Academia


Sometimes, there’s a man….I won’t say hero, because what’s a hero anyways….but sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.

I keep thinking that maybe it’s time to get back to writing, and then i let another week go by. I abide.

The problem i keep having is that I have no idea where to start anymore. It’s all a jumble in my head, of semi-wordless ranting directed at some of the usual suspects. Which, to be honest, makes me feel tired.

So here’s the post that has shaken me from my slumber…

Giving credit for a job done is pretty much what makes academic careers. Whole theories are built around the work of a single scholar (see Frued, Marx, Foucoult, Spivak etc). There are literally thousands of theorists world-wide who would not have jobs if it weren’t for the fact that they became expert translators of a major theorist. Similarly, there are thousands of scholars who would not have jobs if it weren’t for the fact that the translators of major theorists hadn’t done their jobs. Scholars need and are dependent upon each other, even as they fight for their independence and name recognition. Careers literally wouldn’t exist if names and work aren’t cited. For example, if all queer theorists used Judith Butler’s ideas, but didn’t cite her work, she would have long since been shoved out of academia–at the best, she’d be teaching at a community college some where.

From BFP…

What does it mean to be a translator…. What would it mean to break new ground?

I still go over and over again, in quasi-regret of a life that might have been. But I think most of my regret is simply nostalgia for a misconception, that somehow the study of religion was going to be a life of the mind.

The reality of the academic field is that it’s pretty damn difficult to get by, and certainly as an activist.

Really, what i do best…is I write summaries. I found this talent sometime in my senior year of college, and used it to wing my way through grad school with very few truly original thoughts. I write excellent book reviews, and i don’t mean the kind that just sum up everything that got said. I trace arguments, i offer cogent criticism, and analyze strengths. You know the kind…that show up as lit reviews in academic journals.

And it feels like that’s what I’ve been doing here. Parallel process, only with blogs. It’s more fun…i get to snark much more than I did, and people line up for snark. The highest hitting post I ever did was a merciless kneecapper on Hugo, who for the record deserved it and more. Tenured bloviators are about my favorite target.

Eh. I’m tired. I have so much to write, really…life has been really interesting, difficult and fun lately. The SO and I, working out the dynamics of the relationship, what I’ve learned about gender, depression, vocation, queerness…

I can’t write that stuff when all I’m stuck writing reviews. When i know…there are folks who are writing the truly original material on which I depend….

And people won’t even acknowledge that debt.

-sly

I am sitting at Yale Divinity at the moment…about ready to leave. For the day, for the semester, for the year, for good.

It is high time that I do so. I no longer believe in this school, even enough to love it into change. I spent many words here in criticism, but I’m leaving them behind now. I have a generic hope that others will stay invested in this place, but it’s crystal clear to me that it is not my role to do so. There is little virtue in defending this choice, but I will say just this…

I tried.

The anger you have seen on these pages reflected my willingness to invest myself into the conflict, an urge to be opaque, disruptive, and transformative in the community. But when a community is so riven by parochial concerns, pecking orders, micro-competitive urges and most of all, a leadership dedicated to stasis…

They aren’t all bad. And I’m not entirely innocent. But somewhere along the line, I lost the urge to make this place better. So it’s time for me to leave. Unless I can be invested, there’s no point in presence.

I do not leave angry. Anger would imply a frustrated ambition. I do not leave broken. Brokenness would imply that this place has definitional power.

I leave with wonderful friends, invaluable connections, and a shiny piece of paper.

I shall endeavor to do my best with them.

Elsewhere, in other times, on my own terms.

-sly

The SO and I had been talking about some of this stuff for a while…when you teach in a troubled school in a tough part of town, you face kids with emotional and behavior issues. So autism and other “EBD problems” had been discussed.

But I started talking about the Judge Rotenberg Center, and her mood changed. Sharply. What had been an animated conversation turned very soft as I explained what went on there, and how so far, it has been impossible to stop the brutality.

Finally, she said something welcome but unexpected.

“I think I just realized why it’s so important for you to read those blogs.”

More than once, I had been reading and she had begun to close my computer, not so subtly reminding me that I could be paying attention to her and not that. And it sometimes had grated her that I’d been willing to spend our limited time together doing work that wasn’t strictly necessary. I doubt I have a total free pass here, (nor am I seeking one) but it was a reminder that this information, these connections…matter.

I’m going back to school…and it’s tough on me right now. I’m listening to other people introduce why they care about classes that talk about marginalization and what’s wrong with the world. And I’m struggling to fight back the overwhelming sense of cynicism I feel about such declarations, about them, their motives, and ultimately….my own.

Back to the happier bit. We reprised this discussion later, when she was telling me about how a class she was taking (at a progressive school of education) had shown a video from Autism Speaks. And I went full bore in to “Not This Shit Again” mode and started showing her some stuff at ballastexistenz that challenges that kind of rhetoric.

