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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Shifting Interests

My interest has been shifting from the problem of productivity (scholarly writing and how to get it done) to a more holistic view. I realized that my profession is valuable to me because it allows me to pursue my interests. My scholarship and teaching might be of value to others for other reasons, but for me they serve me as a way of allowing me to pursue subjects of deep interest to me. It's all very well to play the scholarship game. I play it very well and am interested in the subjects I write about. The main purpose of the game, however, is to allow me to be fully myself. The profession (and the job I have) gives me enough money to live on, a lot of freedom and autonomy, and some institutional resources. An office and access to the library.

So my focus has shifted from advice about how to play the game, to how to make the game serve the interests that it should be serving. Sorry for the vagueness, but I only arrived at this realization today so I haven't worked out what this will mean in practice.

There is a danger, here, of falling into a kind of naive anti-academy thinking. The formalities of academic life and the arbitrary limits of disciplines do serve vital functions. We might say: "Permission granted, but not to do whatever you want," to quote Cage.

[The paradox here is that the academy wants to give me this freedom and autonomy. It rewards people like me. Now imagine a system in which my research was more tightly defined and I was held "accountable." A Mark Bauerlein world in which the number of articles I wrote was limited by how many society supposedly needed, or that penalized me for working outside my own discipline.]

In the coming weeks I'll be exploring some of these directions. There are also changes taking place in my personal life that I cannot blog about here. I have been through a very difficult period from October of 2011 until now. I hope to come out on the other side of it by the end of April or so. These changes have also provoked me to look at the problem of writing from a larger vantage-point. Once again, I apologize for the vagueness here. I am doing the written equivalent of thinking out loud.


Thomas said...

I think I know what you mean. We're talking about making people "stronger" as scholars in a pretty value-neutral way. We want them to use that strength "only for good", but you never know when someone's going to turn them towards the Dark Side.

(When I left my position as resident writing consultant last month, one the PhD students gave me a Jedi action figure as a going-away present.)

Jonathan said...

I wasn't thinking along those lines exactly. Who is to say what a good use of humanities scholarship is? A guess my vagueness, though, allows anyone to fill in the blanks with their own concerns.

What interests me is the line of thought I developed in my article "What Lorca Knew: Teaching Receptivity." I want to use all of my knowledge in every aspect of my work, to use everything I know to the fullest extent possible.

profacero said...

Coming out by April - are you actually able to plan things like this? I'm intrigued...

Jonathan said...

Well yes. In this case it is something that I can plan, more or less. If things go on as planned I will be able to go on with my life by the end of April.

Clarissa said...

I can't wait for posts exploring this new direction of your thinking about the life of a scholar.