Now is the time to set aside childish things: bad decisions await.

January 12, 2012 § 7 Comments

Dear _______,

Yes, you surmise correctly. I was indeed “once in school.” Very deeply in school, in fact. Ah, but it seems now that the bad decisions of my adult ambition did very little to provide proper redress for the poor judgements of my immaturity. Which is to say, my non-academic life today was one borne not of principled decision, at least not on my part, but is a sentence imposed by circumstance.

I was describing to somebody the other day my sense of alienation from what passes for popular — we were specifically discussing online writing. I much to prefer to read, meditate even, discuss at length, with myself certainly but also occasionally with others, things that beg to be re-read — things to which one must & want to return. For some, there is a libidinal aspect to this: some kind of gratification gained. But for me, such writing is almost strictly a sort of survival, a kind of oxygen. This preference informs what I try to write, as well. Sadly, this desire is rarely shared by even my closest friends. Utility is the name of the game, it seems, certainly of success, in the service of a pursuit of truth or knowledge, but also enjoyment & distraction. This, in my experience, is the prevalent pose, if not necessarily the default, of even a good many doctored literature professors. I don’t begrudge them this; it’s not, after all, like I’m innocent of it either, even in the articulation of the distinction. But preferences, such as they are, always exceed their expression.

Many of my friends remain far more idealistic with respect to higher education than do I. Most of them still believe in the value of the humanities, for example (of a well-rounded mind, the moral intelligence honed, etc.). And, yes, as far as it goes, as is the case with many a doe-eyed humanistic truism, I suppose I believe in that too. My problem is simply the cost of such an education these days. It all seems to me vaguely like a criminal enterprise. And while much of contemporary Western life likely is as well, at least from the perspective of the well-read, they being the ones with a sensibility & perspective that goes beyond the immediacy of the moment & all manner of perceived needs & outrage when these are not met, who have not lost their taste for “the enemy’s” blood so much as they have the confidence to know where to begin biting, the criminality of the American higher education system seems the one easiest for me to avoid. Though, of course, I didn’t avoid it, did I? — and, worse still, I would gladly accept a position anywhere if somebody should email me today to offer one. Perhaps another benefit of being well-read is the capacity to knowingly deceive oneself, marking the fact one feels bad about it all as a kind of credit in one’s favor as one continues the deception.

I hope you are well. Enjoy your twenty-fifth birthday. Now is the time to set aside childish things: bad decisions await.

Yours,

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§ 7 Responses to Now is the time to set aside childish things: bad decisions await.

  • diana hereld says:

    I’ve no idea you seem to manage a sort of idealistic timelessness sharing the page with bleak and painful modernity at the same time, but you do it well.

  • Brad Johnson says:

    Thank you, Diana. That basically summarizes my writing ambition.

  • Guido Nius says:

    Dear Brad, I cannot even talk of non-academic life because I chose (not that preference had anything to do with it) not to have an academic one (well, I had one but only in the most academic of senses). This post has some comfort for me: my sharing with friends may be rare but it is never to be expected and therefore always a pleasant surprise.

    Great post. It’s time to start taking down the hegemony of the super-ego.

  • tom clark says:

    Second the comments of Diana and Guido.

    A particular resonance here:

    “….prefer to read, meditate even, discuss at length, with myself certainly but also occasionally with others, things that beg to be re-read — things to which one must & want to return…”

    Once knew someone who insisted, with what I then (oh, make it forty-five or so years ago) took to be a terribly snobbish hauteur, that nothing (he was talking about poetry, so make that no poem) was worth the bother if you were able to “get it” before the fifth reading.

    Four just wouldn’t do it.

    How many times over the years has a chastening inner voice said, “— was right; though perhaps the number should have been sixth, or seventh…”

  • GQ says:

    – Perhaps another benefit of being well-read is the capacity to knowingly deceive oneself, marking the fact one feels bad about it all as a kind of credit in one’s favor as one continues the deception.

    I just wanted to say that I love this line.

  • erin says:

    Hi Brad,
    I recently returned from sabbatical to discover this site of yours, too. This was a lovely, provocative piece. Thank you.

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