18 December 2008


One more week till Christmas. Yes, it's hard to believe. Since Thanksgiving, I've spent nearly all of my waking hours (and a few non-waking hours) at work. I entered my office one day as the wind was stripping tree limbs of the sere leaves that had, not so long before, given them color and life. When I stepped out, gold and silver garland wrapped around railings and windowframes of houses and other buildings where creches rested and Santa Claus, snowpeople (I can't be sexist now; I'll explain later.), reindeer and light sculptures of Christmas trees stood guard--against what, I don't know. Perhaps they were just standing guard.

Those whom I guard I do not love
Those whom I fight I do not hate.

Ah, yes, leave it to Yeats to describe innocence that becomes mendacity when it's no longer innocence, and violence of spirit. Or, perhaps, necessity and a lack of alternatives.

And yet another piece of my sanctity--if indeed I had any left--is about to break off and sink like a piece of the polar ice cap. Yesterday, I wrote to the English Department chair at the Graduate Center to ask what, if any, Ph.D.-level courses I could take as a non-matriculating (one who is not pursuing a degree) student next semester. He passed my request on to the Center's program officer, who, I must say was very helpful. She sent me a list of courses that I could take and a set of guidelines (very straightforward: not like other documents I've seen in the academic world) for registering.

All of the courses sounded interesting, and all except one looked like something I could actually do. I could've chosen Post-Colonial African Literature, Medieval Drama or about a half-dozen other courses, including the one I chose: Literature, Gender and Sexuality. And the program officer got the letter of permission I needed to take the course and sent it to the Registrar.

Now, all that has to happen is for Admissions to take me in and for the department and instructor to approve it, and I'll be...doing gender studies. Oh, dear!

So...Not only am I cooperating with the very institution--education--that has caused me and others such grief, I am also taking a course in one of those disciplines I had once vowed to be part of only when I'm dead and cold, very dead and really cold.

Now I get to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with paragons of political correctness: the very ones who do more than anyone else to enable bigotry. Sometimes I think the gender studies (and African-American, and all those other "studies") professors put on their white robes and hoods when nobody's watching. After all, they are the only disciplines that define themselves by the groups of people they purport to study. If that isn't prejudice, I don't know what is.

Sometimes I wonder whether all of those gays, feminists and African-Americans who work in the areas I've mentioned are dupes or cynics. After all, they are working--as I am-- for the very institution whose job it is to reinforce the values of its nation and culture. Those values invariably include enshrining the prejudices of the group of people who founded those institutions, or who shape, for their own purposes, those societal and economic conditions that make those institutions possible--and even necessary for the goals of that ruling class.

To put it simply, you can't change from within. Once you join, you become part of whatever you've joined, and it changes you. Nearly anyone would think it preposterous for a pacifist to think he or she can change the military by joining it, yet those very same people say, with a straight face, that members of so-called minority groups can make the economic system fairer and more responsive to their neeeds by becoming corporate executives or high-level administrators within govermental agencies or educational institutions.

So what gave anyone the idea that they could make the academy more inclusive or relevant by becoming professors of the "studies?" Then again, I shouldn't be surprised that anyone would think that way: After all, lots of tenured professors, and many who are seeking tenure, profess Marxism of some form or another. Still, I have to wonder whether they actually don't see this contradiction, or whether they suck it up and play the game.

Truth be told, many of them simply couldn't make it outside of the academy. I fear that's what's become, or is becoming, of me as well. Am I already--or doomed to become--one of those who guards what she does not love? And will I, like Patti Hearst and others in one sort of captivity or another, come to identify with my captors? Maybe I do already.

How many people go through life defending that which destroys, or at least weakens, them? And how many of us get into pointless battles with people who never did anything to us? Let's see--about a quarter million, if I'm not mistaken, US military people in Iraq. Some joined to go there, but most, I suspect, joined in an attempt to make the best of a bad bargain, as if such a thing were possible.

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