On 11 February 2018, Erin Bartram’s “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind” appeared on her personal website. The piece traces Bartram’s realization that academe has little or no place for her and her evolving reaction to that realization. For Bartram, the painful feeling of failure that accompanied a final rejection from the tenure track first manifested as self-castigation; her later recognition of the strangeness of that manifestation leads to an interrogation of the circumstances that drive those who leave academia to blame themselves for the failure. Bartram also looks at the conditions of the post-ac life that has scholars without institutional support still work–often at substantial cost to themselves–to contribute to human knowledge, and she asserts her own refusal to engage in such. She then notes the still-present senses of disconnection and de-identification that have come with her departure, concluding with a few bullet-pointed editorial asides relevant to her discussion.
I was introduced to the piece through a re-Tweet from one of the luminaries I follow, and it has since received some substantial attention from more than one source; I am not the first to comment on it, certainly. I am also not the first to talk about what she discusses–the strangeness and pain of leaving not a career but a vocation, and one that takes up most waking and many sleeping hours over many, many years. I have discussed it, though, here, here, here, and likely elsewhere. Thus, as I read Bartram, I find myself nodding in agreement again and again.
Flatly, she has the right of it–even though my own conduct does not bespeak my deep agreement with her, since I continue to teach and to make some small contributions to scholarly endeavors. (Speaking of which, contributions to the Tales after Tolkien Society are always welcome.) The scholarly work I do is done from love of the thing and of some of the people involved in it (you know who you are), and for such loves, I am willing to exert myself–but only to a point. Love of other things and other people, though, come first, and the demands of working life to support them do much to keep me from doing more scholarship than I do, and more writing. And the teaching that I still do–because I am paid to do it–is a side-venture, something that my employer and I both recognize is an ad hoc series of short-term commitments–a job, rather than a career or the calling that I, Bartram, and others have recognized the life of the mind as being.
I mean to continue doing as I have been doing, to be sure; as long as I need the extra money, I’ll be working side-jobs, and as long as I get some joy out of what I do, I’ll keep doing the writing–here and elsewhere. But Bartram is right; I am being exploited that I do so, as are others who do as I do. It is one thing if we who do it know what is happening. It is quite another to pretend otherwise.
Care to help keep the lights on here? Go hither!