Thursday, 21 June 2012

Why did you choose academia?

I get asked why I went into academia quite frequently. Sometimes by colleagues. Half of them say it in an all-in-it-together tone of voice, half of them in a 'why the hell are you in academia, you thick gimp?' tone of voice.

The simplest answer is that one degree led to another and the more you do, the more unemployable you are elsewhere. No other occupation lets you read books, talk about them, and ignore the accepted standards of discourse, appearance and - let's face it - hygiene (perhaps IT) to the extent that we do.

The last two days have reminded me why I'm in academia. Apart from the teaching, of course, which I adore. Yesterday I attended a set of papers on the origins of self-help and pedagogy: they took in Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pelmanism, Dianetics, Foucault and a host of other exciting ideas. Today I attended On the Wane, an exploration of the history and cultures of cultural decay. Rousseau came up again, as did Shelley, Tacitus, Conrad, George Bush, Thomas Nashe, Alexander Pope, theories of Palingenesis (not Sarah or Michael) and finally 30 academics sat in a hot, sticky room discussing the difference between masturbation and Onanism (in short: Onanism was the term for masturbation when the religious paradigm was dominant: masturbation took over when legal and scientific frameworks appeared in the nineteenth century). Honestly, when a stern German academic starts talking about S&M, you start understanding Max Mosley just a little bit more.

Talking of Nashe, he had something prescient to say about going to conferences:
"I know not how it comes to pass, but many are so delighted to hear themselves that they are a cumber to the ears of all other, pleasing their auditors in nothing more than in the pause of a full point."
Oh, and we had Rioja at lunch. And soon we're going for a slap-up feed in the Crooked House. The what? Ah, what an excuse to play you some Jonathan Meades: he starts there.

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