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Monday, 25 January 2010


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Rich Puchalsky

"Then I realized something tremendously important: I was happy."

Oh geez. I'm glad you're happy -- it's better than not being happy -- but still.

"I trained to do biological research. But as the years went on, my findings displeased the Party apparatus and finally I was sent to do farm labor. But as I felt the wind on my face, gazing out over a row of apple tree seedlings I'd planted, I realized something tremendously important: I was happy."

"I had always wanted to be a writer. I worked on it for a long time, going to classes, polishing my technique, spending long hours on rewrites. But none of my novels or stories were published. So, to make ends meet, I had to start working as a prostitute. But then I realized that I really like men, and as I saw how much pleasure I was bringing to people, I realized something tremendously important: I was happy."

"I had once dreamed of making the commune really work. But, you know, that youthful idealism really didn't count for much when the multinationals took over the market. We got bought out. Now that I'm managing the store for them, I get to talk to my customers, have honest human contact -- when I helped an elderly person through a special order, I realized something tremendously important: I was happy."


The difference being, I'm not being exploited. The benefits of being a UC lecturer with a 75 percent appointment are 1) an honest-to-god adult salary with 2) great health and dental. I'm in a better position than a lot of people with TT jobs in terms of pay and course-load.

Rich Puchalsky

"Hmm, let's see, should I take the TT job? Nah, I don't really want to do academic research. I want the better pay and course-load! I think I'll be a lecturer."

The reason that you're a lecturer has, of course, the individual accidents that happen in every life in it, but mostly it's because of how education in America was handled politically. If "not being exploited" equals making a good amount of money, you're not doing as well as two of the examples that I chose.


I missed Lurker Amnesty Week, hope you don't mind me commenting here.

I'm an undergraduate English Lit major attending both CSUN and Pierce College. I first found your blog via a link back when the students-having-sex-in-your-office story was all over the Web. I then forgot about it until another link directed me to your posts on The Dark Knight (you have increased my appreciation for that movie tenfold.) Lovin' the Mad Men posts too, keep up the awesomeness.


Jordan, nice to meet you. By virtue of being here all by your lonesome, you receive a personal greeting!

Rich, sure, I'd take the TT job if it was out there, but if I'm remembering correctly, American Literature accounted for .06 percent of jobs being advertised at the MLA, whereas rhetoric and composition accounted for about 70 percent. I'm still doing academic research, it's just geared toward teaching students how to write better, recognize arguments, and understand the (predominantly visual) culture in which they live. If anything, I spend my days feeling far less hermetically sealed than I did previously. Yes, there are drawbacks that accompany these benefits, but the benefits are still beneficent.

Shane In Utah

There are lots of reasons I keep coming back here (though baseball posts aren't among them), but your suggestions for comic book readings are high on the list. I'm about 1/4 of the way through Asterios Polyp, and having trouble putting it down. Thanks!

Rich Puchalsky

You seem to be commenting as if you think what you're writing is different from what I wrote. Yes, you are responding to the economic constraints that you've been put within. Yes, jobs have benefits, and they are still beneficent no matter what drawbacks they also have. The guy sent to do farm labor by the Party really does feel a deep spiritual connection to the land that he didn't have before. The prostitute really does make a lot of money, and perhaps really likes being so much in demand. The manager of the store really does have good health benefits, and feels a lot less hermetically sealed now that he's helping customers than he did when he was going over the books of the commune, trying to figure out how to make it work.

Do I think that those people should be virtuously unhappy? No. But when they describe that particular kind of happiness as tremendously important, well...

" You see that? That's where I was born. You know, one day, when
I was a little boy, my mother she took me on her knee and she
said: 'Gaston, my son. The world is a beautiful place. You
must go into it, and love everyone, not hate people. You must
try and make everyone happy, and bring peace and contentment
everywhere you go.' And so... I became a waiter...

[There is a rather long pause, while he looks a bit
self-deprecating and nods shyly at the live.]

Well... it's... it's not much of a philosophy, I know...
but... well... fuck you... I can live my own life in my own
way if I want to. Fuck off! Don't come following me!"

Sid the Anarchist Lurker

You bloody fascist motherwanker, give us our amnesty or you'll face a terribly rotten spectre!


As you note, Scott, your commenters are a steady group, and we have a tendency to write for you, and for each other. I was very struck by the success of your Lurker Amnesty (not, mind you, inspired to attempt something like that with my own hiatus-ish blog; it's not worth it) and realize that we your commenters have a substantial audience. I don't know if that's going to change the way I comment, or if it should, but it feels different, somehow. It's the difference between being part of a small seminar and being on a panel discussion in front of a conference crowd (not that my panel discussions have ever drawn what you could call "a crowd" in any meaningful sense of the word). I did notice that most of your lurkers mentioned your posts, and none of them mentioned your commenters as a raison de lire, so it seems clear that our "performance" isn't really having a significant effect on your readership, either in numbers or in quality of experience.


so it seems clear that our "performance" isn't really having a significant effect on your readership, either in numbers or in quality of experience.

Well, it certainly improves the quality of my experience as a blogger, so I hope my little experiment won't change the way you comment.


But when they describe that particular kind of happiness as tremendously important, well...

