Graduate school: cotillion for eggheads (by Timothy Burke, blogger and prof at Swarthmore). Perhaps I'm feeling sanguine simply because I got out of this year with my head in one piece, but it has not been quite that bad. There are plenty of good points in the essay, and if it has dissuaded any naïve young Bambi-eyed students from walking into the graduate-school abattoir, it has almost certainly done them a service. But Burke's contention that grad school is more about socialization than education hasn't really been true in my case; the spirit of intellectual inquiry is alive and well around here (even if it inevitably goes wrong much of the time), and I think we have the faculty to thank for this. I very much believe that most of the major strategies our discipline has developed for talking about literature are inadequate and misguided, and that useful criticism happens in spite of these methodologies rather than because of thembut even if cranky and blinkered ideologues write most of the essays I have to read around here, they don't lead the discussions. As a group, the faculty I've worked with this year have been incredibly committed to pedagogy and open to any number of intellectual approaches; if this is unusual for the discipline as a whole, then it's one reason I'm glad to be here in spite of the university's financial woes. (Naturally I don't think that any of the faculty take such an extreme interest in their students as to read their whiny weblogsbut thanks anyway, folks.)
Burke also writes that "academia is a total culture. It changes your standards for what is good and what is bad, what is smart and what is dumb. Independently evaluating academic life from within its confines is a near-impossibility." Scary. But if this is what's in store for me, it hasn't happened yet. I am again fortunate in having some intellectual bulwarks to remind me that talk about literature goes beyond the boundaries set by English departments; of course there's the novel, and more generally the entire worldview I took away from Iowa, but just as necessary have been those brilliant and educated but non-academic friends, online and off, from whom I continue to learn new things and who constitute a crucial benchmark to make sure I'm not turning into something I hate. Thank you, thank you.