Monday, September 24, 2012


"An education consists in 'getting wise' in the rawest and hardest boiled sense of that bit of argot." (Ezra Pound)

Brayden King has raised an interesting concern about Fabio Rojas's Grad Skool Rulz that also applies to what I do here at RSL. Both of us are trying to help by offering advice to researchers. But in so doing we are also describing the life of research, often pushing back against a number of myths about what it's like to be a scholar. Brayden rightly wonders whether he would have gone into research if he had read and believed the Rulz before entering grad school.

I say "rightly" because of my own experiences. While I was doing my PhD, it dawned on me very slowly that "the life of the mind" promised by an academic career was not quite what I had been dreaming of. If I had encountered either Fabio's "rul book" or this blog, I'm not sure I would have drawn the intended conclusion: accept the conditions and learn to work accordingly. I may very well have decided that I can't work under those conditions; I'm going to do something else. (Which is, in fact, what I decided to do after learning it the hard way.) I didn't get into academia to work hard satisfying a bunch of publishing criteria and other bureaucratic performance measures. I got into it to satisfy my own curiosity about how the world works. (Specifically, to answer the question, "What is knowledge?")

The question that Fabio and I have to ask ourselves is whether our descriptions of research prioritize the aspects of research that the people who we (i.e., as a society) want to pursue research themselves prioritize. Brayden puts it well when he says that, in comparison to the lucidity and realism of the Rulz, he went into grad school with a high degree of naiveté. Learning the truth the hard way as he went. Does what Fabio and I say, then, actually imply (at least for some readers) that to think you're going to be able to satisfy your curiosity about how the world works by pursuing a life of scholarship is simply naive. Are we saying you need to "get wise"? Are we saying that you should expect instead to discover only that the university is yet another domain of social life that puts you to work?

My answer to this question is ambivalent. Universities are changing and they are certainly attracting people of what Heidegger called "a different stamp" than when I started out.

To be continued.

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