I have recently started trying to catch up on reading my academic journals–something I had let lapse late in my attempts to secure full-time work in academe and which I had not been diligent about doing since I lived in New York and had an hour-long commute that had someone else doing the driving. Now, though, while I am largely out of academe, I retain some affiliation with it, particularly as applies to my discipline of medieval studies, so I retain membership in a few organizations, and I take some of the journals they publish. In truth, I have missed grappling with developed ideas; the teaching work that I yet do does not afford me much chance to confer with my colleagues in the field, and I have felt myself stultifying as a result. It is not a pleasant thing, to be sure, and being as far behind in my reading as I am (there’re volumes from 2015 I’ve yet to read!) does not help matters. But I have the opportunity to address that much, at least, and I am please to be taking the chance.
That I would do so is something of an oddity, I know. I really should be working to extricate myself more fully from academe, to let the teaching I do be just a job–and not even so much more than that as a hobby. Erin Bartram, whose influential blog piece remains on my mind (as I’ve noted here and here), is not wrong to note that continuing to participate in the system that has rejected me–as academia largely has–is to contribute to the conditions that force others out and prompt such ideas as the zero-time faculty fracas at a university in southern Illinois. Maintaining society memberships and journal subscriptions, writing and presenting and trying for publication, all feed into a system that has both shat me out and shat on me.
The thing is, though, that it has not been my discipline that has treated me thus; a number of institutions have, to be sure, but I have to think that they are separate from and only loosely connected to the discipline of medieval studies as a body. The discipline itself has been largely hospitable to me–and to many outside traditional academe. I recall Richard Utz’s plenary address at Kalamazoo some years back (I forget which year), one in which he extolled the amateur medievalist and reminded those in attendance to value the non-traditional scholars among us–of whom there were and are many, and their lack of institutional constraint allows them to pursue projects from which we all benefit and which we ought to support. Many of us do; I know the Tales after Tolkien Society does, and it values the independent scholar no less than the affiliated one. And that is to the good.
Also, on a wholly personal level, many of those I call colleagues, I also call friends. And if it has not been the case that institutional realities have helped them to hire me, it has been the case that I have enjoyed their company and their collaboration across many years. Their work, I do not mind supporting–and from experience, I know they have not minded supporting mine. (There has been little enough of it, but still…) Thus, while I am sympathetic to Bartram’s argument, and much of what she writes resonates with me (clearly, else I’d not come back to it again and again), I find I cannot turn away from academe so completely as she looks to do. I cannot leave that part of myself fully behind.
How much of that reluctance comes from lingering camaraderie and how much from pathology and dysfunction are unclear to me–and I am not at all certain I want to figure it out. (I worry about the implications for my stability, and it needs no dissuasion as matters currently stand.) What is clear is that
- Because I do remain engaged in academe, if only peripherally, and
- Because I perceive myself as benefiting from doing so,
I will be continuing to read from my years of scholarly journals. I have the time to do it, now, and I feel the need. And even if I do not foresee a return to full-time academe, I see no reason I should not work to improve my understanding of the world, and so improve myself.