By Lawrence S. Wittner
Review by Dan Geddes
What’s Going On at Uardvark? is a satirical campus novel, one where the university is utterly dominated by corporate interests.
Companies outbid each other to have the campus buildings named after them. “If a visitor from another planet had landed on that campus that month, he might have thought that he had not arrived at a major university, but at a particularly garish shopping mall.” Students watch TV or use their smart phones in class, and very little learning takes place. So UAardvark is really not that different from a typical American university.
Jake Holland is the main character: an English professor, specializing in the works of Jack London. In spirit, he resists the corporate takeover his university, but he’s now gone to seed from his disillusionment and alcoholism. Of course, he’s also under surveillance by UAardvark’s department of surveillance.
The novel’s premise is funny and Wittner writes in a mirthful (if totally cynical) style. As a former professor, Wittner has seen the corporatization of the university firsthand, so his writing is informed by his moral outrage at the corruption of higher learning due to corporate greed and student laziness.
The plot is (seemingly) over-the-top absurd. Billionaire William T. Swagger of Corporate Commodities hatches a plan to store nuclear waste on the UAardvark campus. The university president Dwight Hopkins III is eager to help out his corporate crony. Will the last vestiges of leftist resistance on campus manage to discover and defeat this terrible scheme?
Most of the characterizations are little more than caricatures. The short chapters offer brief sketches of the many wacky characters including: the head of the professor’s union who seems to have literally turned into a witch, a group of badass bikers who start a poetry circle, a U.S. General with a foot fetish, a university president who likes to play with model cars, and many others. Most of the “evil” characters in the novel are rich, and Wittner supplies background information on how their ties to the likes of I.G. Farben or the Ku Klux Klan helped their ancestors make their fortunes.
What’s Going On at Uardvark? offers a satiric look at the contemporary university, full of humorous caricatures, as it tries to offer hope to discouraged progressives.
27 October 2013