Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Life on the Margin

I am sorry to have dropped out of the conversation -- a combination of personal & the professional BS has taken my mind off Hall for the last several days. I did want to mark one idea that struck me reading chapter 2, though. Hall rightly takes the profession to task for failing to recognize the value to the profession of those academics in "marginal" jobs, but there is a strange sort of power at the margin, if you seize it. My own case may not be entirely typical, since my marginal job has offered very reasonable teaching loads & support for travel, etc. Still, as the only creative artist with a full-time appointment at my university, I have carried something of an aura of the outsider. Outsiders are powerful mythic figures within many institutions & professions. The problem then becomes, how to leverage outsider status into professional respectability. Not an easy task when one is teaching a 4-4 load & trying to publish. The anthropologist James C. Scott speaks of "the weapons of the weak" when he describes the ways in which peasants & pastoralists & factory workers respond in small ways to their exploitation, not through simple sabotage but by creating alternative systems of meaning that exist beside or even below the dominant institutional system in force in a particular situation.

My own revenge is to have become an "excellent" (by whatever metric), but subversive teacher. That is, whatever I'm teaching, I encourage my students to examine the ground upon which we stand & the processes in which we are engaged. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes not, but I generally have the sense that I am engaged in real & authentic work in the classroom, which goes a long way toward easing the pain of not teaching in a graduate program as I was "supposed" to. That sense of authenticity has fed my own writing & scholarship over the years & given me the energy to keep going even out here on the margins of the academic solar system.