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13 June 2010 @ 04:29 pm
vague thoughts about The Future (some more immediate than others)  
--Sometimes, when I think about how I'm inevitably going to have to move away from this place, I worry that I'm going to wind up someplace without a good public library and a good PBS station. The thought makes me sad. (I've had the good fortune to live in places with very good public libraries thus far--and my home city's library is one of the best in the country, or at least the Library Journal thought so in 2009. I miss it sometimes. Not exactly a surprise, since my parents took me there every other weekend, and the guards at the door knew us on sight, but still.)

--The university's dossier service needs to know whether or not I'm planning to go on the job market next year. My answer is pretty much no, unless something of a miracle happens, but I still feel guilty about this. And I don't really want to be around here any more than I have to, anyway. I'm just burnt-out by grad school at this point. Annoyingly, the answer to that is to work faster, but...see previous sentence.

--I had a peculiar conversation with a friend yesterday, in which he asked me whether or not I spent a lot of time on Shakespeare message boards (I don't, which is why you all get long, disjointed posts on Ariel or whatever instead, I'm sure): apparently he imagines that I go around correcting people as a "Shakespeare warrior." Admittedly, my first worried thought when he asked me was, "oh no, did he find my LJ???" although if he had, he would probably have taken back the "warrior" bit. (I think it would be fairly easy to recognize this journal as mine: I only have a handful of preoccupations, and they're all amply on display here.) Anyway, he asked, "Do you think you might do something like that?" and I gave him a fairly truthful answer, I think: the people who are posting about Shakespeare on message boards, whether I agree with them or not, are not necessarily the people I'm thinking and worrying about. They already care enough about Shakespeare to be talking about him.

That's one of the things I find so frustrating about the grad school/academic process, I think--and I've said this before, but it's still true: I wanted to go to grad school and write and teach because I wanted to try to open that door for other people: I felt (and still feel) blessed to have been given Shakespeare, and I wanted to give that back. But I never seem to be getting any closer to that goal. I don't seem to have the gift for it with teaching; I don't think this is wholly my fault, but evaluations indicate that I can be either "fun" or "boring," not that anyone is learning why Shakespeare matters. Possibly it's naive to expect such a thing to happen, with so much lined up against it: students who are indifferent to the material or too worried about their grades to be really open to it; a university culture that suggests that the student, like the customer, is always right1; a wider culture that venerates Shakespeare unthinkingly while simultaneously telling us that he's hard and old and boring, so that everyone "knows" they should respect Shakespeare, and "knows" certain "timeless" truths about his plays, but are primed to think that actually knowing Shakespeare is simply to be able to spout platitudes about him and recognize the bits that have the most cultural capital--and if someone gives you enough of the platitudes, then he's taught you something meaningful about the Bard. (Um. Sorry about the rant, there. But so much of what gets said about Shakespeare's "greatness" is just lip service, and it drives me crazy.) But I did expect it, when I decided to go to grad school: not because I thought I had some special gift of awesomeness that would allow me to make Shakespeare interesting, but because I know, bone-deep, that he already is, and I thought maybe I could be patient enough to show that to others.

Writing is the same but different. Writing a dissertation would always be hard, but I feel like so much of the running-in-circles energy I'm expending to get absolutely nowhere is just me fighting against all the things that want to take me away from that goal I came in with, and feeling hopeless because I can't keep fighting against them and also do the job. I have to say the right things and use the right theorists to get my advisors to sign off on the dissertation. I have to write in the proper, accustomed way to get published, so that I can get a job. And maybe if I play that game well enough for several years, I could get tenure and then write for the people I want to be writing for--but if I were any good at playing the game, I could just do it already, and just save myself all the angst. I'm never going to be good enough at it to fool anyone; my only hope--and it's a faint hope indeed--is to be who I am. (None of this is meant to be a slam on academia, or theory, or any of that. It's just--why can't it be guidelines, instead of a stranglehold? Is the world really going to fall down around my ears if I neglect to talk about Derrida or J. L. Austin when I've set up an alternate way of thinking about this project? If it is, do I want that world anyway?) And then I feel bad about myself, because if I were a proper grad student, I would be excited by ideas and want to think about theory, and I wouldn't be wishing I could write for a popular audience in addition to/instead of an academic one (I would love to write for both, or books that could be for both audiences simultaneously, but it doesn't seem to be the sort of thing you get to do unless you are tenured and distinguished), and and and. It's all very stupid and tiresome.

