It’s not what you think. It’s the unhinged ones on the loose. The hypercritical egotistical snake-headed spitters. The manically incisive flickers. Dismissers. Sweeping away work and thought and care with damning remarks.
I have written about it before. I know academia is critical. There is a lot about this that is good. And, the shadow-monster in the critical house is that it feeds some individuals who are pretty inhuman. In the sense of forgetting that the work is done by humans.
I am aware that I may be particularly sensitive. That I take responsibility for my own ego and its vulnerability. I am also resilient, in the critical swamp, and in llife.
When other factors such as casualisation, student debt, and other challenges of having a body, hormones, wanting family, wanting to no longer be in the low income reality connect with putting years of effort into this study and research gig: it’s tough. Dispiriting.
That’s the word, really. Australia’s dominant reality is secular, particularly in academia. Fair enough. But the basic act of being a good person while still giving critique is where it’s at for me. Seeing the person and the work and why the fuck we care about it at all.
You could say that examiners, reviewers, supervisors, readers, editors are not there to care about the person. You could say that. That they only respond to the work. You could say this.
It’s pretty rare, though. Because by being callous and hysterical (I would say that I have just encountered a furious response to my thesis), or frozen critique machines, they are affecting the person also.
Like anywhere, I have found some great teachers and minds and people in the academic whirlpool. Vivid ideas and fascinating ways of thinking. I have loved listening and talking and questioning and reading and listening again and writing, editing even. Polishing to feel something like a blade.
But this may be the clincher for me. That there will always be these ones as my peers, at conferences and as peer reviewers, as the crazy subject co-ordinator no tutor wants to work for.
Truly, mental illness happens. I know. I actually don’t judge. Life can have so much struggle. Pressure. Things happen. Biology, trauma, luck. Some people live with the massive challenge of this. I do love this as a part of humanity. I don’t particularly think that I am above or different or normal. I have paddled through depression and a horrible premenstrual disorder that means that I have added super-tension and suicidal thoughts, hypersensitivity, anger in cyclic regularity.
Thankfully, I finally got some drugs and surgery to help this. It also really helps when I am pregnant and just avoid the whole thing altogether.
But, you see. I have arrived and tried to practice this principle: whatever I feel, however much the swampiness and poverty and going into debit and not having money for parking circles, each moment is an opportunity. To be the most human I can with each person. Each encounter.
This may sound righteous. It’s not. It’s being all of it, feeling all of it: horrendous cramps and crazy migraine tension and listening to a supervisor’s critique and looking to understand them and hold my reaction and respond the best I can. It’s checking the way that I judge a white male student in my class as privileged and thereby classifying his thoughts. It’s being aware of all of the shit that many students go through: casual jobs, gloomy career outlook, heaps of assignments, and caring, and still placing a high bar in my expectations.
This is me. Obviousy not everyone has this approach.
Loving support from friendly peeps says that I am compassionate and passionate. I swear, almost every anonymous piece of student feedback that I have received says that I am ‘friendly and approachable’, and that this is a rare and very helpful quality as a teacher.
Truly: what’s the point of the whole endeavour? You know, education. Research. Teaching. Learning. Writing. Reading. Lecturing. Marking. Critiquing.
Ideas, yes. Research and exploration, yes. But if there is not some attention to a human experience in there: count me out.