One of my friends points out, in a nonacademic context, that life in limbo is a hard thing to manage. This is a good observation and I think living in limbo is one of the main stressors of academia.

Of course you can say that uncertainty is everywhere but I am speaking of the constant feeling of limbo, waiting and waiting to get to a place where you are not terribly, distractingly, painfully uncomfortable and trying to hold out despite also knowing you may never get to such a place. Hanging on a rock wall as your strength goes.

The advisors think it is work that is your problem, or geography, to which you would resign yourself if you were a mature and fair person. But it is not the geography or the work, it is the atmosphere in which it is done and the way you and others are treated, that is the problem. Waiting for the pain to end, because it is immoral to do more than that, is the problem.

I wonder how much pain it is possible to cut out while staying in place. How much of the daily delivery of pain one can simply refuse. I have never quite tried that, but I might start now. I used to reach out and take pleasure, but Reeducation stopped this; I should do it more actively than I do even now.

My illumination for the day, though, is that “procrastination” and block are not about not knowing how to work, or discipline, or laziness, but about self-loss. I have pointed out before that they are also about delaying entry into toxic environments, but they are even more profoundly about self-loss.

The characters in El Señor Presidente live in the superego and the id, and have insufficient agency due to an insufficiency of self, says my student’s paper, and my colleague says the situation at our university resembles the one in that novel.




Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman, What Is A Scholar?

6 responses to “Limbo

  1. Yes. The worst thing for me about work, academic or otherwise, was not being able to choose my company.

  2. It’s the feeling of hovering evasive or anything that is not good for life as well as your job, feeling like we were standing in the middle, and it can make you suffer.

  3. Z

    This whole thing about getting a job, any tenure track job, and then writing, writing anything … and how if that life does not satisfy you, then you have not followed the Boicean rules closely enough, or accepted your new region enough, or appreciated young people enough … it just is so Puritanical. What if you just have larger appetites, more interests, are less monkish?

  4. There’s something weird about academia in this regard. People leave jobs for all kinds of reasons: they want to be closer to family, they want to try a new business venture, they are uncomfortable with the moral compromises their employer makes, they feel that they are stagnating professionally, they want to live somewhere warmer/less humid/more urban/more rural, they want a different environment for their kids, etc. Only in academia are such decisions regarded as evidence that one lacks some kind of moral backbone or has failed.

    • Z

      Yes, it is very strange. Like class treason, or something; you’ve quit the nobility and gone into trade, I don’t know. I recently learned a friend from graduate school considered those who had quit our program, found other jobs, had failed; made virtually no distinction between academic failure and the choice to do something else.

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