Links: 6 April 2013: Miracles, eggheads, and so much more

1. This post points out some goofy thinking about meaning of miracles and science.

2. The cultural status of the intellectual elite, the “egghead.”

3. Some of Roger Ebert’s advice on writing. Also, this article contains some more of Ebert’s thinking about writing and writing careers, such as:

He emphasized that such ephemera like “career” and “success” were mostly beside the point. “Just write, get better, keep writing, keep getting better. It’s the only thing you can control.”

4. An older piece attempting to explain why Nietzsche gets celebrated by those who misunderstand him.

5. I’m cautious by anyone who makes assertions about reality, but I’m usually pretty open to those who find fault in others’ reality-assertions. Here is a take-down of people who would misunderstand and/or distort vaccines and climate-science.

6. A justifiably angry piece about the difficulties of seeking a tenure-track job in literature (though this probably applies to many parts of academia now):

During graduate school, you will be broken down and reconfigured in the image of the academy. By the time you finish—if you even do—your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why.

The bold-emphasis above is mine. The more I learn to trust my own instincts in my creative writing (and it took a while to overcome my training in the standards of journalism — in learning to do what others thought was valuable — and to learn to trust my own standards), the more I question the value of what exactly it is that education does. We teachers, after all, mostly can only teach students to become more like a model student, and we mostly don’t know what that is, but it often resembles what the teacher him-/herself is capable of, as R. Hugo wrote:

You’ll never be a poet until you realize that everything I say today and this quarter is wrong. It may be right for me, but it is wrong for you. Every moment, I am, without wanting or trying to, telling you to write like me. But I hope you learn to write like you. In a sense, I hope I don’t teach you how to write but how to teach yourself how to write.

Of course, much of what we teachers do is widely valuable, but I suspect that this gets less better the higher one gets into academia. And when I occasionally consider getting a creative writing MFA, I remind myself that the writing I do and want to do and need to do doesn’t really have much to do with the writing that I would be being trained to do in an MFA program. I’m not saying these aren’t ever useful, but I suspect such programs can’t help people develop as writers unless one wants to write texts that are very much like the texts produced by writing faculty members who need to write things that tenure committees will agree have general value.

Let’s bluntly overstate my point: I’m asserting here that grad schools are not receptive to the new and unusual ideas that I most love reading in others’ texts and I most love having as I write texts.

(P.S. A small quibble with the Slate article: If there was a “boom of the late 1990s” with hiring associate professors, that was not the message of Bérubé and Cary Nelson in their book The Employment of English, which advised  in 1997 (if I remember correctly) English lit grad students seek employment in high schools rather than in colleges.

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