Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Further Meditations on the (First) Conversational Transcript

Thanks to those of you who posted such insightful, funny, and commiserating comments to the previous entry: they cheered me up immensely. I was planning to reply to y'all as yet another comment, but I realized that the comment was rapidly becoming its own post, so here goes:

It's true that, as TGB points out, I could simply use my acquaintance with a "crazy foreign sex criminal who hands out public works contracts" as evidence of how well connected my degree has made me. But I think the effect would fade once people figured out I was talking about Chaucer. Blessed be he, but he is, after all, long dead.

I also think TGB is right when he says that some folks ask grad students what they're doing out of simple curiosity. I am certainly willing to indulge these people at great length about my favorite crazy foreign sex criminal, my favorite uncontrollably weeping mystic, my favorite devil's-ass kicking saint, and others, ad nauseum. And, if they're honestly interested in why I'd do what I do with so little chance of monetary gain to show for it, I'm happy to reveal myself as the grubby little idealist I am and will probably even grin incredulously and shake my head right along with them.

But I'm afraid that not all grad student interrogators are spurred on by such noble impulses as well-meaning curiosity. In fact, I think most people lose a true sense of curiosity about the world* by the age of 12 and that this is one of the ways in which scholars (as differentiated, of course, from pedants) are unlike most people.

I also think many people feel threatened by this scholarly curiosity and boundary-pushing and tend to react badly by doing belligerent and ill-conceived parodies of it. This is precisely what Winter described when she mentioned the type of inquisition that's meant to "knock us down a peg." These people's questions are meant to beat us at our own game: to demonstrate the supreme majesty of the supposedly "real world" Zelda mentioned merely by asking a few supposedly well placed questions.

"The real world" is, by the way, one of my least favorite phrases ever. It goes straight to the heart of what the people who utter it are trying to do, which is nothing less than to deny the acutality of lives that aren't like theirs. The world of honest scholarly pursuit is every bit as real as the one these smarmy jackasses inhabit, and their patronizing bullshit chaps the exquisitely supple Wiseass hide until she must seek out the emotional equivalent of Vermont's Original Bag Balm.

After all, the world of ideas is as real as any other we know and is, in fact, largely indistingishable from the world of practicalities. Ideas make things happen. The way we think about the world sets events in motion just as surely as forklifts and nuclear warheads and taxi cabs do. Why else would there be such things as psyops, advertising campaigns, and "talking points"?

Furthermore, I submit that denials of the reality of graduate students' work, in particular, have become a matter of social justice. This is precisely the kind of mindfuck the Academic Corporatists use to defend their shameless exploitation of postgraduate labor: "Well, yes, they may be teaching 85% of the undergraduate classes, but it's part of their training. It's not real work, is it?" The more self-interested members of the professoriate (who may or may not be Academic Corporatists themselves) are contented to add: "And, anyway, teaching a load of brats how to write a decent sentence is beneath us."

This type of thinking enables several different species of complacent professorial jerks to oppose unionization for graduate students; to chortle indulgently at the financial, personal, or medical troubles of their advisees; to consider us as unpaid event-planners, ghost-writers, eye-candy, or car-washers; and to--yes, my friends--actually refer to us as "children" in their hearing, regardless of whether we're over the age of 25. They have battened themselves on this idea of our essential unreality-before-degree, and they expect us to choke it down until we believe it, too.

I'm not interested in denying the reality or usefulness of either a cab driver's or a professor's existence, because I regard such endeavors as a losing proposition. What bewilders me is that there are so many people from so many different walks of life who don't hesitate to deny the reality or usefulness of mine.

And yes, TF, I agree with you. It may sound dubious to some people, but it is true that job candidates who know how to think on their feet, produce documents that actually communicate, speak well to diverse audiences, and process complex information well are infinitely preferable to the many candidates who have "industry-specific" experience but cannot do those things. And smart employers know that. I am, therefore, not worried that I am fully capable of providing for myself and other people who might end up counting on me, even if I may well have to consider leaving academia to do it.


*By "a true sense of curiosity about the world," I mean something that extends beyond a desire to know what certain people look like in (or, more pointedly, out of) their knickers, who's getting to see each other in (or out of) their knickers and probably shouldn't be, what the insides of celebrities' houses are like, and so on. Not that I'm not curious about all those things, myself.