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Intellectual ego and sex

November 7, 2008

Having been immersed in the intellectual of a major Research I university through being involved in various graduate classes, joining of reading groups and participating in some talks and seminars, I get this feeling that there is a general atmosphere of competitiveness and always needing to flag of one’s knowledge obtained through (extensive) reading.  While this is in itself not a problem, as it can be an edifying experience for all the participants, one can’t overcome the feeling that oftentimes, this voicing of one’s opinion and critique, whether of a piece read or a statement made by another in the room (or by the speaker during a talk), is merely a performative act of ‘showing off’ one’s command of the literature and expertise in the area. Some would also do aimless ‘name-dropping’ which acts nothing to the conversation but merely acts as a means by which to command the attention of others, and to get the general awe of others (though most times,  such attempt at peacock-display is more turn-offish than anything else). When it becomes a cascading act of mental masturbation to obtain the ‘I-feel-good-about-myself’ factor (notwitstanding the fact that us graduate students and quite a number of professors lead sad, wretched and sometimes, lonely, lives as we are among the most unbalanced, lopsided and oftentimes, socially inept, individuals) before descending into the pit of greater depression, until the next dose of adrenaline can be obtained through another performative demonstration of one’s intellectual prowess

I lied about the sex bit

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 31, 2008 9:52 am

    I echo some of your sentiments here, Clarissa — after several years of graduate study and countless seminars, conferences, symposia, and lectures, I can say that such behavior is the superstructural engine of much of professional academic life. Critics of academic obscurantism like to say that humanities scholars in particular are prone to making much ado about nothing, or staging aggrandizing, emotionally draining, endlessly rehearsed theoretical debates over… well, over “not much,” in the grand scheme of things. (Ian Hunter wrote an incisive piece in Critical Inquiry a few years ago titled “The History of Theory,” in which he argued that much humanities-based theoretical debate thrives off its own fantasy of self-enclosed, rarefied thought. Jameson wrote a dissenting opinion earlier this year.)

    I don’t agree with those critics, many of whom are identified with right-leaning causes. But I do think it’s vital to question the ethos, or affect, that’s generated by academic — and particularly *graduate student* — name-making and ladder-climbing. Whatever its lofty pretensions, it turns out academia is still a profession… and brings with it all the upstart, self-righteous cockiness that is characteristic of all professional training and advancement.

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