Sunday, 24 January 2010

The End of Lurker Amnesty Week & a Brief Meditation on Professional Identity in the Public Sphere From now on, any lurker who leaves a comment will face reprisals both terrible and swift. Or not. For the most part, I performed this experiment to figure out who I'm writing for because 1) there are many more of you now, but the increase in readers has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of commenters, and 2) I thought knowing who you were might compensate for the fact that I'm not sure who I am anymore. When I started Acephalous, I was a graduate student in American literature who taught introductory literature classes and believed his dissertation would change the conversation just enough to land him a tenure-track job somewhere significant. My investment in that particular professional identity waned as the odds of its fruition faded, so I remade myself into someone who teaches literary journalism and spent a few years invested in a conception of myself as a candidate who could teach American literature and literary journalism, creative nonfiction, or whatever a particular institution called its program in the writing of things that belong in The New Yorker. But I still considered myself a future literary-critical professional and wrote things that indicated as much, e.g. most everything I wrote about literary theory. Not that my interest in those issues wasn't genuine, but the attention paid to them was commensurate to their foundational significance to an identity that, it became increasingly apparent, the market valued in name alone: the well-rounded literary scholar. After finishing the dissertation, I became that thing that no one wants to admit exists: the professional composition instructor. When tenured English faculty bother to note the existence of these poor souls, they speak to them as if their lives consist entirely of pain and wasted potential. As you might imagine, it is difficult to invest heavily in the identity that for years had functioned as an object lesson in professional failure. Had I focused on rhetoric and composition in my graduate work, I wouldn't have been in this situation, as my current position would have been an extension of my professional identity. But I didn't. To this day, I'm still not entirely comfortable in my professional skin, so much so that I have to trick myself into thinking I'm an adult by wearing slacks and dress shoes to class, shaving daily, and not punctuating my sentences with as much profanity as is my wont. All of which is only to say that as my expertise played an increasingly smaller role in what I taught, I began to feel ungrounded. I'd prepared myself to be a well-rounded literary scholar, but ended up a professional composition instructor. Then I realized something tremendously important: I was happy. I was teaching composition to freshmen and felt strongly gratified doing so. I wasn't teaching students abstruse theories about how literature works or arcane theories about how species evolved—I was teaching them the tools they need to interact with the world with a critical distance. Moreover, the online...

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