Wednesday, June 18

Easily Distracted

When all is said and done, I love academia, but still, it hasn?t always been what I sometimes imagined it would be.

I thought I was choosing my dreams and rejecting security, but it turns out I was choosing security at the possible cost of some of my dreams.

What Mostern most accurately identifies is the strange absence of talk between academic professionals about their own work or the larger weave of their intellectual interests. To some extent, this has to do with time, or the lack of it. A professor is also of necessity an administrator and a teacher and a scholar. The work expands to fill any time vacuum: clear a space for some purpose and you quickly find unsought obligations filling it.

As Mostern notes, however, that?s not an adequate explanation of the problem. It?s the alibi that everyone uses to lightly explain away the puzzling vacuum at the heart of academic life.

I had a chance a few years ago to attend a dinner for a guest lecturer. Some of my favorite colleagues from Swarthmore were there. The conversation started with issues that were fairly specific to the speaker?s presentation and work, but very rapidly grew into a fast-paced bull session aimed at the primal question, ?What is a good society?? Afterwards, I talked with one of my colleagues who hadn?t been there about how this had been the best discussion I?d had since I was an undergraduate, and my feeling of melancholy about how rare and odd this conversation actually was. My colleague looked puzzled and said, ?Sounds awfully simplistic".


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