your mind?” For precisely this reason, I don’t fault anyone for forming an erroneous first impression, especially given the superficial outlandishness of some of my claims, of which I am keenly aware. But, as chronicled in the memoir, smart people who have been quick to dismiss these claims as absurd have found themselves hard-pressed to actually rebut the myriad arguments I forward in their defense.

You also suggest that there may be something immoral about reproducing communications that are ordinarily kept private. If that’s the case, then perhaps the entire literary genre of memoir is immoral. I would highlight that I reproduce these communications only to make sense of my own experience and to advance my philosophical claims. I’m certainly not delving into anyone’s overall private life (which I wouldn’t know how to do even if I wanted to). As I argue in the first Memorandum of Law, nothing I say supports any inferences about what my antagonists are like generally as people, which lies outside the scope of the memoir.

As to “discursive violence,” I mean verbal violence. I actually speak of “latent discursive violence,” by which I mean the potential backlash that I risk incurring by voicing the ideas in the memoir. The concept of “discursive violence” originates in Left critical theory, and my point is that it can be appropriated and turned around against the Left—in my criticisms of the New Class of liberal elites.

Given your interest in things Jewish, you may be interested in Chapter 6 of my companion manuscript, The Critical Theory of Academia — “A Jew Who Would Seek to Place Himself” — which employs Nietzsche’s interpretation of Judaism to illuminate my Stanford experience (through, as I disclaim, this manuscript is still somewhat crude compared to the memoir and Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression).

Lastly, I would like to address the responses you solicited from Josh Cohen and Martha Nussbaum. Josh’s recollection that he thought well enough of me generally but wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about my project comports fully with my own memories. Indeed, I specifically highlight this contrast in Chapter Two (the “A Downward Spiral” section). This congruity is only one data point, but it surely speaks to the fairness and accuracy of my characterizations and militates against the “mental illness” hypothesis.

I also agree with Josh on the subject of microaggressions. There’s probably no consensus definition of a “literal microaggression,” but I will say that the term as I use it should be understood through the politico-philosophical theory advanced in The Star Chamber of Stanford and the companion volumes, where it need not connote conscious malice—which is what Josh is denying. As I clearly state in Chapter 8, “[m]y advisers were unconscious conduits of the academic habitus, not disembodied agents of evil” (“habitus” is another concept I borrow from Bourdieu).

I actually have corresponded with Professor Nussbaum. She contacted me because she had been given the impression that my memoir related an anonymous accusation that she had committed some form of intellectual theft. I clarified to her satisfaction that this was a misinterpretation. The memoir relates the story of a professor who told me that he had proposed to Nussbaum that they collaborate to explore the affinities between the pre-Socratics and postmodernism and seemed aggrieved that Nussbaum then took up this topic on her own, without involving him (on his version of events). Even if true, this hardly constitutes intellectual theft, since his only contribution was to suggest a general research area. But he was speaking of it as though it was intellectual theft, and that’s what the memoir is mocking.

Nussbaum stated that the events in question did not happen and could not have happened, given her low opinion of postmodernism, but we agreed that, at any rate, the matter was too trivial to merit further attention. I would not have published unverified hearsay from an anonymous source had the matter been anything other than trivial.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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