Category Archives: academe

Quality, Not Quantity

“How many scholars are there whose single book or article has generated more intellectual energy than the collected works of other, quantitatively far more ‘productive,’ scholars? The commensurating device known as the ‘tape measure’ may tell us that a Vermeer interior and a cow plop are both twenty inches across; there, however, the similarity ends.”

—James C. Scott, Two Cheers for Anarchism

A Job’s a Job

“…I was finishing a PhD in philosophy at Emory University. The obvious path before me was to drift into a full-time position at a decent institution, work my dissertation into a book, zero in on a specialty, publish some articles and reviews, and lick the necessary wingtips to get tenure. But some sense of destiny (I would have never called it that then) kept me from ever taking such a path seriously. Though I’d proven myself capable of publishing articles and giving papers in the world of philosophy, I rebelled against the prospect of a microspecialty and the bureaucracy of tenure. Moreover, I hadn’t gotten into philosophy in order to become a scholar of philosophy, however wonderful and necessary the work of scholarship can be.

“When my mother called me from Iowa saying that she’d read in the local classified that Kirkwood Community College had a full-time philosophy position open, it seemed a reasonable way to get health insurance. The saying ‘a job is a job’ is particularly poignant for philosophers. Diogenes of Sinope, one of our profession’s early practitioners, used to beg money from statues. When asked why, he replied, ‘In order to get used to being refused.’ But he didn’t have a pregnant wife. And neither my wife nor I really wanted to live in a barrel and relieve ourselves outside, as were Diogenes’s customs.”

—Scott Samuelson, community college professor, journalist, and occasional chef at the beginning of The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone (2014)

Academics vs. Scholars

“The demand to publish, to be competitive on the job market, makes reading breadth and depth, to be truly interdisciplinary and broad focused, increasingly difficult. The neoliberal university is a space for the production academics (and commodities) rather than scholars or intellectuals.”

David J. Leonard

Theory

“I think undergraduates should be kept away from Theory at all costs. I don’t think people should be allowed to even hear the word ‘theory’ until they’re doing graduate work—for the very good reason that it’s impossible to theorize about texts before one has deep familiarity with them (not that that stopped anyone in the 1980s when I was in grad school). Undergraduates should be taught to have a clean appreciation of what texts say and how they say them, and learn how to write intelligently and clearly about that. If undergraduates had to have a model of criticism it ought to be popular criticism rather than traditional academic criticism.”

Daniel Mendelsohn

Overcome Your Fear of Rejection

“Strikingly original, quirky individual – ‘creative’ – ‘nonconformist’ – would not be admitted to most competitive universities & colleges. Great American writers – Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Whitman, Dickinson, Poe et al. – would surely be rejected by ‘top’ universities today.”

—Joyce Carol Oates on  Twitter

(Via.)

What It’s Like

“A good writer needs to know what it’s like, and ‘it’ can be just about anything. We have far too many writers today who have never ridden a horse, or fired a gun, or sharpened a knife, or fought with their fists, or been shot at. And so on and so on. They are like those professors who get a Ph.D. and a job teaching. Clearly nobody can try everything, but it’s possible to try a lot. I’ve sailed on a small boat, for example.  Also a troopship, and a luxury liner.  I’ve been a waiter, worked in a factory, and flown in a light plane. (No, I was not the pilot, but I wish I had been.)”

Gene Wolfe

Badges

“America is thus a nation rapidly drifting towards a state of things in which no man of science or letters will be accounted respectable unless some kind of badge or diploma is stamped upon him”

—William James, “The PhD Octopus” (1903)