"It isn't my field" 

"In a book I recently read by Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002), the protagonist, an advanced doctoral student, answers a question this way: 'I don't really know. ... I can't really speak intelligently about it. It isn't my field.' The person with whom he's speaking answers, 'I have noticed this: this hesitation to speak about anything outside of one's field. This caution. How boring it makes everything. It didn't used to be like that. People used to talk about whatever they liked.' The protagonist answers, 'One gets a bit scared in academia. You can get in trouble for saying the wrong thing.'"
Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick, "Feeling Stuck?"
(RIP, Dr. Heiberger. What sad news.)

The latest Career Talk column in the Chronicle addresses the peculiar inertia of unhappy academics who feel that they can't do anything else. Mary Heiberger and Julia Vick write about the effects of scholarly self-doubt on one's career plans, suggesting that "[t]he academic tendency to question things — coupled with the pressures of a tough faculty job market — can cause a poisonous slide into cynicism and bitterness."

I think this is why I keep writing in this blog — I mean, aside from the fact that I just like to write, period, and having actual readers (hi, readers!) makes it all so much more interesting than if I were just writing notebook entries. No, what I've realized lately is that it's liberating to be able to write posts about whatever I want, regardless of whether it falls into one of the fields of interest listed on my c.v. It's too easy to say, "Oh, I can't write about X; I've never studied X." One can't, of course, publish a scholarly article about a topic one doesn't thoroughly know. But I've noticed that I assume I can't even talk about fields that aren't mine, even in casual conversation. And from there it's an easy step to "I don't know anything about [fill in possible other career path], so how can I start talking to people about my interest in it?"

So blogging is a way of combatting the inner voice that says "if it's not a polished fragment of your dissertation, you might as well shut up." It's writing that doesn't have to reach the dozen (or fewer) other people who share my exact same research interests, writing that doesn't require months of assembling sources, and doesn't require a mile-high hedge of arguments about how what I'm saying differs from what every other person who's ever read Shakespeare or Herbert or Wroth or Sidney has said. And I like it. And I think that's all I have to say for tonight.


Which 20th century theorist are you? 

I admit to having fiddled with my answers a couple of times to get Quizilla to tell me this:

You are Jacques Lacan! Arguably the most important psychoanalyst since Freud, you never wrote anything down, and the only works of yours are transcriptions of your lectures. You are notoriously difficult to understand, but at least you didn't talk about the penis as much as other psychoanalysts. You died in 1981.

What 20th Century Theorist are you?
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I mean, first it told me I was Foucault, and then it told me I was Homi Bhabha. And as I've never been a postcolonialist or a Foucauldian, I was a tad bewildered. I kind of wish Barthes were one of the possible results, but oh well. (Via Ambivalent Imbroglio.)

Affirmations for the apathetic 

Readers who are academics — in fact, any readers who've had a college education and remember what ends of terms were like — will know what I mean when I say that it's now the point of the semester when everyone has turned into a zombie. Faculty look harried and hollow-eyed, and students can't seem to stay awake in class. Everyone has too much to do. I've got a stack of grading to get done before Thanksgiving weekend so I won't spend the break kicking myself for my total lameness in having to grade on a holiday. And in the back of my head, I can hear a steady drumbeat of "I don't care." Should I be getting riled up about rampant grade inflation? Probably, but I don't care. Shouldn't I be paying more attention to the news? I don't care. Shouldn't all this apathy worry me? Like Pierre, I don't care. All I care about at this point is sleeping and getting outside on the rare days when the sun comes out. Pretty soon I'll start lurching about with my arms sticking out in front of me, mumbling incoherently.

But at least these "Daily Affirmations for Graduate Students" made me snicker. "Today I have made the decision to be decidedly indecisive." "Today I will schedule an appointment with my physician to have my emotions disconnected from my intellect." "En réponse des questions difficiles je parlerai français sans rien traduire."

(However, I did snap out of my slough of apathy when I heard the news about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriages. Massachusetts just moved way up in my ranking of States I'd Most Like to Move To. Oh, and as for our president's response: Will someone please inform the man that when he tries to stop people who love each other from asking for recognition of their relationships, he really doesn't come across as "protecting" anyone's marriage, no matter what he calls his stupid Let's Not Let Gay People Get Married Week? No, wait, on second thought, Tom Tomorrow said it better.)