Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Which I Lash Out, in Grief, At My Colleagues' Bad Behavior (Or, Saying things because they need to be said, even without the protection of tenure)

Dear Colleagues,

I know the job market is bad. I know I'm saying this from a position of extreme privilege. But there is no excuse for public, list-serve speculation about whether the death of a too-young colleague less than twenty-four hours ago — beloved to many and author of work that, agree with it or not, radically changed the face of the field — means that there will be a position open now at Yale. 

To think that you are my peers makes me lament not just our absent friend but the disappearance, with her death, of the world that she imagined and taught us to imagine, one where people acted with basic decency and supreme humanity first, even in hard times and even in a bad job market.

My first reaction to this series of emails was to want to opt out: To go law school or teach high school. To leave a profession that breeds such contempt for the humanity it purports to elevate. But one deep breath reminded me that it was someone in the profession who so abhorred this kind of careerism and tried to instill in me that same abhorrence. The profession doesn't create this climate; the people do. 

There will never be another like her, but I can hope that I will continue to have the great good fortune to read and teach and think mostly alongside people who do this work out of a love of text and of solving puzzles and not anywhere near the people who fritter it away, jockeying for position over the corpses of the giants on whose shoulders they stand.

Love, life, and literature,


  1. I am so sorry. I didn't know her personally, only her work, but that was brilliant and for that alone the world is worse off without her.

    And yes, much too young.

  2. Thanks, Dame E. And (aside from the hundred really obvious reasons) this was just such an especially awful response because it was so antithetical to her approach to things — even in a purely professional capacity, she was so much more than the "job" in the narrow way that this sort of person thinks of an academic job...