Friday, November 1, 2013

I guess at a certain point you get tired of apologizing for yourself.  (No one else does.)  I didn't get to go on in academia--perhaps the feeling was mutual--for reasons my father had long grounded me in, reasons alluded to, generally, in the Henry Giroux article below.  And quickly, yes, it is a slippery slope, when you leave that world.  Gone, the time and energy to really read as an intellectual should, for one thing.  Gone, the moral back-up and support of engaged colleagues, campus settings, college towns, along with the explicit sense of the importance of intellectual work.  Outside it, you're another widget maker.

I never made a lot of money, but I earned what I did make, and I put up with a lot, odd hours, waiting on the very low as well as the very high, a subsistence wage, a lack of retirement and a future and the security necessary to begin a family.  I still manage to sleep at night, but I'm in no more pretty a picture than a lot of people find themselves in now.  And before a certain time, or absorbing a certain general sense of things, I felt somehow it was all my fault.  I'd been handed the golden opportunities, and almost willingly tossed them away, almost with the zeal of a religious convert abandoning worldly goods to embrace the poor and low, albeit in a very undramatic fashion.

And over the years, I wrote a book, or at least something that looked like one, even as some took it to be plotless and pointless, no 'there' there.  I wrote a book largely about what it's like to find yourself out of the Garden of Eden--not that it is that--of a life in higher education.  I wrote a piece looking organically, at an experiential level, about the academy turning away, in its comfort, of its moral duties of pedagogy, an old guard preserving it, but amidst a general unstoppable erosion.  I wrote it with little encouragement, and it was a foolish thing to do, as we all know that time is money, and I spent years on it.

After it was done I looked around for some feedback.  A professor who'd been helpful, at least polite, bothering to read the few things I sent him and responding, seemed to lose interest, believing that memoirs should be kept private, not published.  The Kirkus Indie reviewing service I shelled out four hundred bucks for returned with a predictable corporate response as to what might sell, and gave away in its review its blatant bias about the purpose of education as the means for going out and getting a job in the more or less corporate world.  Why should I have expected anything other than that?

There was my father's praise before he passed away, which was all the confirmation over a decent attempt I needed.  Occasional readers would express approval and even sometimes praise.  But you write one book, put it out on Amazon...  Well, who wants to be famous anyway?  There is a narcissism in that anyway, the reckless inward look of the aggrandizing self-promoter.

Far from being welcomed back as something of a moral compass, no, it was obvious that in the eyes of the college I'd graduated from my book was out of the mainstream, therefore not a serious effort, maybe just because it hadn't been published in the mainstream way, the literary agent, the publishing house, etc.  Begrudgingly that I'd published something was acknowledged, as the book club proceeded to go through books feeding the general idea that their effort was mainly to serve the economy, shed light on how a law firm worked, or bow to the book industry itself with its thrillers and mysteries and crime novels.  Not much literary fiction.  And all of it related to the economic world and directly its entities.  My book?  No, too awkward, too weird, and maybe subliminally suggesting 'law suit.'

My reward, I suppose, for thinking outside the box, as a student, and later as a writer (self-taught), was poor grades, largely for thinking too much over things so that papers were late, the subtle insinuation that I was irresponsible, a stalker, a punk, a miscreant, a deviant.  No faculty dining club, a digestif after an impeccable meal with George Kateb (as Pritchard writes about in his memoir) for me, but rather a meal before a shift, reheating something late after a long night, a shift drink.

I did not set out by outlining a critique of modern academia and its corporate influences and the economic claims upon graduates.  I set out to tell a story, as I saw the story develop itself.  Later, if you want, you can take out recognitions of things.  You might see that college males are not the only ones who exhibit callous insensitivity in their behaviors.  You might see an assumption that white European ancestry straight males are suspect of something, blowhards, rants.  You might see the bias towards those who are going to intentionally go out and make a lot of money as being first class citizens, later invited, as lawyers and bankers, to be trustees, no matter the behavior of banks and law firms;  the bias toward a certain kind of intellectual, non threatening to the liberal post modern status quo, but far less adept at being what they are in the end supposed to be, teachers, not lecturers;  the seemingly ever shifting, yet ever static 'liberal' pieties that allow an academic community to ever justify their own place of privilege.

The artist's self-question needs to be disinterested, part of JFK's message at Amherst, if he's to serve society with his poetry, with his questioning of entrenched powers that be.  It was my thought to include Hunter S. Thompson along with Ernest Hemingway (both sensitive guys who can get dismissed as being drunks and louts, and not really the proper subject of academic study when compared to Dryden or Robert Lowell or Yeats or Joyce, even though they too are democrats and literary phenomena) and the treatment of modern reality, the prose pedagogically similar, in that they show the basic truth of life, like the need to preserve the nervous system and the benefit of a glass of wine when things get to be too much.

Among my influences, as it should be for many a writer, Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front.   With that book, of course, it's all caught on camera;  not just the societal assumption taught to good school boys, that it's sweet to die for one's country, the pieties of a teaching class fallen into selfish corruption, but a sustained trip to the hell that comes of it.  But there is that lasting element of being marched out, back and forth in formation, waiting for the real inhumanity to happen.  Here it's the blast furnace of war.  For us it will be trying to live off of Social Security, of jobs that just can't cover expenses, or dropping into artistic oblivion for not selling money-making art in a corporate friendly package.

No one can tell you, if you care about matters of education, that you are not an intellectual.  You will have to go and define it for yourself if you are going to be one, though, of course, it helps to read and be given an education in the first place.

Superfluous sketches:

I don't go out much.  I really can't afford it.  Chinese take out is a splurge, when I'm too tired at the end of the week to get to the grocery store.  I don't have a lot to write about, consequently, no Moveable Feast scene of meeting Pound out at a cafe.  I don't really know any Pounds anyway.  I'm too tired from my shifts anyway, and to go out to a real sit-down dinner is way beyond my weekly income.  Maybe not many epiphanies are had cooking bison burgers and smoking up the kitchen with PBS on in the background.

No comments: