Friday, September 16, 2005

Land of the Lost

Whew. Ten days since my last post. Ten days afloat in the sea of political turmoil and personal revenge. Ten days in which I questioned my future and explored my inner consciousness. Ten days of madness, mayhem, dare I say, intrigue. Ten days that will change the world.

Wait a minute. That was someone else's ten days. My previous ten days have been spent contemplating, freaking out about, and enduring graduate school. Here's the thing about where I am in life right now: I feel like I'm in some sort of holding pattern. I'm excited about having a master's degree (mostly so I can lord it over people and request that they do, in fact, call me master). I'm excited about the opportunities it will bring me and I'm excited for the sense of accomplishment I expect to feel when I finish--which wasn't so much the case with college. I'm excited to have two fancy pieces of paper sitting in my closet waiting to be framed, instead of just one.

But at the same time, I'm mentally done with graduate school. I don't have any passion about the classes I'm taking--particularly Renaissance Rhetoric, which is about 1/3 as fun as it sound. I'm not interested in pursuing academic publishing or presenting at conferences. I'm not interested in answering the questions to "Describe your methodology" or "Explain your field of expertise." I don't want to have any more discussions about the relative merits of Sedgewick's methodology or why Frankenstein's monster may or may not stand in for the female body or homosexuality or Freudian conceptions of thanatos.

I am interested in reading good books and helping others get more out of them. To that end, I'd like to spend about 90% of my time researching, reading, and discussing the books I'm teaching, rather than the books I'm being taught. Instead of just having time to develop a few discussion questions for my Asian Lit class, I'd like to do more research on the authors and the context in which they're writing. I'd like to have time to know what I'm talking about! "But hey, Joel," I hear you saying, "That's kind of the point of graduate school, isn't it? To develop an expertise so that you can better teach it?" Well, I answer, not really. At least not in English departments that I've been acquainted with. Granted, someone's got to write the articles and find the texts that I'm hoping to research, but the real focus in English departments like the one I'm involved in is much more convoluted than that. Much of the focus in grad school (and beyond) is on publishing, on finding a niche, on discovering someone not being studied and setting yourself apart by studying him, her, or it. That's all well and good, but all too often the scholar turns into a hermit, furiously working away on a single topic that interests four other people in the world. There's an element to it all that reeks of mental self-gratification, and it just turns me off.

Maybe, though, that's why I find myself not enjoying the master's study. I find the research and concepts being explored by many in my field to be merely self-reflexive and irrelevent outside of English departments. But I get caught up in it, and worry about impressing my peers, and having something relevent to say, and reading hundreds of pages, and on and on in this little circle that takes me farther and farther away from what I want to be doing--opening up literature to a broader audience and introducing people to the pleasures of reading broadly--and focusing more and more to this little circle of inactivity where, like the ninth circle of Dante's hell, everything is frozen, inactive, self-obsessed.

It's that kind of thing that takes me away from blogging. Heck, it takes me away from pretty much everything. I hate that.

So I'll make it through this next year--in whatever way--and hope that when I do get a job (hopefully teaching high school) I'll be finally able to focus a little more on what I want: not just increasing my own understanding of literature and its place in the world, but opening that door for other people as well. That's the ultimate goal anyway. As a sort of mini-goal before that, I'll just try not to fall off the face of the earth again and keep my posts a litte more regular. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

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