Saturday, June 25, 2005

Further thoughts on Ch. 2

I thought I’d offer up some of the quotations that I marked in the margins (certainly one way of judging a text: How often did I pull out my pen and put a mark in the margin so that I could find this sentence again?) and some initial thoughts on why I did so, perhaps as a prompt to further conversation:
“Once employed at teaching schools, young academics may indeed break productive connections with the larger profession; fall out of the conversation in their fields of specialization; and sink into silence and resentment under the weight of papers, exams, and committee work” (23).

This is my concern. I actually have some research support at my teaching college: a great ILL librarian, funding for one conference a year, a summer grant program that I’m enjoying this summer to fund some research travel; plus I live close enough to some major cities to make easy day trips to research libraries and collections. And yet the fact that my colleagues for the most part never discuss research, the fact that even those of my colleagues with active research agendas only pursue them to the extent that they separate from the rest of the school and from colleagues, means that there’s almost no faculty discussion of research, at least in my field. And since I find that I live my life mostly locally—that is, my colleagues at St. Martyr’s have far more to do with my day-to-day life than researchers in my field who are at different schools—I have in many ways lost “productive connections with the larger profession.” Admittedly, I was never much of a networker ever in my grad school days, but I increasingly find that I don’t know anyone at conferences and have a difficult time connecting with the people whom I should but don’t know. This has become very apparent to me in the last year as I’ve struggled to think of outside reviewers for my tenure case, people who are in my field, not at St. Martyr’s, and likely to be predisposed in my favor. We’re talking big goose egg here. I never was one to keep up with the latest research in my larger field—especially since this is a rather large project when one is in the overflowing field of American literature—but at least in grad school I had friends who were better at keeping up with this sort of thing and who were eager to talk about what they were reading. But now I’m living in something of a research wasteland—again, more in terms of people’s day-to-day interests than in resources per se. So this is a real concern for me.
“Hierarchies of affiliation and the ‘prestige’ level ascribed to jobs exist solely as conventions, as professional/social constructs. We should bring the same thorough skepticism to those constructs that we do to constructs of gender, race, and sexuality” (29).

I feel naïve admitting this, but this statement of Hall’s was a major revelation to me. I’ve always known that our hierarchy of what was better and worse in terms of academic institutions wasn’t necessarily the only way of looking at the world, but I’ve clearly internalized it to the extent that I feel an ongoing inferiority for having ended up where I did. But somehow to put this hierarchy on the same terms as those hierarchies of gender, race, and sexuality—all of which I deal with daily, in terms of either my own life or my research—helped me to think of my internalized hierarchy in political terms rather than simply in personal, emotional terms. I’m afraid that my ideas of undercutting the academic hierarchy have been along the lines of, “Sure, the losers [including me] always want to think that the hierarchy isn’t valid, but that’s just sour grapes.” But I would never say or think such a thing about the other hierarchies that Hall lists. I know it’s a strange thing to say, but this statement of Hall’s about “denaturaliz[ing] our common, received professional definitions of success” (42) was the most important thing I got out of Hall’s book.
“Some institutions with very attractive teaching loads and benefit packages are, in fact, vicious places, torn by internal struggles and dominated by some angry suspicious individuals” (37).

Here I just want to admit to the ugliness of schadenfreude. I’m ashamed to say that several of my relationships with grad school friends have suffered because I ended up at St. Martyr’s and they wound up at R1 schools, in one particular case an Ivy League R1. And in some ways we now just move in different worlds, and the bitterness and envy on my part and the pity and self-absorption on their part has effectively spelled the end of at least one stint of our relationships. And the only way that I’ve been able to handle this is to imagine (based in part on their own comments) just how unhappy they are in their new jobs and, I’m afraid, to take pleasure in that thought. Yes, it’s an ugly thing. And the stupid thing is that, if I really do think they’re so miserable, why the hell am I still jealous of them? I have nothing more profound than this to say about it, but I think that confession can be good for the soul, so I wanted to place my ugly schadenfreude out in the light of day. Perhaps it will shrivel up and die in the glare of sunlight.