Thursday, June 16, 2005

To What Extent Does an Academic Self Control its Narrative?

I mentioned in my post last night that my failure to get a certain job many years ago had at least partially defined the sort of academic self I have developed into. Give the expectations of my graduate training, I should have emerged from that experience with no expectation of any sort of academic position. On the first day of orientation, a senior member of the MFA faculty stood up & told us to forget about the degree being a job credential. "You are apprentice artists," he told us. Still, there he stood, a one-time apprentice artist with a nice job teaching in the best MFA program in the country, which is to say, the message was internally contradictory. The best of us, I presumed, would wind up teaching the best, most advanced students.

Didn't happen. By 1980, when I got my MFA, the first wave of the MFA craze had crested. I was lucky to find adjunct gigs. I've already sketched the rest of the story below. Reading Hall has brought into sharp focus a number of things about my really pretty successful career that I have long suppressed. (Which is no doubt why these posts ramble so much.) I have realized fully for the first time that I am ashamed to be the kind of writer who teaches undergraduates rather than grad students. This despite the fact that I have continue to be a (moderately) successful artist & (quite) successful academic.

It was bad luck, or a crappy fate, that kept me from getting that job in the Midwest MFA program. I did everything I was supposed to do. The wisdom to draw from this is that our academic selves are contingent creations over which we can exert only a limited amount of control. I don't think Hall denies this, but the way, but the self-help genre in general probably has to over-emphasize the degree to which we shape our own fates.