1I realized that this is what continued to needle me about one of the evaluations I got back in the last batch: "Section was enjoyable. You could tell that [tempests] was extremely passionate and knowledgeable. I wish she was more open to how I wanted to analyze the plays in my papers- I always felt that I wasn't doing it right or something because I obviously had not had as much experience as she did or had read as many critical essays about works of Shakespeare as she had." I don't think my expectations for students are particularly out of line: I want them to state their case, and then back it up using evidence from the text, which they then analyze, and I want them to take the whole text into account. Therefore, if I can think of whole scenes of the play that they've skipped over in their argument because it actually means they'd need to rethink it, yes, that's a problem. And no, I'm not just going to agree with the way that they want to do things when that usually means airy assertions and discussions about their feelings--but I am the *first* person to be pleased and excited when a student has taken a point of view contrary to the one I hold, and has laid out a good case for it. So I find this comment annoying in a way that only just made sense: if I'm so knowledgeable, if I do in fact have knowledge and skills that this student doesn't, then why am I the one who should be bending here? Why shouldn't the student think that maybe it's his or her job to try to grow? Maybe she feels like she isn't doing it right because she isn't--but that doesn't seem to be an option here. And while I'm picking on this comment in particular because it's recent, in a way that might be a little unfair because it's not the worst iteration of this I've ever had, it's not a new or unique attitude.
Gileonnen: The Ninth Part of a Hairgileonnen on June 13th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
Just to say--as a person who primarily wants to make interventions on a theoretical level, I hate writing about theory. I have the most to say about theory, but I do not enjoy saying it even a little. I feel this great, shuddering revulsion for the whole endeavour; I feel like I'm neglecting all that's beautiful and good to enter a discussion that's so painfully obsessed with quibbles that I can make no real headway.

It would please me to no end if we just knocked theory off of its pedestal right away.
tempestsarekind: cheveril glovetempestsarekind on June 14th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry to hear that you feel that way! *hugs* I think that if you have things to say about theory, that's all to the good! It does have the potential to change how we think about the world, and that's an amazing thing.

I think that my biggest problem with theory, in literary studies, is the way it's gone from helpful tool to absolute necessity. I'm not suggesting that I should be allowed to sit in a room and just pontificate on paper without ever engaging with what other people are saying about the texts I want to write about. But if I know what I want to say, and can prove it using--oh, I don't know--the actual texts in question, and am making some kind of reasonable "intervention" in the existing discourse, does it *really* matter how I got to that point, and whether I got to it using the approved batch of theorists? I keep harping on Austin, because people keep assuming that I plan to write about the performative, but--let's say that I managed, somehow or other, to make an observation about Shakespeare that could have been made using Austin, but I didn't know that because I hadn't read him. However, in this hypothetical, no one I've read has yet made this observation about Shakespeare. Is it somehow invalid because I failed to cite How to Do Things With Words? This makes no sense to me.

I remember sitting in on a job talk at one point, and afterward, all of the complaints from the other grad students were about what the speaker failed to talk about: not that she was wrong about the plays in question, but, basically, that her project on Renaissance drama didn't make enough theoretical and philosophical interventions. As someone who has absolutely no desire to make theoretical or philosophical interventions, I found this really rather depressing.
Gileonnengileonnen on June 14th, 2010 08:09 pm (UTC)
That is incredibly depressing. I ... am going to go back to reading Castle of Otranto now, because it has got giant helmets falling out of the sky onto people, and that's less depressing.
tempestsarekind: elizabeth bennet is amusedtempestsarekind on June 14th, 2010 08:11 pm (UTC)
Is is hard to be depressed by falling helmets, somehow. :)
Gileonnengileonnen on June 14th, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC)
It certainly is! I would love to see Monty Python Does Otranto. It would be splendid in every single possible way.
tempestsarekind: better a witty fool than a foolish wittempestsarekind on June 14th, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
It absolutely would!

