"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We Are All Waldo

Back in my hootenany days, one of our perennial favorite songs to cover was "The Gift" by The Velvet Underground. That's some sick shit, friends! Waldo's girlfriend leaves him supposedly just for the summer, pledging fidelity while she's away. He has doubts:
Visions of Marsha's faithlessness haunted him. Daytime fantasies of sexual abandon permeated his thoughts. And the thing was they wouldn't really understand how she really was. He, Waldo alone, understood this.
Lacking good communication on her end, he decides to pack himself up in a cardboard box and ship himself to her because "he had made her smile, and she needed him." The box arrives as she's with a friend discussing her casual exploits with another guy the night before. Waldo's quivering with excitement inside the box, but Marsha's just pissed off that she's having trouble opening it. She goes for a box cutter, which her friend, Sheila, then stabs
through the middle of the package, through the middle of the masking tape, through the cardboard through the cushioning and (thud) right through Waldo Jeffers' head, which split slightly and caused little rhythmic arcs of red to pulsate gently in the morning sun.
Poor Waldo (complete lyrics here). When we used to play this song, taking perverse and angry pleasure in it, I used to think it was just a form of venting over our collective romantic failures.

But we were also grad students and adjuncts, some of us many years into an entanglement with academe that some have already described as a bad relationship -- you know, abandoning yourself to an abusive partner who doesn't give a shit about you but whom you've convinced yourself you love no matter what, for whom you would move across the country despite their infidelity, for whom you would sacrifice your well-being and your rage at their exploits just so that they might let you stay a little longer.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Not altogether unlike the advice Tenured Radical offered up yesterday and today that launched a $hitstorm of righteous rage from commenters.

Hmmm. Imagine telling Waldo to "get a grip"! True, Waldo's a dumb schmuck and could use some sensible advice, but if you've spent any serious time on the adjunct track recently, as I have, you know where Waldo's coming from. You've been there. And TR's advice ain't the advice he needs -- or that we need, as deceptively sensible as it may sound (indeed, did sound even to me at first) on the surface.

Anger. Cultivate it. Nurse it like a good whiskey ('cuz you won't be buying any of that except on credit).

And get out while you can, friends, because once you pack yourself up in that box, you're depending on other people -- people who don't care about you, who hold you in contempt, who don't appreciate what you unwillingly do to enable their privilege because you feel you have no other choice in the pursuit of a career you imagined would be more than just a job -- you are depending on them to set you free.

They don't love you, not any more than Marsha loved Waldo. And they'd just as soon stab you in the head, too, even if they didn't realize quite what they were doing.

Here's the song. Sorry no video -- none of the live performances I could find sounded as good as this version (turn it up nice 'n loud):


  1. Have you seen the comments on TR's last post? She really doesn't know what an "adjunct" means. Which I found even more depressing.

  2. I just can't even believe she was that out of touch. I usually like her blog a lot, but how do you call yourself "radical" and not know this? It was good that you brought up the definition issue -- I think that helped clarify things for a lot of people. And I cannot believe that she initially wanted to argue with you!

    The whole kerfluffle really illustrates how much ignorance on the part of tt faculty is an obstacle to reform. There are some who pay attention to what's going on in their departments (like you) but others that just don't have a clue who a great many of their colleagues are -- ignorance which, as someone else at TR's pointed out, preserves the illusion of a meritocracy.

  3. Anybody who reads the Chronicle of Higher Education often enough should know what an adjunct is. From my perspective, as a TT, what I found more disturbing is the naive idea that " [a] reason to establish a presence is that this is an opportunity for you to actually do your work in a community of scholars, and to wean yourself from your primary identification with your graduate school". If there is one place that is hierarchical is academia. I am a TT professor and quite a few Associate and Full professors in my institution barely pay attention or listen to me because of that. To believe that they would be inclusive of instructors or even VAP is an idea of a university as some sort of intellectual utopia. Truly an Ivory Tower.