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.


14 thoughts on “Savagery

  1. One thing I have always found to facilitate solutions in difficult situations is to name the difficulties accurately.


    I do not like the book I am supposed to read for class this week. It is terribly written and it is nearly impossible to tell what point the author is driving at, at any given moment. To the extent the author does have a point, it’s not an interesting or useful one. I have better things to do with my time than to read a book that has no point (or at least not one I care about) and whose author cannot be bothered to say clearly what he means.

    I suppose I am spoiled and a horrible student as well. 🙂

  2. 😉 Obliquely related: one thing Reeducation was against was doing one’s very best: it might make one excel too much, and it required exerting control over circumstances. This is, I think, what I am at bottom most angry about: the idea that doing one’s very best was somehow “dysfunctional.”

    NB: When I was in college they assigned too much reading. Really too much, or at least more than I could do and I wasn’t working, was well disciplined and organized, smart, energetic, and didn’t waste time. Still, I had to figure out from the beginning which one book for each class I wouldn’t really read. It was the only way to fly.

  3. “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.”

    This really resonates with me, getting at the question of whether there are “lazy professors” which I will post tomorrow probably. I am sure this is what my colleagues will say of me when I fail to be tenured: “she was afraid of success,” “she spent her time on the wrong things,” “she didn’t want to do the necessary work.” All wrong. What I do not want is to be alienated from my work.

  4. profacero, I like the part about doing a solid job within limits that aren’t one’s own choice. A lot of engineering is like that, and I used to get a kind of humble but really pleasant feeling from doing a good job to somebody else’s specifications.

    (It helps if the specs come from real-life constraints that I’m not aware of, and are not simply capricious or based on fantasy.)

  5. Tom – yes. I tend to also want to design the job, but if the specifications don’t compromise integrity then it is actually *creative* to see how you can fit your expertise to a particular need.

    Servetus – “What I do not want is to be alienated from my work.” – exactly. It took me years, though, to figure out that this was what I was complaining of. I was raised with the idea that work was necessarily alienating and alienated, picked academia because I thought it would be an exception, and then had trouble bending my mind around the precise ways in which it is. Once I comprehended a few things, such as that academic books were now commercial products as much as they were scholarly tomes, my stress level dropped. Naming reality, or giving true explanations for why things are as they are, is to me always liberating.

  6. Right, it’s not the only thing I’d want to do, but, wow, creative is exactly the word I’ve used in trying to convince other engineers of this.

  7. Congratulations on finishing the little article. The next project seems exciting. I’m really, really struck by your phrase: “But I am no longer Reeducated, I am a Savage.” The simple declaration is powerful!

  8. savage is as savage does…

    It is funny what is termed “savage” these days. It is almost like the actual savagery of patriarchy (for instance) likes to walk around on high stilts, pointing out how ordinary behaviour is really the most savage.

    Like my one-time acquaintance who had an early interest in my autobiography when I had self-doubts about it…. I had begun the writing as a much more naive thinker than I am today, so he saw the progress that I made with it from a rather apolitical kind of writing (which the right wing could quite satisfyingly appropriate to their needs) to something much more self aware and critical of the status quo. (Needless to say, he disliked the maturer, later parts.)

    Well this friend seems to take the line with me that he represents civilisation and that my maturer thinking is a departure from that. Or something. More advanced thinking, coupled with courage is considered something trite by him — influenced by my readings of Marechera, but not by my own thoughts and experiences. (Women are inevitably passive non-thinkers according to right wing dictums.) Yet in failing to see my point about how narrow (and patriarchal) thinking is oppressive, he is actually promoting social savagery (and not of the right sort!!!)

    This ideological and social dynamic is typical.

  9. There it is – the savage zone is the rebellious or non- conforming one!

    (Key rereading on my to-read list as of today is Civilization and its Discontents, to review what *it* has to say about savagery.)

  10. Yeah, you know what amuses me most about people — including people in academia — is where they arbitrarily draw their lines concerning what they deem to correspond to a reality principle. We could all be some manner of tarzans if we wanted to — but somehow being tarzan is limited conceptually to the arena of fantasy. And yet I am sincerely considering going to Zimbabwe and doing all sorts of interesting things there, despite what most people would take to be “common sense” limitations.

    So I was in the English department some time ago, and I saw on the noticeboard a programme for an English course on the nature of romanisticism in relation to society. The theoretical construction of the course put forward the notion that what is romantic occurs as a kind of parallel universe of possibilities, running alongside everyday, humdrum reality. Yet, because what is romantic is based upon what cannot happen in everyday life, the romantic form of life and reality as it is can never be the same thing. Well, I’m very much paraphrasing here from an impression I got when I read this several months ago.

    Anyway, it stuck me that there are some people who think there are natural limits to reality which automatically make it humdrum. What struck me especially is that the basis for drawing the line between “reality” and “romanticism” is based upon good old common sense.

    But isn’t it interesting how the common sense of some is not exactly nor inevitably the common sense of another? Yet the course is based on the assumption that they are the same — your and my common sense.

  11. Yes – I’ve been called pathologically optimistic, by pessimists. (Most recently for saying 40 miles is not too far and 40 dollars is not too much.)

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