… I was rarely sure what the men whom I met while staying with Mr Thims really meant; for there was no getting anything out of them if they scented even a suspicion that they might be what they call ‘giving themselves away.’ As there is hardly any subject on which this suspicion cannot arise, I found it difficult to get definite opinions from any of them, except on such subjects as the weather, eating and drinking, holiday excursions, or games of skill.

If they cannot wriggle out of expressing an opinion of some sort, they will commonly retail those of some one who has already written upon the subject, and conclude by saying that though they quite admit that there is an element of truth in what the writer has said, there are many point on which they are unable to agree with him. Which these points were, I invariably found myself unable to determine; indeed, it seemed to be counted the perfection of scholarship and good breeding among them not to have–much less to express–an opinion on any subject on which it might prove later that they had been mistaken. The art of sitting gracefully on a fence has never, I should think, been brought to greater perfection than at the Erewhonian Colleges of Unreason.

However this may be, the fear-of-giving-oneself-away disease was fatal to the intelligence of those infected by it, and almost every one at the Colleges of Unreason hadh caught it to a greater or less degree. After a few years atrophy of the opinions invariably supervened, and the sufferer became stone dead to everything except the more superficial aspects of those material objects with which he came most in contact. The expression on the faces of these people was repellent; they did not, however, seem particularly unhappy, for they none of them had the faintest idea that they were in reality more dead than alive. No cure for this disgusting fear-of-giving-themselves-away disease has yet been discovered.

I’ve got a soft spot for Samuel Butler’s Erewhon. I first read it early in my graduate career, and it’s one of the books that convinced me that the Victorian period was full of kick-ass-ness. This particular passage I’ve kept close to me, and one of the reasons I’ve done this blog using my full, googlable name has been to take preventive measures against this disease.

Lately, though, I believe I’ve become infected, to a greater degree. Partly this is due to the doom-and-gloom that’s come to settle on humanities departments world wide (although maybe not Singapore, from what I heard there at the AVSA conference this June), which has had me walking around with a constant feeling of the possibility I won’t have enough funding to finish my degree. It reached a head last night and today when I was serving on a faculty membership committee making decisions for appointments to the Graduate Center from the CUNY colleges. The degree of scrutiny to which candidates were subjected to was terrifying. Of course, the scrutiny’s entirely justified, but throughout the meeting I couldn’t help thinking about all the shortcomings a team of academics would be able to find in my scholarship, my teaching evaluations, my responses to Q & A, my team spiritedness, this blog (and hey, maybe even my fucking tweets [before I go on the market, I’d better scrub my online personae of all f-bombs, but for now, hey, I’m in NYC, it’s how we talk]). It’s one thing to think, in theory, how I don’t want to be an academic paralyzed from fear of making the tiniest of mistakes, but it’s another thing entirely to hear the tiniest of mistakes dissected and debated at length. With the knowledge that these decisions and dissections are being made in reference to tenured faculty, whereas here I am, a mere adjunct with little job security, now ineligible for tuition remission. It could be worse–I know I’ll be teaching next semester, whereas there are people in my program who may have to not take classes in the spring since all of CUNY’s slashing adjunct classes. And, even though I’m not making a living wage (and I mean living wage, not middle-class-lifestyle wage), I am making a wage.

Should i be voicing my anxieties? Am I breaking taboo by talking about how deeply my financial precariousness has impacted my intellectual confidence?

I believe I had a point when I started writing this post. Oh yeah, that disease thing, it’s one of the reasons why it’s been so long since posting here. And why it might be a while before I post again. And why I’m considering disappearing the site.

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