As cloud cover gradually breaks today, I become happier, lighter in mood.
I'm not seasonally affective, but under the influence of the job search, I become more in line with metaphors about light and dark. When it's cloudy, rainy and cold, it's easier for me to become depressed. When it's sunny and looking like spring, I'm more extroverted (which is my tendency anyway).
Silence continues, on the job front, with the exception of a rare rejection letter. I'm not counting anymore, but I'm something like 0-8-and-30. Thirty silent institutions. Joseph K never DOES get to the Castle, you know.
This weekend there is a big annual "film studies" conference. I put that in quotes because while it DOES seem to be "the discipline's" annual conference, there are only a few schools which interview at it. What's the deal with that? I had three interviews at the big literature conference in December, but I've only even HEARD OF two schools who will interview at this one. Further, it's in MARCH. Who freakin' INTERVIEWS in March, when much of the actual interviewing for tenure-track film gigs got underway in DECEMBER? Hello, calling Film Studies...when is our disciplinary conference? Is it December, or March, or some other time? Or is the discipline dissolving and so no one is sure? Why did about two dozen film jobs advertise in November, with applications due in 2007, if the "hiring conference" is in March 2008? Or, if this IS the hiring conference, WHY DO ALL OF THOSE SCHOOLS NOT USE IT? HELLO???????
Is any part of this ever going to prove itself not to be loaded with contradictions and nonsense? At all?
Well, in any case, I got a plane ticket for the big east coast city where this thing is being held, but I didn't register for the conference, largely because I can't afford to do anything like that, I can't even afford the plane ticket. I didn't, at least as of this morning, get any requests for interviews anyway, so now I have a plane ticket I'll probably re-use for some travel later.
In January I was freaked out, depressive and anxious. Now that it's March, the dominant emotion is anger. Anger at the total incoherence of the whole process, at the silence, at the fairly undiluted bureaucracy of the academy. This is no ivory tower, it's a Kafkaesque castle. My disenchantment is deep and painful, and I'm pissed off about it.
This leads me to another tangent: I remain on Bloomington's comparative lit email list, which means I see all kinds of graduate student announcements, most of which aren't relevant to me anymore. Recently, however, there was a forwarded email from a candidate for a fellowship in that department. Apparently, said candidate came to campus for a visit, met with people in CL and in another department, and then wrote a very overtly gracious and friendly letter, which included phrases like these:
"I have found my home here"..."met my future dissertation advisor"...and so on.
I read this with some disbelief. To FIND A HOME, in an academic department? For that matter, to find a home ANYWHERE, doing ANYTHING? To actually EMBRACE interviewers, to have what in all ways appears to be a HUMAN INTERACTION with ACTUAL POSITIVE ENERGY?
SURELY she was making this up.
I find myself torn about this: in large part, I think she's either overly emotional or manufacturing the experience. My cynicism about the academy DOES NOT PERMIT ME to take her words at face value. It simply does not permit this.
But, it's alluring to think that somewhere, somehow, a human relationship like this MIGHT EXIST, might even BE POSSIBLE at ALL.
Can it be possible that academics actually ENJOY relationships like this, that all of the mythologies are NOT, in fact, cold, hard lies?
I went to graduate school at 24, after spending a year at home with my parents, with no car (and no license, actually; I didn't learn to drive until I was 28), and I didn't know what graduate school was, what it was for, and I didn't know ANYTHING about questions like "who do you want to work with?" (work with? what the fuck does THAT mean?). But I did read 66 books that year, including Finegans Wake (twice), Gravity's Rainbow (twice), and a pack of Camus, Kerouac, Tom Robbins, and so forth and so on. I read Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra, I think, three times, and really dug into it hard; I have pages and pages and pages of notes, written that year, about eternal return and how language rephrases experience in ways that allow experience to eternally recur and so forth.
So I went to graduate school with my characteristic intellectual fire and my characteristic TOTAL ignorance of bureaucracy and "the real world." Predictably, in course work, I followed whatever incited, permitted, and fed the intellectual fire. I wound up with art cinema, Guy Debord and Dada. Finally, as Kafka writes about the mouse, the corners of the room closed in, and the cat ate it up. I had to face the bureaucracy of writing a dissertation prospectus, then a dissertation, and then dealing with the academic job search. I'm still fired up by intellectual subjects and particularly by teaching, but the bureaucratic edge, and the ways that my ignorance of it has sharpened that edge, is a deeply bitter little pill to swallow.
