I see ever more clearly what the mechanism of Reeducation was. The a priori assumptions were that one could not know what one felt or what was real, and that one should not do or think anything which could be construed as taking control. The resultant degree of doubt was overwhelming. Since no perception or sensation could be trusted, there was no information to be had. This gave the sensation of drowning, or of paralysis, or of being in free fall. I pointed out how problematic this was and was told it was not – I should be able to function well in this state, and if not, I should not think that not functioning well would have any consequences.
Initially my Reeducators were concerned because I could make so many different decisions and judgment calls in a day without vacillating. I explained that if you worked in a profession, went to college on the quarter system, or managed a farm – to cite three examples – you had to be that way. Decisions on grades for 25 essays, on which abstracts to accept for the conference, on which candidates to interview at the MLA, and on several other matters might well all be required within the space of a few hours.
To make those decisions, you had to choose and apply criteria. This meant trusting perceptions and exerting control. The Reeducators did not agree, although they did concede I ought to maintain control of cars when driving them. To experiment with their principles, however, meant renouncing agency and being. And that meant losing leisure and creative time.
Writing, as we know, is pleasurable but hard. This little paper I have finally finished drove me up the walls and down. When I began it I had more Reeducation dust in me than I do now, and I speculated on all of the possible tenebrous reasons why I found the paper so difficult. Now at last I have officially finished it and sent it, not because it was particularly good or could not have used more work, but because I was tired of it.
One thing I have always found to facilitate solutions in difficult situations is to name the difficulties accurately. This is what Reeducation did not allow. In the case of this paper, for instance I could not have said “I do not like what I am working on,” because that was the attitude of a spoiled person. One had to practice self-abnegation and say something like “I fear my reviewers,” “I do not manage time well,” or “I fear success” – whether or not any of these things actually were or felt true.
Since I am no longer Reeducated, but Savage, I can say what I think, and not assume that what I think is different from what I feel. So I will say this paper drove me up the walls and down because:
1) It had to be written in a language other than the one it seemed to want to be written in. This made it really hard, although my Spanish came out lapidary and beautiful in the end.
2) It had to foreground one author and back up with another, whereas it would have greatly preferred to be about the second author, with the first remaining in the margins at most. This, however, was not the point, and it would have required an impractical amount of new research, which would have had its own problems. So the paper was in an interesting bind about its topic, and so was I.
3) I am much, and I do mean much more interested in the theoretical work I brought to bear on these writers than in them, but requirements for this piece were that I focus more on art and craft than on theory itself. This forced me to read the primary texts in a way I did not wish to, which was in itself a good thing, but which took too much time relative to the importance of this piece in my general research program.
4) It was an invited piece to an edited volume, so that changing its priorities as I could have done had I been writing it unasked, was not really an option.
5) I had not planned enough time for this piece in the first place, and trying to hurry only made me slower (as is very often the case).
To list my actual, practical problems as opposed to consider possible or putative problems with the piece puts me in control of the writing situation. I do not have to wonder what deep flaw in me kept that piece Enchanted like the Sleeping Beauty, immobilized in a Glass Cage. I get to exert professional judgment. I get to say that there was much I disliked about the parameters in which I wrote this piece without being called arrogant. For Reeducation insisted it was bad to take control of a situation, or to be sure of one’s views. But I am no longer Reeducated, I am a Savage.
My next paper is one I invented and it did not, like the last one, start out as a an interesting but off-the-cuff piece for a conference panel I was invited to be on. I, not an interested editor kindly contacting me, will decide what it fits with and where I send it. It will also require some new research. I will not drift in seas of metaphor, pure writing and interpretation, as I did for this last one.
In Reeducation it would have been heretical to say these things, as they reveal a desire, always inappropriate in Reeducands, to be the writer of my own writing and thus, of my own life. It would have been most heretical to name as a source of present difficulty any objective, current situation external to me, rather than some internal or past mystery. But I am less Reeducated every day. I am savage. And being savage feels strangely similar to being grown up.
As we know, my worst academic errors have been to accept too many invitations, and to follow urgent advice from people who sound very serious but are really just talking. Now I get a great deal of advice from “my” Death Row prisoner (the one whose case I am watching). He is entertaining but rather directive. He wants me to do all sorts of things to my house. The neighbor pointed out that he has to make these suggestions because since he is locked in a cell, to give advice is one main way he can participate in a conversation. I will remember this.