Catullus 85

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.

These are the things I dislike about being a professor: 1. having to live in prim towns in the heart of Amerika; 2. the lack of actual intellectual and creative life; 3. careerism; 4. passive agression, which passes for ‘professionalism’ but is actually just whiteness; 5. the general hypocrisy which reigns.

I love to write, and I am a good academic writer. I do not find academic writing difficult, but I often find it dull. I am, of course, happy to do it as a job. Let us imagine, felicitously, that I could do it during the week, with a good library at hand, in an interesting city or a dramatic landscape. But in my job, it must be done late nights and weekends, when one is already tired, in lieu of placing oneself for those hours in an atmosphere livelier than one’s prim town. And since my university does not have interesting speakers or good library collections, my reasons for being at a university at all, are left unfulfilled.

When everything is already so restricted, so colorless and prim, writing in the cautious, measured academic style, where one says “may be” rather than “is,” and where the word “perhaps” is held in high favor, is most uninspiring. That is the practical conflict I have. Today, nevertheless, I will finish my article.



Filed under Poetry

5 responses to “Catullus 85

  1. I think you will need a lot of imagination because sometimes that is the only saving grace, our own mind and our need for diversity.
    –One can also remember, no es tan grave, all of this is happening because we are Slaves of Academe, as the Oso Raro points out!
    –Also: I tend to think, self-critically, that it is my lack of dedication that makes it so hard to ignore the suburban mentality which surrounds me. That, I realized while driving in the
    true suburbs today, may not actually be helpful: it might just be more useful to face the fact, ich bin kein suburbanite! –Z

  2. luisa

    I know how you feel. Everytime I consider grad school, I think about these things.
    What really bothers me is the idea that only when the ‘truth’ is in academic articles then we can believe it.
    Yes–and at this moment I suspect it is easier for men, they are the sanctioned academic ones, so they can do that and then laugh at it, and say well this is just one way to skin a cat, and do something else. Alternatively, they so believe in what they are doing that they just don’t care about anything else. But I have long noticed that in order to ‘make it’, I have to squeeze out a number of my actual perceptions.
    Another random thought on the matter–academia seemed easy for everyone where I went to school, all the students and professors were very smart. Then when I started having academic jobs, I was around a lot of people for whom the whole thing was a lot more of a struggle. You were not supposed to be able to dance through it, and ‘collegiality’ became a code word for ‘mediocrity’. In grim atmospheres like this, I fail to thrive. –Z

  3. Tim Mallek

    If you don’t like where you live, why not get a job elsewhere? Also, in your recent comment about things being easier for men, how can that be the case, given the blind refereeing process?
    Hi Tim. (1) Publishing is one thing that, from what I can gather, is not easier for men, although writing without suffering from self-doubt may be, I don’t know. Funny detail on that: I’ve got a gender neutral name and a style which is considered ‘masculine’, and I tend to write on male authors, so even when the refereeing is not 100% blind, people tend to think I’m a man. (FYI ‘blind’ refereeing often isn’t. I just refereed something last night, and it was easy to tell whose it was. It was sent to me because it is in my field, and since it’s my field, I know who is working on what, what their arguments are, what their style is, why they cite certain people and not others, and on and on. There are just so many ways academia is like a club!) (2a) What is easier for men, it seems to me, is believing in the all-encompassing truth and importance of academic work (cf. Luisa’s comment which I was responding to), AND not really caring where they are to do it. That’s not a blanket statement, it’s based on my observations of colleagues I’ve watched. (2b) Also: men don’t get undermined AT WORK the way women do. I have actually had department chairs tell me that by out-publishing my male colleagues, I was ‘discriminating’ against them — and that I needed to slow down if I wanted to ‘get along’ … and, alternatively, that I needed to spend some time ‘mentoring’ them so that we could ‘all advance together’! (3a) On getting other jobs, how old are you / are you an academic / do you understand the market / etc. / ? I’m guessing from your question that you’re fairly young, and maybe not an academic. So you wouldn’t realize, so I’ll explain. First, lots of people are where they are because they also have spouses to move, children in school, etc., and financial considerations including prices of real estate, so compromises must be made. In my own case, there are many places worse than where I am, and most tenured jobs I could reasonably get at this time, are lateral moves. Lateral moves, unless undertaken for reasons of family or location, are a waste of time better spent on R-E-S-E-A-R-C-H or recreation. The only sure fire way to live in a town one likes, is to get a non academic job. Lots of people leave academia for that reason, especially when they’re young; I almost did myself at one point, and I still keep this as an option. (3b) I’ve been a professor for 20 years and I’ve had three permanent (or could have been permanent, had I stayed) jobs, and two visiting gigs, while on leave from here. I used to be on the job market every year. (3c) The first job I took was in a city I liked. The job itself was miserable, and I moved. The next job was a lot better than the first, but the town was horrible. I decided to live in a nearby city and commute, and that worked out pretty well for a while. I sometimes wonder whether I should have stayed in that situation, I liked the university I was working for, but the particular department was depressing, and I had high hopes and ambitions at that time, and wanted to move. I still have a lot of friends there and when I visit, I realize that although on paper it looks good and is getting better, it has the same deadly atmosphere it always had. I’m just not old enough yet to feel comfortable somewhere so senior citizen-y. (3d) Both of the visiting jobs I had, were jobs I *really* liked, in towns which I would not have chosen if it weren’t for the job, but which were OK. My current job, I came to in terms of area because although the town itself is prim, the area has a lot of character. In terms of job, because despite the problems the institution had, it has a lot of character as well, and was/is a place to build. (There is of course a lot more that went into that decision, as well as all of the others.) It was fun for a while but currently, it seems to be stagnating, at least in my area. (3e) The only place in this country I would really like to live at this point is coastal California, where I am from, but that is not realistic unless I either turn into an academic superstar, or leave academia and become an IT person or something. I am considering scaring up a lateral move, to a city in Central Time where I’ve lived before and that I really like, and/or to a certain place not in the U. S. But these things take time, all of these things take time, and academia is very conservative and moves at glacial speed, it’s not like some kinds of business where things move more quickly and are more flexible. (3f) Personally, though, what I need to do is improve my resume, which has decayed of late due to an illness I had … which slowed publication rates. That is what will put me in the best position to do anything. Thence the present situation: sitting around finishing the manuscripts I left off working on because I was sick, and doing so in this slightly deadened atmosphere. It’s like resurrecting corpses, or pieces of the past. That’s why I blog, to flexibilize (yes, I just coined that word) myself. And in between finishing pages, I dig up the garden, which also went to wrack and ruin during my sick time, prune, take away the weeds, fertilize, and plant new flowers, bushes, and trees.

  4. absorbant

    Good reply!
    Best of luck with the manuscripts; are your ideas different since the hiatus, or does a cogency reappear, during your regular checks and tweaks, and when do you stop? its surely the hardest bit of it all (that is the non-academic showing through).

  5. Thanks, Absorbant! What is shocking is the discovery of how good my ideas really were–better than I understood at the time. When to stop: for me, it is more a question of, where to break things into pieces. One way I got stuck while ill and only semi-coherent was, I had trouble seeing what was finished, or having faith that it really was. And I would stop short. What I see is that every time I hit a dead end, it was because I actually had three interrelated projects going on, and they needed to be not one piece, but pieces one, two, and three.
    Well–actually I knew that then too, but I was ill and on drugs, which made it hard to see exactly where the lines of demarcation lay. Also, at that time, I for various (silly) reasons did not think I had, or should have, the authority to make that decision. This is very weird, since I had been perfectly good at that before. But, ah well–onward! 😉

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