Or, rather “contingent,” in scare quotes, since apparently we are alleged.
Here is a brief response–using, of course, my full name and affiliation (to nobody)–to Rachel Toor’s “The Pleasure of Hating.” Toor castigates the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s commentariat for being snide, beastly subhumans most of the time. Having been the target of said snide, beastly subhumans’ ad Schumanem attacks for the past six months, I initially cheered her calling academics out for trolly behavior. But then she went and wrote this:
The “two cultures” of academe used to refer to the sciences and the humanities. Is the great divide now between the haves and the have-nots—those with the T-word in their job description and those who are “contingent”? Many of the most scathing comments seem to be from Ph.D.’s who are unable to get the jobs they want. I don’t blame them for being upset; the job market stinks. But I do wish they could find a more productive outlet for their energy and anger than their fellow Ph.D.’s who got lucky enough to find a tenure-track job.
Pardon my improper tone, but: what in the everloving fuck? By far the most controversial works of academic journalism are about the bleak job market and how that market can damage people. By far the nastiest, most vitriolic comments on those articles–as well as counter-posts to them–are from by highly successful academics, such as endowed comp/rhet chair Jeff Rice, or FULLPROF Jonathan Mayhew. Mayhew has told me, in the online version of “to my face,” that academia is far better off without me and my “high-school level platitudes.”
By far the nastiest, most vitriolic, most self-satisfied commenting I get, both anonymous and named, is from tenured academics who are highly offended that a pleb such as myself dare speak with a voice that anyone wants to hear (and believe me, I am as shocked as they are that anyone wants to hear me).
Since Slate redesigned, all of the original 2000 comments on “Thesis Hatement” have been lost (I’m crying about it), but from what I can remember during the very few times I was dumb enough to scroll through, the most scathing of them were from a troika of tenure-track and tenured faculty (self-identified, of course), who had a field day ganging up and ripping apart the terrible credentials of an imaginary Rebecca Schuman, who had a PhD in English (false), wrote on Kafka in translation without knowing any German (false), never had anything published (false), and instead had all my important publications rejected (false).
One of the worst parts of Toor’s article was that she didn’t use any examples: it was basically one epic subtweet where apparently the worst offenders Know Who They Are. Well, I don’t, and I would have appreciated some examples from “bitter PhDs” trying to grasp for power they do not deserve. I mean, honestly, why the fuck would you pick on underemployed PhDs, who often live in poverty, and almost always live surrounded by the scorn of their discipline (if they choose to still attempt to perform research)? I’ve said it before like 500 words ago, but why in the everloving fuck would you single out a bunch of hurting, battered people and blame the incivility of online academe squarely on them? Not only is it cruel, but it’s just untrue.
Case in point. Because I love you, my beloved readers, I am going where no sane Schuman ought travel: to one of several Chronicle of Higher Ed fora about yours truly. This is from a recent one about the “I Quit” piece–I really can’t handle the pain of going into the one about “My Academic Metamporposis,” as it’s just too cruel. Here is but an abridged list of whatever random comments I could handle cut-and-pasting with one eye closed. Most are from tenured faculty (to be sure, there are a few in there defending me, too, but they are rather outnumbered by this):
When is she going to quit? She seems to keep hanging around the fringes of academia by writing pieces like this and her work for the Chronicle. If she is going to quit and do something different, she needs to quit and do something different rather than continuing to talk about how she quit looking for a teaching position.
And when is being an author constituted by having a piece “currently under advance contract” with a publisher?
The point, Luder, is that after ranting about the ills afflicting academia she leaves us with this:
“Rebecca Schuman is the author of Kafka and Wittgenstein: The Case for an Analytic Modernism, currently under advance contract with Northwestern University Press.”
She’s the classic academic, identifying herself with advance contracts (!) and university presses, at the same time that she bemoans academic culture. The dissonance is jarring, and apparently invisible to her.
I find her really insufferable, mostly because there are so many urgent and necessary critiques of academia to be made, and hers effectively boils down to the fact that she, personally, did not receive the job she so clearly feels entitled to. I would so much rather see an adjunct organizer be given the prominent mouthpiece position she gets to have, though of course that would mean engaging more substantively with questions of academic labor rather than bizarre, distorted, and simply untenable and inaccurate hyperbole about academia being a brainwashed cult–which is presumably the very reason she gets to be the mouthpiece, of course. It’s irritating because serious conversations need to reach a broader public, and she does not offer serious conversation.
