My summer vacation/elopement/”honeymoon” (with in-laws) is drawing to a close, alas.
But while I still have this beautiful time on the porch, gazing out at the rain falling between the giant deciduous trees and wondering what happened to the woodchuck that was just eyeing my mother-in-law’s vegetable garden, I want to talk about grapes. Sour ones, I guess.
When I speak frankly and honestly about failing on the academic job market, and about my subsequent disillusionment with the profession in general—which has been dramatic and about which I’ve been quite open and, at times, emotional—I invariably get one of two responses:
1. You go, Glen Coco. Gurl, I’ve been there. It’s their loss. Kopf hoch!
2. The academic meritocracy has proven its existence through your failure. You failed because you weren’t good enough! If you were smarter and better “suited” to scholarship, you’d have a tenure-track job, like I do. THIS IS BUT A CASE OF SOUR GRAPES.
What the “sour grapes” argument is saying is, basically, that I only dislike academia because I wasn’t good enough for it. I’m just lashing out because I’m a loser, jealous of the winners. If I were better, and had been one of The Chosen, I’d like academia just fine.
As I did with “not being suited” to academe, I’d like to unpack this “sour grapes” label a bit, and eventually reclaim the term. For it’s true: the primary reason I am lashing out so vociferously and so unceasingly against academe is that I am aghast at the way the job market and its “meritocrats and lifeboaters”™ have treated not only me, but the clear majority of working PhDs in the United States today. I liked academe fine when I thought the Life of the Mind’s biggest challenges were wrestling with monster-books like Karl Kraus’s Die letzten Tage der Menschheit and Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, or monster-philosophy like the Kritik der reinen Vernunft or Phänomenologie des Geistes.
Once I found out where most PhDs end up (and how completely fine with that most FULLPROFs are, despite the absolutely incontrovertible fucking fact that most of them would not be hired into their own jobs if they had applied post-2008), and what pathetic cowards most TT faculty have to be (and the “happiest” academics you see on the Internet are actually the most scared)…
Once I realized that the sexism, alcoholism, homophobia (and heteronormativity), fatism, ageism, racism and looksism (from which I am ashamed to say I have benefited), and all the other –isms that dominate the “real world” are just as prevalent in the Ivory Tower’s alleged hotbed of progressive free thought, and once my disillusionment was met, from people I once trusted and even, in a weird way loved, with “Well, you didn’t do a PhD to get a job, you did it to learn about German literature”—meanwhile these are people with tenure who make $100,000 a year and have not had to be on the market in three decades—once all of this happened, you better fucking believe I turned on academia.
So if that’s “sour grapes,” consider me pickling in Sturm (mmmmmm Sturm. Would break teetotalism for Sturm).
But is what has happened to me really “sour grapes”? Let’s use an absurdly-extended analogy!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Let’s say I go up to dashing television star Timothy Olyphant, best known for the roles of Seth Bullock on Deadwood and Raylan Givens on my favorite show, Justified, and let’s say I ask him out on a date.
Olyphant politely declines, and instead of thanking him for his consideration and moving onto the next suitor, I go FUCK YOU OLYPHANT, I NEVER LIKED YOU ANYWAY. RAYLAN GIVENS’ HAIR LOOKED STUPID IN SEASON FOUR. I COULD SEE THAT THE BARTENDER WAS UP TO NO GOOD FROM A MILE AWAY.
That’s sour grapes indeed. I probably would have liked Olyphant, and his hair, and even the most preposterous of Justified’s plot twists, if only he’d just said yes.
But what if…
…I’d been living in a mysterious hippie commune for eight years, where everyone there asked out Timothy Olyphant and he had gone out with all of them?
And where, in fact, the only socially acceptable method of courting was to ask out Timothy Olyphant?
And where I’d spent the past 5-8 years in the exclusive, intensive and often harrowing study of Timothy Olyphant Partnering, and then spent another year being coached vigorously in mock-Olyphant wooings and Olyphant Seduction Workshops?
And where an important element of preparing myself to woo Timothy Olyphant was to censor my own views about the fact that technically, Timothy Olyphant is married? And to make sure I didn’t look “weird” (because Timothy Olyphant disapproves if you appear to have spent too much time and focus on your looks, when you could have spent that time more wisely studying up on his hobbies and fears)? And to spend every Christmas vacation forking out $1000 to sequester myself in an overpriced hotel in the same cold, odious city as 500 other people who are also trying to seduce Timothy Olyphant?
And what if, after spending multiple painstaking months compiling an exquisite dossier of my strengths viz. dating Timothy Olyphant (including lists of sexual positions I am qualified to perform, Statements of Romantic Philosophy and Interests, a meticulously-detailed sample romantic date itinerary that was published, after rigorous peer review by several people who claim to have dated Timothy Olyphant in the 90s—right around the time of Go, before he was even famous—in Dating Timothy Olyphant Quarterly), I submit my plea?
…and then don’t hear a single word back from his “people”—not even an acknowledgement that my request was received—for several months, after which time I am informed that hooray, I am allowed to go on a single 30-minute date with Timothy Olyphant, which will take place in a creepy hotel room, and at which I must wear my frumpiest suit and make very sure to act nothing like myself?
And what if, after what seemed like a very nice first date in spite of the circumstances, I am called again by his “people” and informed that I have been chosen for a second date—this time with an overnight!—at which I will be introduced to every single member of his family in quick succession, some of whom already hate me even without having met me, because they wanted him to date one of their friends instead?
And what if, after all of that, Timothy Olyphant decides to just stick with his current wife after all, and I decide that perhaps spending the past decade of my life in the sole activity of preparing to date Timothy Olyphant was not actually the best use of my time, given that indeed Timothy Olyphant is already happily married and is not actually looking for a new spouse (something the Olyphant Commune was hedgy about… “Well, technically he’s not really on the market now, but you never know. There are always opportunities for the right person, if only they love him enough”)?
And what if, out of both frustration at having wasted what remained of my fertile years in the service of a pre-doomed courtship and genuine concern for future potential woo-ers of Timothy Olyphant, I start warning other people not to try to seduce him, because the whole system is both unnecessarily arduous and rigged? YOU GUYS, I say. DON’T TRY TO DATE TIMOTHY OLYPHANT. HE’S MARRIED.
Is the correct response to these honest sentiments, He only said no because you’re too fat and mouthy? If you were prettier, or less of a talker, or had worn a frumpier suit expressed less of a personality on your date, you’d probably be walking down the aisle with him right now?
Are my sentiments in this situation still “sour grapes”?
Are they, really?