Thursday, March 31, 2005


Whither Academia?

First of all, let me make the required complaints about Blogger. It's taken me far too long to get into my "dashboard" tonight, and I'm tired of the numerous "time-outs" before finally getting a page to load.

That taken care of, I'm in the process of drafting replies to those of you who emailed me on this question. Because my response to depression over academia generally involves the extensive administering of cocktails and bad television, these will be understandably slow in coming.

Some good suggestions here. I will be hitting the job market again next year regardless of any other decisions I may make in the meantime, so hopefully there'll be an opening in my field at one of the sensible schools Juvenal mentions. In 2003, I interviewed at what I thought was one of the most sensible schools in the nation, but they turned out to be a rather irritating bunch, and the interview was quite unpleasant. So it's a hard call. I need to find a sensible school whose English department isn't inhabited by assholes. Is there such an animal?

One major problem I'm having as a scholar right now is that I teach absolutely nothing in my field. This makes research and publishing very, very difficult, particularly as I am teaching to set reading lists in the courses I do teach, often with texts I am not familiar with, because they are either non-canonical (this is a work of literature because it was written by a Mexican woman!) or they are not even literary texts (like the Ehrenreich). And I do have a responsibility to my students, regardless of my personal feelings about this crap. So time that I could spend working on my own projects is often spent prepping to teach, and prepping to teach books you think are utter garbage is a difficult task indeed.

I guess I'm just not sure how worth it all of this is to me anymore. The odds are against me in so many ways. First of all, the longer I adjunct, the less attractive I become on the job market. I've already adjuncted for three years before the Ph.D., and now we're looking at two years after. I've heard that seven years of adjuncting is the terminal number--after that, you are considered unhireable.

Second, even if I do land a tenure-track position, will it be one I can live with? I'm getting very, very tired of contributing to the dumbing-down of the academy, and of sitting silent while I watch critical thinking replaced with ideology. I literally wanted to jump across the table at a department meeting and strangle a colleague. Or thrust my Ticonderoga through his eye. He is, frankly, an idiot, whose ability to think logically was compromised decades ago, if it truly ever existed in the first place.

Finally, I find it harder and harder to actually give a shit about literature. I can't quite figure out why what I'm doing is important anymore, particularly when much of the effort I put in is undermined by the low standards of my colleagues, who think that writing an interpretive poem is somehow a satisfactory final project in an introduction to literature course. We haven't quite gotten as far as allowing students to submit a diorama in lieu of a piece of writing, though if the school of education has much more influence over our curriculum, we're not far from it.

I just feel like my days at work are spent pissing in the wind.

My days at home are spent trying to recapture my interest in my field, an activity that generally degenerates quite quickly into hours of PS2, followed by massive guilt and self-loathing. This is doing wonders for my CV.

And I know that the "real" world is just as irritating in its own way. I think the problem is that after a decade of having professors blow sunshine up my ass about how wonderful and pure the academy is, how lofty its aspirations, the reality of what a shitpile the whole thing has become is difficult to deal with.

Anyway, comment way. I've just invented a new drink I call a "blueberry drop," so I'll comment on your comments for as long as the brain remains more or less fuzzless.

I think the most important thing here is that you divulge the ingredients of your "blueberry drop" drink! We are all sane enough to realize that alcohol is infinitely more important than literature in the grand scheme.

Of everything you wrote, I think the questioning of whether or not you even give a shit about literature anymore is crucial. I can tell you the primary, if not only, reason I re-entered a PhD program is that I still immensely care about my main field of study (film) and how it is taught and passed down to future generations. If I didn't, I don't think I'd put up with all the bullshit. And I realize that even this caring may not be enough in the long run.
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