I was talking about this with a friend who has successfully gone the alt-ac route after a fairly traumatic break with academia–one loaded with internalized feelings of shame and failure that ze is only slowly getting past–and hir response was still pretty scathing toward Schuman. Again, not because many of these things should not be said or critiqued, but simply because she does such a poor job of it. In fact, my friend had a nicely pithy way of framing it: Schuman is basically taking the solipsistic Katie Roiphe approach to her analysis: the problem with academia/feminism, fundamentally, is that it just didn’t work for me personally. And while I agree that such a personalized approach is fine on a blog, the fora, etc., my main frustration is with the fact that her subpar writing has clearly been chosen for national highlighting, at the expense of other possible voices. I’m actually kind of curious how she obtained this position.
I really, honestly do not understand how a bunch of unemployed PhDs saying “get a life!” or whatever can be substantively worse than a bunch of successful, tenured academics pulling rank and talking about what a terrible writer I am.
All that said–I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would be lying if I said I didn’t love provoking my haters. I love it, because at this point they offer me a lot of low-hanging fruit, and most of the time, without any help from me, they show more about academia than I could ever say (Was gezeigt werden kann, kann nicht gesagt werden indeed). But, more than that, the last six months have really taught me how to take criticism. I used to be so bad at it that when someone dared express that anything about me was less than spectacular, even gently, I would withdraw, cry, and skulk for days. I could not take not being perfect, and demanded nothing less than universal agreement on this (feel free to infer that my parents and teachers praised me too much when I was growing up, and feel free to impart this lesson unto your own children!).
But nowadays, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people who hate the shit out of me, and it is my responsibility to use their critique in a way that helps me be better. What I do now with h8eration–and what Rachel Toor could also do, instead of writing a 1500-word subtweet–is what we should all do with it:
- Anything that is simply false of absurd, or revealing bias or cruelty on the h8ers’ part, just ignore or laugh at it. UPDATE: you should especially laugh, hard, at people’s righteous indignation for being called out on their assholish behavior. St. Schuman of the Job Market LIVES!!!
- Anything substantive, think very hard about whether it will help you, and if it will, apply it.
- For example, a lot of those motherfuckers above really don’t like my writing style, because it is so revealing and so personal and so unflinching about expressing failure, and thus it makes them feel uncomfortable. GOOD. That means I am doing something very, very right. Another thing I have to chew over is: how much of a living do I want to keep making by being an academic failure? It is, alas, a rather meta line of work, and it’s quite true that there is only so much longer I can keep kvetching about being shut out of the Ivory Tower, because even now I know I am better off not on the tenure track, and I could not write something like “My Academic Metamorphosis” today because I am not as existentially obliterated as I was eight months ago.
- A lot of mocking me for having a book under advance contract–which, really? But anyway: In case anyone’s wondering: Kafka and Wittgenstein is done. It exists. I finished and submitted it in May. It has been at the publisher for review for five months, and soon I will probably hear back. The editor there is a fervent supporter of my writing, academic and otherwise. I expect that it will be accepted for publication, but if it’s not, I will not be too heartbroken about it. But, in case anyone was wondering: an Advance Contract is a big fucking deal, and I honestly don’t understand why I’d be mocked for it. Most academics have to submit a proposal, and even then they are just invited to submit the manuscript and rarely offered an advance contract. I got my advance contract by an editor emailing me out of nowhere saying my work looked interesting and did I have a sample, and I emailed him a copy of the German Quarterly article, and he offered me a contract based solely on that. I did not have to write a proposal at all. Judge that how you want, but that’s the whole story. That said–I will probably change my bio at Slate with the new piece I’m submitting today, because my life has changed quite a bit since I wrote the last one.
Holy shit this is long. I guess it’s because h8rs are verbose. I hope you appreciate me seeking that out; I usually stay far, far away.
UPDATE PART DEUX: I am not trying to martyr myself and show how mean big mean meanies are to me–honestly, I can take it (and, anyway, if people want me to stop writing about myself, they shouldn’t devote entire message boards to me, because that FEEDS MY EGO in a really unhealthy way). I am not making the job market All About Schuman–I am “writing about what I know,” and hoping to normalize my experiences for the many, many disillusioned PhDs out there who for one reason or another don’t feel they can speak out (yet). I write about my experiences because I want people to know they are not alone in theirs.
And anyway, my larger point was just this: I reeeeeeealllly don’t think unemployed or under-employed PhDs are the problem in the Chronicle comments. Or at any rate, not the worst one, and not worthy of singling out without evidence.