The other day, I read precisely two blog posts: Moria's, and Annie Em's. Moria's asks her readers, importantly and earnestly, what got them through graduate school and what keeps them going int the field despite the constant inferiority complex, while Annie Em posted the Xtranormal video "So you Want a PhD in the Humanities?" that most readers of this space will have already seen linked 57 times, and watched at least twice.
I understand all of the anxiety being floated about: the untenable economics of the labor market, the exploitation that that has engendered, the anxieties that people feel about constantly having to justify their work to family members and friends whose eyes cross before you even finish telling the title of your research project. It's not easy to be in the humanities at the moment.
But people seriously. Let's also not lose sight of the fact that it is GOOD to be in the humanities right now. Forgive me for the pollyannaish rhetoric here, but I love the fact that even though I do not live in a particularly desirable geographic region, that I have friends and colleagues and neighbors who understand and even make Foucault jokes at the bus stop. I love that I get to have serious, in depth conversations with students about the nature of time and the past in literature, about how drama and performance help us understand our very identity, how the language of advertising leaves us without a language of our own to describe our experiences of the real world (Virginia Woolf, Caryl Churchill, George Saunders, all this week).
Just today, I finished a revision of that last chapter to send to a colleague, I read a dissertation chapter on J.M. Coetzee for a supplemental job letter I'm writing for someone just going on to the job market, I read two other dissertation chapters on the politics of narrative space in the literature of the marvelous for a student who is preparing to defend in a month, and I am about to read an article by a colleague in history on 19th century American masculinity and aspirational class identity for an interdisciplinary writing group. I have worked HARD today, but that work has been amazing to do.
And that's the thing about this job. As I wrote over at Moria's, this job is great because at its core, I get to read books and talk about them all day long. I get to think hard, have ideas, discuss those ideas, share those ideas, write about those ideas, listen to feedback about my ideas, learn about other people's ideas, respond to other people writing their ideas, have drinks over ideas and dinner over ideas.
Yep. Tomorrow I'll begin grading a batch of moderately poor student essays, and I have five recommendation letters to write sooner or later, and advising to do in the advising office and a thousand other things that make this profession like virtually any other profession: annoying, boring, mind-numbing.
But I worked in offices, doing copy writing, answering phones, supporting business plans and mission statements that not only did I really not believe in, but working with a group of people most of whom were not even interested in the critical thinking that went into my reasons for even having a stance on a business plan or a mission statement other than "It's profitable."
This job? not profitable. The business plan? not really a world-beater, if the current trends in the corporatized university hold true. The mission? Not perfect, but really pretty damn good. Have ideas. Refine the ideas. Exchange the ideas. Teach the ideas.
So I'm going to take a minute and say that yes, there are all sorts of reasons that we should be reading our own profession critically right now. I hate that so many smart, rigorous, awesome people are out there struggling to find decent work in the field. But I hope they keep looking. And yes, I am bugged by the number of not-always-brilliant undergrads who want to find out how to be a professor. But if they see how much I love this job, how can I blame them? And yes, I know that in the scheme of things, I have a very good job, geographical location notwithstanding. But that only makes me want to fight harder so that more people can do this work and do it well.
So you want a PhD in the Humanities? I. Don't. Blame You.