Over the weekend just past, I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, hosted by Western Michigan University. It was far from the first time I had attended, and it was a good thing for me, even if I was only there for part of the proceedings (rather than the whole event, as had been my previous practice). Reconnecting with friends and colleagues, conducting necessary business, immersing myself in emergent scholarship, and making some small contribution to that myself invigorated me, and I return to my “normal” life full again of energy and verve, ready to do the things I need to do (about which I have made some comments in recent posts).
There is an issue that sticks with me, though. In an iteration of a common practice at academic conferences, attendees at the Congress were issued name badges with their preferred names and institutional affiliations upon them. Mine appears below:
It attracted no small amount of comment, all of which that reached me (so far) was approving. Those whose badges reported them as Independent Scholars seemed particularly happy to see the note, though I made no formal sampling and took no direct count; I simply enjoyed the smiles and thumbs up, and I told the story more than once of the circumstances that led me to make such a claim. And in my private moments at the Congress, waking time spent otherwise than seeking sleep or readiness for the day in the nearly penitential cells of dorm rooms (some of the many legends of trips to the Zoo), I thought upon what the title can mean.
For if I am an academic expatriate, it is because I still feel myself a citizen of that strange and strangely benighted country that is academe, one sent outside it not through any formal exile and not on some mission for its benefit, but through such circumstances as demand it for life and livelihood even as those circumstances permit and perhaps encourage a returning to that country some, at least, of my labor and its results. I have been grappling with the idea, of course, as no few of the pieces I have put in this place on the web have shown, and I continue to do so, as should be obvious. For I did attempt to immigrate into the country that academe is, despite its lack of flag and its incohesive, incoherent territory, and I had thought I had passed my naturalization exams, only to find that there was no work for me; it is not my native land, and I am not rejected by that natural home, so it is not as if I have no place to go, but I still am called to that place in which I so long sought citizenship but in which I cannot now claim even permanent residency. I am, after all, contingent faculty, given a temporary work permit at intervals and always anxious that another will not be forthcoming.
So I work outside my wonted country, looking in and returning to it when I may–such as at the International Congress on Medieval Studies–and renewing my connections, my personal affiliations with the many good people whom I am privileged to know (and they know who they are, I hope). I continue to send some small part of my labor to it, doing what I can do after my family is seen to to support that disaggregated nation to which I have hoped to belong and from outside the borders of which I still feel myself its part. There are at least some, I know, who value what they receive from me, and for them, even if I can only get back now and again, I mean to retain my tenuous ties to the incoherent country–although I think I will continue to claim the label of academic expatriate, as well. It is apt enough, and I think there are others whose own efforts fall better under such a heading than others that might be envisioned; they, no less than any other academics, deserve support.