I woke up a lot earlier than I had meant to this morning and was driven out of bed by remorse and anxiety. I knew that I had not quite gotten out what I had meant to say in my previous post, and wanted to address it. It took me all day to figure out how to do it.
I simply deleted everything that I didn’t want to say, or, rather, that I didn’t want to be recorded as having written.
This must be a disease peculiar to writers and politicians and members of the clergy: the compulsion to pontificate and the equally powerful anxiety about being held to one’s utterances. This is a desire to be seen and heard that ceaselessly fights with the worry that you will be seen and heard and everyone will see that you are imperfect. And then there is the fear that they will stop listening to, or reading you, and you will no longer be able to pay the bills, and then they will think bad thoughts about you. Sometimes there is the fear, for example, that they will think that you are not a nice person. Or that your readers or auditors might find you rude, or unkind, or uncouth, or clumsy, or left-handed, or insane. But if you are an academic writer, especially, the worst thing that they could possibly think about you is that you are not smart.
For two reasons:
Because smart is what you are selling in this business. Smart characterizes the commodity. And certain of your colleagues in this business will no longer associate with you because your lack of smartness might make them look less smart. Smart defined, of course, not as “really well turned out” or “put together,” but rather as “hyper-intelligent,” “brilliant,” “creative,” “uniquely productive of intellectual commodities.”
Because you yourself are really invested in being perceived as smart due to some terrible insecurity. I think it is called imposter syndrome. It is the fear that they will see through the pose, the mask, the pretence of knowledge, scientia, truth, revelation, salvation. You don’t actually know what salvation or sapientia, sophia, wisdom, is, and you have a sneaking suspicion that you have been faking it all this time and they will find you out at last. And then they will stop liking you. And then you will be alone.
And then? And then you will have to find different friends, and these friends could be human or animal or plant or mineral.
I don’t know why I always end up careening into saccharine preachiness and the pedagogical mode. I’m not really that comfortable with it. I doubt myself all the time, and wish that I were more certain about things than I am.
Like most people, I want to come to a quick conclusion, a moral of the story, because I am attached to binary oppositions: dumb and smart, black and white, male and female, right and wrong, sane and crazy, rational and emotional, right and left, conservatives and radicals, sacred and profane, sight and blindness, sun and moon, light and darkness, up and down, west and east, north and south, climbing and falling, dry and wet, hot and cold, salty and sweet, outside and inside. These are the coordinates with which we map our universe, our experience of reality. I know in my heart that they are both against and for one another, that they are together, not really separate. The truth is far more complicated, far muddier.
I know this because I feel it but can’t quite articulate what It is.
Well, some of us can, or pretend do. I think the job, the duty that one takes on when one signs up to be a minister of the word in a church or a university is to pretend to know the truth. Popular preachers and professors are good at explaining everything they know and how all of it all hangs together, and passing this off as CORRECT. For they know as well as I do that we need to make a profit in order to survive in this particular economic system, and that therefore it pays to be the person who can deliver the package, THE TRUTH, in easily digestible chunks.
Sometimes I don’t know what I’m thinking or doing. I don’t always take responsibility for my mistakes, and I should. Look. I’m trying. Seriously. But it is not clear to me than an apology is what is needed here, but rather something more like a tirade. But I can’t really work myself up into the lather of it all, because I never quite believe what I’m saying. And, yes, I find this smug posture of ambivalence and fascination with ambiguity and “greyness” and fuzziness incredibly annoying, too.
So, fine! Grand denial, radical refusal to get carried away, big deal. Haven’t we seen this all before in Hamlet? And Hamlet is an idiot. And so is Romeo, and lots of the handsome, dashing types in Shakespeare. The handsome, dashing type is usually an asshole, so pleased with himself. But you can find the exact same attitude of superior put-upon-ness in the working classes, or in among any oppressed group. They can display the same dramatic self-indulgence and refusal to take responsibility for the mess that we have all, together, gotten into. All this posturing, by women, by men…
I’m starting to pontificate again, and so it’s best to stop.