I used to operate in a "get away with it" mode, in the academy. Comp Lit let me, for a few years, teach whatever I wanted, with virtually no supervision. So I taught courses about insanity and censorship and post-war masculinity and Fight Club and stuff like that. I taught a course on transgender politics and pornographic bodies. A room-sized "boardgame" called "Seize the Phallus" was organized. Sexual positions were analyzed in terms of visuality and social power. A festival of Dada, which involved people SPITTING on a cardboard photocollage, was held. I felt dangerous and experimental, and I got a reputation, and I liked it. THAT is the academy in which I want to work. THAT, my friends, is teaching and learning.
But now I am all paperwork and envelopes and stamps and silence. The closest I get to border-pushing is giving my article a sassy title. Actually, that's not true. I did, after all, introduce my current class to Vienna Actionism and Otto Muehl (google it). Mona Hatoum and Rosemarie Trockel are pretty cool.
The academy and I simply do not seem to value the same things. In teaching, I value the ability to work within and between disciplines, at will. I value theatricality and performance. I value from-the-hip, spontaneous, on-tip-toe presentation. Thinking on one's feet. I value rhetoric about revolution, I value manifestoes, I value shocking the bourgeoisie, I value conceptualism, I value intelligence, multiple discourses, channel-switching, formalism, intensity; I value binary-breaking and cracking open the head.
In my mirror, I see myself as making education USEFUL. It's amusing to realize, for myself, what I actually mean by that: When I say USEFUL education, I mean useful for self-realization, for actualization, for active critique, for separation from nation, community, family, for a REAL self-definition, for a confrontation with God, for a revalutation of all values, for a CHOICE in ethics, for existential choice, for responsibility which is a CHOICE not a SADDLE. USEFUL education is that education which allows one to put one's hands in the ACTUAL HUMUS of the earth, to touch the MATERIAL OF REALITY, and to see through, with fire, the many pseudo-realities of modern civilization.
I realize now, that that is NOT what everyone means by "useful" education. Many people mean the ability to integrate well into communities, to "make progress" either socially, financially, or other, to "succeed" (in the same or other categories) and so forth. Admittedly, those goals are good for a life in finance or in politics or in most other daily aspects of life, including perhaps relationships and domestic life, to say nothing of jobs and self-sustaining work and so on. It is true, no matter what I value, that THIS is more ACTUALLY USEFUL than what I like.
But, I have wanted to be the witch doctor, ever since college. I read, imbibed, otherwise consumed what I thought FIT the witch doctor, did things which suited the witch doctor, emphasized the witch doctor, and eventually, what started as illusion and hope, became real. I'm the witch doctor. But I have no village and no tribe, other than my inner multitudes.
I do, however, have job applications and maybe interviews. What do I say there? What role do I play? What is the MOST ACCURATE false face that I can put on, the one that will MOST EFFECTIVELY allow me to enter a world in which I MUST take part, whether or not I ACTUALLY WANT TO, and where I can only ever, AT BEST, partially get anything I value?
Do you see how and why it is hard for me to believe that she "felt at home" in the academy, anywhere?
What do you do for money? When I ask myself this question, I realize that the most honest answer is that I do not do ANYTHING for money. Money is incidental to my activities, no matter how much debt I have to repay. With sufficient foresight, I might have, at 15, at 18, at 21, not chosen the path of the witch doctor.
I AM interested in staying alive; this is not about living off the masses or anything like that. It is not that I DO NOT WISH to make money, it's that I don't VALUE IT FOR ITSELF. I realize, finally, that I live in a culture where the predominant value is to sustain oneself materially, through money. Trade. Work, earn, feed oneself. That is how it goes, and no amount of ritual will change this. But even when I get a temp job and work 8-5, I do not DO THAT for money; the disconnection here is between my BODILY MOVEMENT and the idea of INCOME. That linkage is incoherent. I understand, INTELLECTUALLY, that a job is the earning of income and that income is traded for goods, and from there, one prospers (or at least eeks out "a living") but I am not willing to accept that series as INTELLECTUALLY COHERENT, no matter how indisputably ACCURATE it is.