She recognized it immediately. “This was the other source they used for the class.”

I’m still angry as hell that a school that claims to be at the vanguard of education would even give “equal time” to such viewpoints…in a show of the continued downfall of objectivity into amoral neutrality…but I was just so relieved that one of these online voices that I hear had made it into the world on its own.

This is why I read. After everything, I still have the crazy idea that it’s not too late to change the world. Perhaps I’m most drawn to this story in particular in proving that is that it has nothing to do with any of the mumbo jumbo that I have picked up as the language of my profession. I don’t mind speaking in post-modern, but I still have a soft spot for Orwellian honesty.

So I just wanted to say thank you.

You’re why I read.

-sly

That’s the title of a course that starts today, where Sly will learn more about how a pattern of oppression becomes a political economy, a way of doing things that supports society in which it occurs. The way racialized thought becomes the socio-economic instituion of slavery…the way fear of the disabled becomes institutionalization. Prejudice gets systematized, and then things get really scary.

Just as a quick note, Samhita writes about Western companies advertising for gender selection in Indian media. She’s under the premise that it’s problematic because it both expresses and substantiates a claim on the value of the lives of those being selected against, girls.

But she’s mistaken. It’s just mothers who have decided that they do not want to enter into a binding relationship of care with a child who will require more resources to raise.

And that’s totally okay.

-b

The tale of one my classes, taken primarily to satisfy distribution requirements. I was at least somewhat interested in the subject matter, and learned some cool stuff. But let’s not get it twisted. I wouldn’t have spent a class on this unless otherwise motivated…my time is a commodity, and i try to be careful with it.

Anyhow. Midterm grade, after trying to take the midterm while having a panic attack:

Failing.

Final grade, after given the chance along with the rest of the class to double the final exam:

Honors.

Wtf? It makes sense. I wrote a pretty decent paper, and I was much better prepped for the final. And i think the prof might have learned the hard way about what kind of material students could be reasonably expected to retain. Chapter numbers…not one of them, for instance.

Seriously. If you are a professor or teacher…it is a trick question to ask what the theme of chapter nine was in an anthology. I didn’t read them in order…and was reduced to deductive guessing. Oddly, I did fairly well on the multiple choice section of the midterm (I have seriously uncanny, possibly unholy abilities to read multiple choice exams for clues) but bombed out the identifications because I had no idea how long to write them. I could have asked…but…

Panic attacks have a funny way of having deleterious effects on academic performance.

Regard me as being glad that things worked out.

-sly

Edit: This was a post lamenting a bad grade. It all turned out to be a paper work error…and it should be fixed soon. Huzzah!

The following should be considered a composite conversation, undertaken with many at Yale Divinity School. The quotes that follow are not verbatim, nor to be understood as to be the product of any one individual.

“The funny thing about Yale is that it gives you just enough to make a show of it, and then asks you to be grateful for the crumbs.”

A few friends gathered around a dinner table…beers, wine, and coke all went up to lips and back as the conversation grew more animated. The cork was out, and the sentiments flowed freely.

“It happens with everything. Representation of people of color in faculty and students…feminist voices,

“Did you know we have faculty committed to opposing women’s ordination?”

Who, we wondered…and a few names bubbled up. No wonder this was so fucked up…

“hey…weren’t you chairing the sub committee on…”

I hung my head slightly…i know…i really meant to get that together, but you’d never know how crazy things get. And after an intitial bout of emails, interest seemed to taper off. I left the work undone…and the institution did it’s magic once more. By delegating what should be institutional tasks to the student body, YDS effectively mires reform efforts in an uphill battle. We turn over every 2-3 years, we’re over worked, and with scarce time to meet. Even booking a room is often a challenge.

And it came together for me. There was that which I was personally responsible for doing, and not doing. And there was that which I had been teased into thinking was possible, or already done. What caught my gall was the way in which the very real problems of this place were continually made invisible by such posturing, and dismissed as the oversensitivity of a few discontents.

And in that moment, I felt slightly bitter.

“Guess that means that you could really screw with them if you took them at face value.”

A friend broke my reverie. She was charting out a new course…one of a jaded sincerity. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It’s not that I hate the place…indeed, i have many dear friends, whose love is like a drawing band. Why not be faithful to that, and mock the artifice that has come between that which we love and that which we must hold to be true?

You may be tempted to read this as a rant against my school. And there is some truth in that. I finish my second year feeling betrayed by an institution that claims a place of progress and transcendence, but still struggles with so much. But it is also a love letter to my fellow rebels and discontents…students, staff, faculty, who see the place not as it is, but as it might be in Christ’s love.

caritas,

-sly

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