Post Academic


Communication breakdown: A Post Academic with nothing to say

Posted in Absurdities,First Person by Arnold Pan on November 5, 2010
Tags: ,

I mentioned last time how the flip side of no longer possessing the academic gift for gab is that I find myself pretty much unable to chit-chat in any situation any more–great, I have to go to a wedding of someone who’s barely acquaintance tomorrow!  I know, I know, it’s probably hard to believe that I’m so tongue-tied when meeting new folks, considering how I can be a virtual blabbermouth.  But when I’m at a kids party or some kind of get-together where I only know the hosts, you best believe I’m camping out at the buffet, chowing down on the Trader Joe’s snacks or the greasy pizza.  To be honest with you, I’d probably find it hard being at a gathering of people I know these days, though it’s tough to say since it’s not like I’ve been around my party of my peeps or even talked to them on the phone since the summer.

"Conversation by Friedrick Moosbrugger" (Public Domain)

Anyhow, based on a sampling of Halloween events and birthday parties I’ve recently attended, here are some of the reasons why I find “real world” shindigs somewhat more difficult for me to deal with–though the real explanation might be just that I’m a misanthrope.

(Not) finding the common ground: When an academic is released into the wild…er, life outside of the ivory tower…adaptation to a different environment can be difficult.  Within the sorta friendly confines of academia, you might not like everyone you know, but at least you have something built-in to talk about that’s based on some kind of shared interest.  Even now in a post academic stage, I find I can easily slip into some whiny complaint about the academic job market when I run into an acquaintance because that’s something I know how to do.

More to say about having not much to say, below the jump…

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The Art of Academic Conversation

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on November 3, 2010
Tags: , ,

One way I know I’m out of training for the job market is that I no longer possess the skills for the academic-speak.  (The problem is, though, that I have problems with small talk and chit-chat that’s not academia-related either, but that’s a topic of discussion for another time.)  But every once in a while, I can still vicariously and virtually partake in academic banter via Facebook, which inspired me to write about the kind of convos I remember having when I was a grad student.  Just so you know that I’m not trying to suggest I’m just a disinterested and bemused observer, I’ll readily admit that I’ve partaken in the rhetorical maneuvers I’m describing, and probably even more often than I’d realize.

"De claris mulieribus" courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Libraries (Public Domain)

Below are a few types of go-to moves that academics can whip out when they find themselves face-to-face at a party, going to/from the library, or, yes, on Facebook.

One-Upping: As academics, we go into the so-called “life of the mind” because we’re kinda know-it-alls.  Granted, some folks are nicer than others, while some are bigger a-holes.  But no matter our personalities, it’s easy to get caught up going back-and-forth about things we know more and more-er about, which can devolve into a passive-aggressive pissing match about who has read more or read more obscurely.  It doesn’t even matter if you work in completely different fields and don’t know what your counterpart does, there’s always some way to compete and one-up one another.  Then consider how neurotic and stubborn know-it-alls can be, especially when challenged by other smarty pants, add alcohol, and your true feelings about your friends and neighbors might sneak out.

Knowledge/Power: Speaking of paranoia, neuroses, and passive-aggressiveness, it’s not hard to be entrapped by those gossipy colleagues who keep tabs on you and everyone else–even if doing so only makes them bitter and unhappy that they aren’t getting the fellowships or job interviews their peers are getting.  But if you play your cards right, you might be able get some of the dish and scoop you’re looking for.  First, though, you have to realize which chatty Cathys you can kinda trust and those you totally can’t trust, though you might not find out without being burned.  Second, expect that these interactions require a little quid pro quo, so you might as well toss out some bait that you’re not too precious about and see what you get back in return.  Third, your news will probably get out there somehow, so don’t take things or yourself too seriously.

Go Meta: Then again, there are always (more than a) few academics who do take themselves, what they do, and what they believe way too seriously, and it’s better not to pick a fight with ’em because they have a whole bag of rhetorical tricks that are really annoying.  My favorite is the guy who assumes you’re a dupe for an ideology that they can see through, but you can’t.  These smart alecks can always identify how what you’re saying is always symptomatic about something, yet about what they’re saying is above it all.  You might protest, but the more you argue is only a greater indication of how you’ve been blinded by ideology.  And then there’s the Jedi mind-trick I call “the reversal,” where what you think are incisive and critical statements only somehow serve to support whatever ideology or institution you are arguing against; it’s just that you’re too dumb to know it and they’re too smart not to see it.  There’s just no way to get into a tit-for-tat, whether it’s friendly or vaguely hostile, with anybody who claims a meta position — unless you can find a meta-meta frame!