29 July 2010

The Choice: Intellectual, Not Academic

I'm still thinking about the conversation I had last night with the "invisible man."  He said it was one of the most intelligent conversations he's had in a long time, and he is about my age.  He is certainly a very intelligent person who, lately, has had to answer a lot of questions for himself.  That's the key, I think:  He's had to answer them for himself.  No one else could have given him the answers he found for himself; without aggrandizing myself, I can say I understand what an excruciating process that can be.  I am lucky in that sometimes it has been exhiliarating, or at least a relief, to have come up with the answers I've found, or at least to have found my own way, wherever it might lead.

Now I am starting to understand why, although I often enjoy teaching, I find myself hating the academic world and, even more, its institutions.  I can say, in all honesty, that every year I have taught has left me hating the military/industrial/educational complex even more than I did the year before.  And, during the past few years, I wondered how in the world anybody could want to become a gender studies professor--or, for that matter, a professor in almost any area called "studies."   

What I am realizing is this: I had assumed that I could never fit into the academic world because I'm not an intellectual.  At least, I was loath to call myself one.  Isn't that ironic?  For so long, I was completely unwilling to acknowledge that in my heart of hearts, I am not a straight male.  Actually, I didn't have to acknowlege or indulge it; it was simply a fact of my life, just as the sun rising and setting are facts of this world.  And how foolish would anyone look in denying them?

Now I realize that, in some way, I had no other choice but to be an intellectual.  I can no more deny or suppress that than I could my femaleness.  All of us, even those of us who have been considered "stupid" or otherwise "less than," have had to think our way through some situation or another when our physical abilities, no matter how great they were, would not have been enough--or simply would have been useless or unusable.  When your body fails, or is just inadequate, you have no have no choice but to become a creature, and creation, of your mind.

That is not the same as living in your head.  That is what many in the academic world do.  That is why there are so many petty, pointless arguments in meetings of almost any department or office you can think of.  There is seldom any discussion or even fighting about actual ideas.  The latter is something you do when you are really looking for answers; you fight over procedures and "stuff" to score points, which can feed only your ego rather than your mind.  That's just as dangerous as eating Twinkies when your body is crying out for vegetables and fruit.

In other words, when your life depends on it, you're looking for answers.  Whether or not you find them, the search will keep you going.  The problem with that is that when you're doing something because your life depends on it, those who don't have that sense of urgency and peril can't understand why you're thinking and testing everything they say.  

Now I understand why I have never wanted this site, or anything else I write, to be academic.  It's exactly the same reason why I hope I will challenge, or at least stimulate, people mentally.  And most important of all, I want to continue learning. 

 Really, I have no other choice.  I can no more pretend that I can live in a non-intellectual way than I could pretend that I could live as a man.