I'm not saying "comfortable complacence is happiness," though: I'm saying that I was surprised that this object lesson in professional failure is actually more intellectually satisfying than a corresponding position of teaching American literature to majors, because for all the high-minded talk of teaching "critical thinking" that goes on in theoretical circles, what's actually being taught isn't useful in the least. It does an undergraduate no good to be able to perform a watered-down deconstruction of a nineteenth-century novel, but teaching them to be cognizant of the rhetoric operative in their daily lives is something else entirely.

Karl Steel

so I hope my little experiment won't change the way you comment.
boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop boop


I hope my little experiment won't change the way you comment.

No, although if the lurkers had indicated any interest in becoming more comment-active -- were it not for that overbearing pseudonymous thing that keeps popping up -- I'd certainly consider it.

Rich Puchalsky

I wouldn't describe it as complacence. It's only complacence if you really had the choice of getting that TT job if you worked really hard for it. But, you know, .06 percent is close enough to zero.


I'm not sure how to read Rich's comments, or more specifically which politics he's talking about. Rich, are you talking about the politics of an over-saturated academic market, or of CA budgeting and higher-ed, or simply of life under capitalism (state or otherwise) and its inevitable disappointments? I'm not sure that I buy all of the Science of Happiness stuff (which seems to be everywhere I look that last couple of months), but I can't tell what it is you're arguing that it's distracting us from.

As for you, SEK, just like I'm not allowed to give up on my chosen profession because the market hasn't been offering me anything but kind and condescending smiles yet this year, you're not allowed to declare yourself a failure because you haven't secured a TT job yet. This is your second year "in hand" in an awful terrible no good market. If you decide that you're more interested in teaching and writing about composition, that's just fine. There are TT and union jobs to be found there too and, as you say, it can be just as professionally satisfying in a different way (kind of like if I am lucky enough to be hired somewhere to teach world history and occasionally squeze in the stuff i was actually trained in). However, it is far too soon to declare yourself cast out of the garden, just because Yahweh's been acting kind of distant lately.


I'm sorry, I really am, but getting sucked in as a frequent commenter on yet another blog will not do good things to my free time, and will not exactly be helpful to my procrastination issue.

Good day all.


I disagree re: "It does an undergraduate no good to be able to perform a watered-down [(why watered down?)] deconstruction of a nineteenth-century novel..." (sans the "watered-down" part). The critical methodologies deployed in this practice can "teach them to be cognizant of the rhetoric operative in their daily lives..." in so many ways. The Butler/Fish debate about politics in the classroom highlights this issue for so many reasons (and, speaking of "Profession 2009", what was your opinion of Gerald Graff's piece?), and I think that one of the imperative points that is being overlooked here is the possibility that critical thinking within a localized context can, with the right guidance, lead to the formation of a skill set that can be put to use in contemporary society. English majors utilize these texts because they happen to be objects of study that suit their personal interests (thus Butler on politics in the classroom and the crucial role it plays in identity formation, even if that identity happens to be polymorphous or always in flux); the underlying interest in and passion for the object of contemplation (whether it be social trends and census data, Impressionist paintings, or Mad Men...) allows for a degree of familiarity (structurally, at least) that acts as precursor to the subsequent introduction of highly unfamiliar (and often derealizing/deconstructive) terrains. I'm thinking along the lines of a sort of pedagogical Uncanny...

To conclude: Yes, I believe that we need to reconsider our priorities in higher education and yes, I think that we need to address the reality that the behavioral and cognitive development of the current (and forthcoming) student body is unprecedentedly different from previous generations (Richard Miller, at Rutgers, has written extensively on this topic, and his vision of a 'New Humanities' is inspiring)...but I just can't concede to the notion that critical interrogations of artifacts from other cultures (and time periods) fail to prepare a student for "their daily lives".

Rich Puchalsky

Jpool, it can't simply be life under capitalism, or we would have no basis of comparison. Within living memory, academia's relationship to new Ph.D.s has been different than it is now. Nor is it merely a California phenomenon, since the MLA job market (for example) is not specifically Californian. What's been happening in American higher ed has been going on since the 1980s, I'd say, and has to do (along with everything else) with the Reagan era, which in turn has to do with the way in which American elites have made use of racism.

The "I discovered happiness" thing is troublesome because hey, sometimes it's even true. Who am I to say that the person whose life has been involuntarily simplified hasn't discovered happiness? People are actually much more likely to be happy taking care of a child or planting a field or teaching freshmen than they are with more difficult intellectual work, which by its nature is frustrating and isolating. But however true it is in individual cases, I just dislike it as a trope. You end up talking down the ideals that you can't have, which is how I interpret the "teaching American literature to majors is not useful" thing, and the important parts of your situation become how you respond to it, not what's actually happening.

Jane Doe

Ahistoricality , I did not mean to leave the commenters out as a reason for reading this blog, as I enjoy them quite a bit.

The academic credentials here are a bit intimidating, but I do enjoy reading about literature and theories that I normally do not come across on the interweb. I should probably check my StumbleUpon settings and see if I can't find something a bit 'brainier' than satire and humor.


Well, Rich, I for one welcome our compositionist overlords, or something.

American Literature accounted for .06 percent of jobs being advertised at the MLA, whereas rhetoric and composition accounted for about 70 percent.

You're way off on the numbers and you know why.

I think Rich actually has a good point with his stories; sometimes fear is not about rational self-preservation.

PS you shaved the beard?!?!?1?!

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