On Being a Renegade Professor, or, What's Wrong with the Humanities

DSC_7540Creative Commons License photo credit: MacKinnon Photography

 

Hello. This is me re-writing a brief version of a post that my little fearful self just recently deleted in a fit of "OH MY GOD if someone from the department reads that they will DEFINITELY kick me out of the phd program, take me away from my teaching post and I'll be out on my ass without any money or health insurance."

 

And then as soon as I deleted the post I realized I felt so much less clarity, so much less energy, so much less me-ness.  I'm no longer willing to lose those things. So here goes the post again.

 

What scandalous things did I write in the original (now deleted) post that I'm so certain will be the end of me?

 

As far as I can remember, the gist of it (with more honesty added in this version for special emphasis) was this:

 

I'm a renegade professor because:

 

1) I teach a class called Reading Poetry, but I don't actually believe that reading poetry is all that uber-important.  I believe that me and my students finding and living from our own deepest authority and genius is what's important. And that poetry can help us do that.  And poetry is only useful to the extent that it helps with this.

 

2) I don't believe in grading. But I do it anyway because the institution requires it-- and this causes me no shortage of angst. I'm inclined to give A's to everyone in my class who shows up and does the assignments with some evidence of engagement and effort. Because-- why not?

 

3) I don't actually think most of my students need higher education as it presently exists. (Which is not to say that I don't think they could benefit from more learning). The current system of higher education is corrupt and poisonous in 50 different ways and I'm intensely conflicted about my involvement in it.  I'm working on extracting myself from it by setting myself up as an independent teacher, but that takes some time and some doing.

 

4) But I do think my students need my class. My class isn't like most college English classes.  It's not about criticizing texts or sounding smart but about living life with the greatest possible depth and generosity. It's about taking the mythic journey-- all the stuff I write about on this blog. It's about finding and dwelling in ecstasy.

 

The problem with the academic humanities at large right now (as in why they're not being funded, why no one wants to read or publish the vast majority of books that humanities scholars write, why, in essence, no one cares) is that for the last century they've modeled themselves after scholarship practices in materialist science.

 

And the experience of being human is something that can't be accessed with materialist science.  It's a highly transcendental thing.  I could go on about this at great length, and if anyone encourages me to, I will-- but that's it, short and sweet. And when the humanities try to model themselves after materialist science, they end up reducing themselves to just making arcane arguments about remote texts.  To whose pleasure and to what ends? No one really knows.

 

I didn't realize this when I got in college. Or in my early years of graduate school.  I probably could have realized it. I think I was in some deep haze of denial. I just thought that the humanities, that literary studies, must be filled with other people who got inspired by poetry and books and who wanted to live out that inspiration practically and vividly.  Or who at least wouldn't actively try to prevent me from doing this.

 

Well, as it turns out, this is not how it works. Genius is not what gets rewarded in academia.  All this soul and inspiration stuff is not what I'm even supposed to be doing in my classes.  Which is why I'm renegade-- because I agree with James Hillman that study in the humanities should be a soul-making enterprise,  a work of expanding imagination and possibility.  Because I agree with Emerson that the work of the scholar is to explore consciousness and then share the results of that exploration via metaphor, story, essay, flash, insight-- not rationalist argument and proof.

 

If you're interested in expressing your support of me, that would be great-- please write.  Because it scares me so much to admit all of this, and I need to admit it also. I really can't hide anymore.