(I was going to say, on the other comment, because I *did* leave it in a rather depressing spot: I try to remind myself that just because some slightly pompous grad students felt the need to poke holes in someone's work, this is not the end of the world, and it's probably a byproduct of the grad school process: so much energy is spent on trying to present oneself as clever and capable--and one of the easiest ways to do that, unfortunately, is to try to prove that one can see all the problems with someone else's work. If being an academic is about having discerning judgment, how do you prove that if you actually like things and think others have done a good job? You can only prove it, in a way, if you can find fault. And the fault-finding process is [again, accidentally] sort of how we find space for what we can say...

Oh, academia. You are so demented.)
La Reine Noire: Terms Commonly Usedlareinenoire on June 13th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
It's just--why can't it be guidelines, instead of a stranglehold? Is the world really going to fall down around my ears if I neglect to talk about Derrida or J. L. Austin when I've set up an alternate way of thinking about this project?

This might be only small consolation, but one of the comments in my viva was that I dumped a lot of theory into my introduction only to completely ignore it for the rest of my dissertation. But they still passed me.

So, if it comes to that, you can pay it a bit of lip service and let the rest of the dissertation stand on its own.
tempestsarekind: ophelia has so few optionstempestsarekind on June 14th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
That is helpful, actually--because it just might wind up being what I do. :)
La Reine Noire: Terms Commonly Usedlareinenoire on June 14th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
It's really not a bad way to go -- I decided what I wanted to do with a text, found a bit of theory that fit somewhat, used it here and there, and mostly did my own thing. What ultimately matters is the text and what you have to say about it.
tempestsarekind: hey nonny nonnytempestsarekind on June 14th, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
What ultimately matters is the text and what you have to say about it.

I used to believe that, before grad school... (Can you imagine? I had no hang-ups about academic writing, before I got here! None! Yes, I was a procrastinator, but out of serious laziness rather than fear.) I guess I just need to figure out how to get back to that point.
La Reine Noire: Terms Commonly Usedlareinenoire on June 14th, 2010 09:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, me too! I worried a little here and there, but most of the time I wasn't worried about myself articulating the argument, but about what I thought of the argument and whether or not I actually agreed with it. Grad school really does a number on one's self-esteem, no?
tempestsarekind: typewritertempestsarekind on June 14th, 2010 09:18 pm (UTC)
It really, really does! I'd say that they should do a better job of warning for that, but I'm not sure I would have believed it, anyway.

Ah, I remember those days, when I spent most of my time worrying about what I thought instead of what other people would think... :)
La Reine Noire: Terms Commonly Usedlareinenoire on June 14th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, those were lovely days. I miss them.
tempestsarekind: viola reading (tears)tempestsarekind on June 14th, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC)
Me too!
litlover12 on June 13th, 2010 10:17 pm (UTC)
Substitute Dickens for Shakespeare in para. 4 (and take out the teaching part :-) ), and you have my life.

I apologize for always being the little voice at the back that pipes up "And Dickens too!" every time you talk about Shakespeare. I truly don't mean to make it all about me and my Culturally Revered but Essentially Ignored Dead White Male of Choice. It's just that I understand so well what you're saying, I want to offer my sympathies (in my own peculiar Dickensian little way!).
tempestsarekind: arthur clennam [little dorrit]tempestsarekind on June 14th, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, please don't apologize for that! I tend to focus on Shakespeare in these posts because I work on Shakespeare and have the most to say about him--not because there's some sort of hierarchy of Culturally Revered but Essentially Ignored (I like that!) authors, of which Shakespeare is the first. Dickens is, alas, welcome in this dubious club.

So I really appreciate that you took the time to comment--and you certainly have my sympathies, as well!