Friday, March 25, 2011

Application

I am writing to apply for the position teaching Old English, Middle English, and the history of English that you advertised in the October MLA Job Information List. My fields of specialization are Old and Middle English literature, and I am particularly interested in 1) the representation of relations between men and women in Medieval literature, and 2) the ways in which 19th and 20th Century writings (both literary and critical) re-invent and deploy "the Medieval" to further their literary, social, and political aims.

I am a graduate student completing my Ph.D. in the English Department at Yale University. In September 1989 I expect to submit my dissertation, titled "Painting the Lion: Chaucer's Legend of Good Women."




Among the papers I'm throwing out: a draft of an application. I'm struck by the listlessness and pomposity of it -- do all academics sound that way? It goes on for pages, of course, describing my dissertation and the books I supposedly envisioned writing. Including, I was surprised to see, the dissertation I had just abandoned, the book -- that was to establish at one blow my literary theory and historical linguistic chops -- about metaphor and metonymy in Old English poetry. Ay me! I loved to play the bad boy, and I was such a pandering lickspittle. I didn't believe any of that crap, but I was still offering it up to my masters for approval.

In the same notebooks, which are mostly journals, the endless litany: I can't get myself to work, I can't get myself to eat right, I can't get myself to stop going out to taverns. And yet I never get my head above water long enough to say: this is clearly wrong, I'm clearly embarking on the wrong life, I won't work for any of this stuff because I don't actually want any of this stuff.



Throwing away these papers makes me very, very happy.

12 comments:

Zhoen said...

I read this aloud to D. He smiled ruefully, nodding. I asked him if this is how he felt, and he said, "Oh, yes, very much so." I respect that he quit the PhD program in the first year, hard as it was for me to hear. Thank you for this, it helps me understand. And him to discard papers from that time in his life.

Lorianne said...

Yes, all academics sound that way, or are supposed to. The ones who don't spend the rest of their lives as over-educated adjuncts. (sigh)

Moria said...

Thank you.

Jayne said...

"Pandering lickspittle" - sheesh, Murr's right about you. I'm popping in from her place, and glad I did. Sheesh, this is how I'm feeling about the Master's program. And I'm too young to waste any time...
Good things going on here. ;)

carolee said...

"I loved to play the bad boy, and I was such a pandering lickspittle." We all end up pandering to things we don't want & don't care about. Isn't it strange! It's little wonder how time-crunched we are when it comes to the things we love.

Alexandra said...

I feel so much dismay at how easily my integrity slips away when I write a cover letter. I can't imagine the pressure of applying for an academic job. I am so glad your life brought you to kinder places :)

Dale said...

Zhoen, it still tugs, sometimes. But I really wasn't suited for it. I'm glad D didn't get trapped in it: it looks to me like it's just been getting less and less humane -- dichotomizing into superstars and peons, like so many American career paths.

Lorianne, I'm always amazed at how you keep your balance in that world!

Moria, you're welcome, for whatever it is! :-)

Jayne, welcome, and thank you. And remember, you're never too young to waste time :-)

Carolee & Alexandra -- it's amazing, isn't it, how hard the wish to please people pulls on us? I'm always so full of admiration for people who seem indifferent to it.

Jayne said...

Oops - I don't think I had yet finished my morning coffee when I left my first comment here. I meant "too OLD"! (And two "Sheesh's, too?! Where are my manners?... was definitely caffeine deprived.)

Dale said...

Jayne, I thought it was some clever intentional reversal that I was too dim to get quite properly :-)

But also, I'm quite sure that you're never too old to waste time either. You just want to be sure you're having fun while you do it :-)

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Amazing, isn't it, the stuff we expected others to believe about us when we didn't believe it ourselves!

Dale said...

:-) I'm just so grateful that they *didn't* believe it. If they had, I might have started to believe it too.

Annotated Margins said...

Academics always made me feel bloated. I stopped teaching because the bombastic weight of the English college began to hurt my back. (My Ph.D son-in-law has jumped full-tilt into the academic life, and he has become a bit ponderous and heavy.)