The Symptom and the Disease

Fresh on the heels of my critique of Slavoj Zizek (that guy has fans, but a lot fewer than you might think) for being too much of a jerk, comes my new think piece in the Chronicle, about a month in the making, which deals with academic rejection. I solicited a lot of reader opinion about this, and you guys delivered in a major way. Many of your responses made it into the article!

As you can see, between yesterday’s piece and today’s, compassion in academia (or lack thereof) is something about which I feel fairly strongly. And actually, now that my Zizek piece is up, I believe I should have (or at least could have) written IT with more compassion. I could have (should have?) recognized that Slavoj Zizek is a deeply, deeply unhappy man, who has been miserable and lonely since his early childhood, who calls others “boring idiots” because he has been hurt by them one too many times, who seeks happiness in the company of young, beautiful women, but then divorces them once he realizes not even they can make someone as miserable as he is less miserable. A trickling handful of Zizek’s fans (again, a number much smaller than you might imagine) have chastised me for being “jealous” of him and “his genius.” I think that instead, Zizek–and his infantile insistence that the intelligent must be unhappy, and the happy stupid, which is something I thought when I was 17 and my high-school boyfriend broke my heart–is himself jealous of people like me, who manage to care about others, and eke out a little happiness now and then with no worry about how it reflects on our relative stupidity.

A few other people have chastised me for not “getting” Zizek’s “wicked” sense of irony. As someone with a relatively wicked sense of irony herself–who HERSELF has called, tongue-in-cheekily, for the end of “shitty papers” in college–I assure you that’s not the case. I just believe that there is a line of basic human decency that anyone who is not a psychopath knows not to cross. A “joke” about a student committing suicide crosses that line. Many of us, myself included, have had our lives turned upside down from the suicide of a student or other loved one. There are plenty of “jokes” that are unacceptable no matter their context–rape “jokes,” anything with a racial or homophobic slur in it–because they mean to hurt. A joke about “not caring” if someone commits suicide means to hurt. A joke about a student not trying hard enough when writing a paper introduction means to help students not to write introductions like that anymore.

At any rate, this is a rambling way of attesting that today I will indeed attempt to practice what I preach. I will react to hatred and vitriol with more compassion than I have been. I will treat myself with more compassion than I have been, too.

4 thoughts on “The Symptom and the Disease

  1. You are absolutely right on the compassion: it needs to start flowing in academia; for those in the market and those within its ranks–in employment searches, in scholarly conversations and discussions, in administrative ranks. It would do souls, intellect and creativity a lot of good.

    And profnever is absolutely right: the annual cycle is a big part of it. You are stuck in limbo for a whole other year before giving it another (low odds) try. Any way of changing that, you think?

    Apropos of compassion, respect and admiration: I am going over some proofs for publication and am reminded of the unsung heroes of academia: the editors and copyeditors that bust their tush performing tedious drudgery to help our work look so good.


  2. I once published a couple of posts that were critical of Zizek and his really weird fans just descended on me like angry crows. So I admire your bravery in provoking them. Among all of the weirdos on the Internet, those are pretty close to being the weirdest.

    Zizek is brilliant but he is also an incredible hypocrite, I don’t think he deserves (or would actually want) any compassion from those who write about him.


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