I understand my teaching as simply that: I teach people. If I spend all day typing data entry, then I am typing. If I am talking to people in an interview, I am speaking. Am I "earning money"? Yes, in that typing example. But the disconnection I'm describing happens RIGHT THERE: I am not ACTUALLY making money, with my bare hands. In fact, even a paper bill is, in existential light, NOT MONEY. This is not just bullshit philosophizing: money is a term which communities AGREE EXISTS.
If it were possible to break into certain computers, my debt could be made to disappear. In fact, look at identity theft: is it ACTUALLY possible for you to have three, or fifteen bodies? Of course not. But in identity theft, IT IS. You can spend your money, and not even BE YOU while you do it. Look at surveillance: are we going to start using voice recognition, fingerprint scanning? Are YOU, YOU? How do THEY know? Anyway, this is getting even more tangential.
My point is this: I do make money. Not, currently, as much as the "need" I have earned, requires, but that's fine. My debt, my "need" for money, isn't mine; it's the product of my ignorance of bureaucratic imperatives. Perhaps I should have aspired to grow up to be a proper bureaucrat, and then I wouldn't be in debt. But who aspires to that? Or, put more interestingly, why do we NOT ASPIRE TO BE BUREAUCRATS? Wouldn't that be, precisely, the BEST, the SMARTEST, career path?
I value the changing of minds, the broadening of awareness, in my teaching. Why can't I put that on a CV? Why are the "proper" terms different? It's probably that those units are DIFFICULT TO MEASURE. Anyone can say they "broaden minds"; how is a committee to decide? Number of publications, courses taught, however, THOSE can be measured.
The academy wants "more" than teaching. Obviously. I'm a talented teacher, and my current teaching CV is larger than that of some people who already HAVE tenure-track gigs. I've taught for TEN YEARS. That's a freakishly large quantity, and it's uncommon, in CV's sent to committees. I am POSITIVE that that's true. So why am I not getting more calls? Hello? Committees? Knock knock?
What more can they want; what can they want INSTEAD or IN ADDITION? More committee work? For someone to write that "I'm a good colleague?" What? WHAT????
A more accurate way to describe my relationship to earning: "making money" isn't high in the mix, when I commit a physical activity. If I'm doing data entry, I'm also talking to people around me, racing with them maybe, getting the punchline to that joke. Human interaction, high. Making money, incidental. If I'm teaching yoga, I'm checking out how bodies move. Modifying, adjusting. Relating to bodies? High. Making money? Incidental. If I'm teaching, getting the concept across is high; performativity, keeping attention at a peak, high. Making money? Incidental.
Of course, my indebtedness ramps up the importance of making money, but I just don't WANT to value it. Money is so intangible to me, that I feel like if I decide to jump on the "git it" train, I'll fall down a bottomless slope of depression, an addiction, like in _Requiem for a Dream_.
This job search has such potential: it can put me in a classroom, maybe with students who are maximally receptive to what I know and how I convey it. It has SUCH promise to put me even illusorily in touch with something I love. But it also has such heartbreaking potential to wear me down so deeply into cynicism that I never want to teach in a classroom again.
It just seems designed NOT to pay close attention to the "human story" here, if you will. There is discussion of "institutional fit": do you fit our institution? See how that's already detached from humanity?
Are you "what we're looking for"?
Why is job searching not organized on what the seeker loves? Why is it instead organized on what the seeking institutions THINK they want, complete with the middleman of cover letters?
Yes, I know it's all about "keeping the discipline up to date" and "building a small program" and so forth and so on. Institutions need to live and feed themselves, too, and to compete for accreditation and so forth. I do, despite my "me me me" rhetoric, see the bigger picture.
But it's hard to focus on it in the midst of suffering this bone-deep. Thus all of the interrogation, thus all of the sounding like a 5-year-old who doesn't understand "how grownups do things."
Do ya really like things as they are, grownups of the world? Do ya? REALLY?