By now, the majority of the 36,000 people who Facebook “Liked” an article for Slate I wrote almost two months ago have forgotten all about it. But there remain a few souls out there still yapping about my favorite topic: moi. Unsurprisingly, all are academics at this point.
Sometimes, these folks offer kind solidarity or civil critique, but mostly it’s just a bunch of pissed off grad students or people with double-tenure, like this guy, who recently spent many hours of his sacred thought-making time riding my ass on the Chronicle Web site.
In Kafka’s Der Proceß (The Trial), our hapless protagonist Josef K. at one point attempts to draft a pro se brief in his own defense. But, since he has no charge against which to defend himself, it goes like this:
Er wollte darin eine kurze Lebensbeschreibung vorlegen und bei jedem irgendwie wichtigeren Ereignis erklären, aus welchen Gründen er so gehandelt hatte[.]
He wanted to offer a short description of his life, and explain why he had handled himself in every situation that could possibly be determined important[.]
I had originally envisioned “Thesis Hatement” as spending a few days buried under political commentary and the valuable advice of Dear Prudence before it disappeared forever—so I just wrote from my heart and worked with the editors and forgot about it. If I had known it would go “academic-viral” I would have composed it like K.’s “tautological innocence” brief, with the talons of the entrenched and the anti-academic in my forebrain to help me second-guess every single word.
If I had “Thesis Hatement” to write over again, I would make three changes to it.
1. I would have fought harder for headline approval. You should have seen the one they wanted to give me before I freaked out—and, lest I remind you, the editor of this piece is my friend. But publishing’s publishing, man. It’s not personal—“emotional trainwreck, like me” got clicks. But it was a characterization that set the tone and made it easy for haters to read the whole thing as “hysterical” and “screechy,” two adjectives reserved exclusively for women who dare state their opinions with a little color (I’d say “sass,” but that’s been coopted by racist and sexist forces as well). And it also made the whole thing about me, when it was really just a list of incontrovertible facts about the job market, spliced in with what I thought was some harmless repartee about academic stereotypes and other people’s views of the over-theorization of the literary disciplines. The result of this was a torrent of people attacking both my credentials and my tone.
DIGRESSION: Attacks on my tone have extended to “My Academic Metamorphosis” and this very blog you are (probably not) reading right this second! Even very awesome FoPKKs have expressed disapproval of both my hyperbolic style and my word choice (most recently, “cult”). I find these critiques to be telling, because most come from the Haves of academe, out to tell me the appropriate way to express my anguish that the career for which I spent ten years working myself to the bone has no place for me. Academics get really up in arms that someone dares to express herself about academic issues in any voice that isn’t the reserved, affect-free—and, yes, WASPy—non-voice of the Proper Scholar. This brings me to…
2. “bat-shit.” I very, very much regret offhandedly referring to my own research as “bat-shit.” I meant it in a self-deprecating and funny way, like “WITTGENSTEIN? Like, truth tables and shit? You’d have to be bat-shit crazy to put yourself through the Tractatus on purpose and make it relate to Kafka, and then make everyone think that the world needs yet another book on Kafka! But go for it!” I called my work “bat-shit” because it pushes disciplinary boundaries. It’s kind of “out there.” But make no mistake, I definitely think it’s good. I do. I just really don’t want to go around saying that, because self-aggrandizement is what assholes do. I am only vaunting it now because I feel like I’m being forced to. And this brings me to my larger point, about my tone and self-deprecation in general:
Am I the last Jew in academe? (FYI: I don’t practice! I am not a bat mitzvah and my mother isn’t even Jewish!!!! But my dad’s family is Reconstructionist so it’s all cool!) Have no academics in the world ever heard of Woody Allen? Larry David? Lewis Mothertrucking Black? I’m not saying I’m one seventy-billionth as funny as they are, but I am probably as neurotic. Why is that not allowed? I make fun of French Theory a little (and I graduated from the House that Derrida Deconstructed!), and I make fun of my own work, and I jokingly call myself “the intellectual’s anti-intellectual” because I can analyze Wittgenstein in German but I can also name every member of Honey Boo Boo’s family, and suddenly I’m an actual anti-intellectual academia-hater.
Well, two can play at the extremely un-fun game of Taking Oneself Way Too Seriously. If you are seriously going to call me an anti-intellectual, if you are going to misread neurotic humor for “screeching hysteria,” then I am going to say: fine, I am a screeching, hysterical, too-emotional lady-woman who hates learning…but that makes you a misogynist Anti-Semite. Why don’t you look up all my relatives in Belarus and tell them how disappointed you are in me? Oh, you can’t—they’re all dead. In the Holocaust. TRUMP CARD. Game over.
3. “Remote Midwestern or Southern universities of which you have never heard.” I can’t go into detail about this one, because it deserves to be written about for a larger audience and so I have pitched it to a legitimate publication, but people have been just laying into me about that line. How dare I think myself “too good” to move to “the flyover” and teach the “great unwashed”? No wonder I didn’t find a job, with the kind of “coastal elitism” I must have oozed at interviews. LIZ LEMON EYE ROLL COMMENCE. Here is a list of places I have lived since 2009:
- Columbus, OH
- St. Louis, MO
Both of these places are in the Midwest already, and I have the omnipresent tornado sirens to prove it. I get to make fun of the Midwest, because I live here. I also get to make fun of the South, because Missouri was a goddamned Slave state. And I get to not like living here, because it is so far away from my family, including my brand-new, week-old BABY NIECE ZOMG SHE IS SO CUTE I CAN’T TAKE IT! Gratuitous picture of a baby alert!!!!
But besides the simple fact that I am already a Midwesterner, there is also the fact that—and here’s where I don’t want to go into detail—most colleges and universities in the US, especially in the non-coastal US, are remotely located. And thus, they present a tremendous dilemma for an academic with a working partner. If I had gotten a job in a remote small college down or teensy college village, I would probably have gone there alone. I would have lived with no support system—no partner, no trusted friends, no family, no nothing. That is a tremendously difficult life on top of the already-unpleasant pressures of trying to get tenure, and I would like people to get off my back about admitting I didn’t want to live it. I can’t say any more or I won’t be able to publish a real piece on this idea! But please stop calling me an “elitist snob,” because you have NOT seen my Hulu queue (Hint: “NASHVILLE.” SO MUCH “NASHVILLE”).
Coming soon to a PKK near you: FoPKK Tales from the Trenches II. Stay tuned!