“At one point, students were expected to take part in Democracy.”

So stated Arabella today regarding the roots of Freshman Comp.

Arabella can be very, er, hyperactive sometimes. But her dedication to socioeconomic equality is clear and consistent. It’s something I love about UB (and I assume that many large state schools are like this, though UVA wasn’t, in my experience).

According to her brief map, in the early days of American education, men in those old colleges took two semesters of rhetoric so they could give speeches and participate in politics. Of course, Democracy meant something very different then, it was more of a Platonic Democracy. When the Seven Sisters were established, women were taught rhetoric and educated about suffrage. What was rhetoric (oral) transitioned to the written with the advent of large state-style schools which trained civic and business leaders for Middle America.

Another assumption about Composition here is the Death of the Author. This is reinforced at every turn, from brainstorming to editing to “finalizing” the never-final paper. The idea of constantly doing group work and drafts also reduces plagiarism to almost-nothing. I’ve only had plagiarism as a problem in my class once and it wasn’t in a Comp class, it was in the German literature class I taught.

Sitting in the pedagogy orientation and eating it up– this is why I love teaching, what I love about academia– the responsibility of it, the possibility of changing the way students think, analyze, interact with the world; catching them at this moment of first-adulthood, at that American Dream moment when first-generation college students have the opportunity to close the gap. It’s not just the short-term solution, either– a university education doesn’t just reinforce the game of catch-up and class politics, it can also give a framework for thinking critically which can (could?) create social change. It’s college-educated young men and women who were early supporters of Obama, college students who consistently vote for third-party candidates, college students who march and demonstrate and get gassed and influence the architecture of future campuses by their shenanigans.

On the other hand, sitting around with grad students is something I’m not eating up. The innocent questions: where are you living? When did you move to Buffalo? The pretentious ones: Have you read Deleuze? What are your research interests? Do you have your Master’s? Have you taught before? … All this jockeying as if it were a race. It is a race. Academia is a race– collect the most flags as you navigate the turns and whirlpools. It’s easy to be sucked in to the race– I feel my heart throbbing with some desire to answer such prick-ly questions, while I know that the only way I will be able to participate in Academia is to remember my own goals (“keep your eyes on the prize,” she said). The petty trials and tribulations, the legitimately brilliant overachievers with two books before they graduate (Martin), the loud high-pitched overachievers (oh, UVA), the endless competition cannot plague me.

What are my goals?

– To have a job that gives me enough money to live comfortably, save for children, save for retirement, buy a house, pay off debt.

– To continue to teach. This can be achieved in many ways– teaching college or high school or being a teaching librarian.

– To contribute to scholarship, although I’m not yet sure how. I would like to write the book Deleuze didn’t write on Kafka–the book he should’ve written (this is possible here; at UVA I’d be laughed at for my pretension, how dare I think I could write the book Deleuze didn’t write on Kafka? But dear Deleuze, he was working it all out for himself, his muddled poet-philosophy, the political climate of the time. These years later, Deleuze’s ideas have had time to process in the collective mind, I have the advantage of seeing clearly because he looked into a cloudy orb). I would like to write the book on Joyce and Zukofsky that Mark Scroggins called for at the 2003 Zukofsky conference, or any book on Zukofsky. I would like to write on poetry and architecture, but I see that as more of a creative project (literary theory, not academic scholarship), probably not something I can achieve in the 3 years I imagine it would otherwise take me to complete my PhD. The PhD need not fulfill all these desires. The body of work that’s the dissertation need not be the entire, the final body of work. But it must be something I love working on, and not a piece of writing forged by false predictions of what the job market will like or false assumptions of what I’m capable of.

The prize is the work.


About Jessica Smith

This entry was posted in Academia. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “At one point, students were expected to take part in Democracy.”

  1. Stv Ptrmir says:

    I just read “Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature” over the summer. I had a good time re-reading much of Kafka, especially “Das Schloss”. I thought Deleuze articulated the idea of humor in Kafka’s work very well. Much of Kafka is absolutely hilarious. I’ll look forward to reading a gook of yours on Kafka sometime in the next few years. One on Zukofsky, too.

  2. Stv Ptrmir says:

    Ooops. That should be “a book of yours.” Sorry.

  3. muse says:

    This is good.

  4. muse says:

    i want to read. i want to understand.

  5. muse says:

    this is not fair. you don’t give me access. i am woven into your life. you brought me here. you don’t communicate with me yet you tell people we know stories about me. i’m not comfortable about you writing about me in a semi-public light that my friends can access but i cannot. i wish you would stop or communicate what you are writing about me. all i ask of you is to consider somebody else’s feelings. i love you.

  6. Brian, your friends can’t access the blog either. Only a few people have access. And I’m not writing about you. I’m writing about the rest of my life, which is a pretty gargantuan topic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s