Friday, July 11, 2008

Making it Up

I'm an academic and I recognize and lament the futility academics sometimes serve. I think every day of how my time and energy could be used in so many more powerful and life-affirming ways than reading little-known texts on the visual economy of postmodern culture or considering the way in which Robert Coover's The Public Burning implicates the reader in a 1950s mindset via a lack of empathy with any character (even the unjustly executed Rosenbergs) and an overwhelming sense of "otherness." Let me be honest: everything I just wrote totally turns me on. I freaking love this shit. But I also know it's not very effective.

Not only is not effective, but it is in fact, made up. And I think this is what floats my boat so smoothly down the river of intellectual "bullshit" as some may call it. I love to make it up. It's rigorous, even, sometimes even more so than the research I do to make the stuff I make up sound somewhat reasonable.

And teaching, more than literary or cultural criticism, is about making it up. Now, I know some teachers who will read this and say, "What?!? Nuh-uh! I have to know a subject and impart it to my students in such a way that they too will KNOW the subject." But think about it: all the great stuff has started out by somebody being asked for a solution to a problem and that somebody, at a loss for one, makes one up. And sometimes that somebody is told, "Nope, didn't work. Try again." And so they make up some more stuff. And sometimes they're told, "Wow. That bullshit you just made up is really interesting." And then more stuff gets made up by more people and then there's something that resembles a solution to a problem. Or even something that shows that the problem wasn't what we thought it was.

Ok, that's a lot of crap written there to convince myself that while I sit at my computer writing sentences full of phrases like "dialectical relations" and "otherness" and "critical allusion" that maybe it's not all for nought. Maybe one of the 6 people who read my dissertation will go, hey that's interesting bullshit, kinda reminds me of this other bullshit; maybe I'll add my own bullshit, and then voila, you've got someone saying something that might do something.

We're all improvisers.

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