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Unfiled June 26, 2003
 
Lifestyles of the Liberal & Elite
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 
The face of liberal elitism: pretty scary stuff.

The face of liberal elitism: pretty scary stuff.

I ought to know about the American liberal elite, because I wuz wun.

Almost was one. Truth is, I was a failed aspirant to their tweedy elite. But as a failure, I hung around them a long, long time. I spent most of my adult life studying and teaching at UC Berkeley, the epicenter, the Ground Zero of that elite according to rightwing punditry. But when I recall the people I worked with at Berkeley, I don't think of them as very liberal or particularly elite. I think instead of people who were more interested in long summer vacations, regular contact with young women, and a guaranteed income than in getting rich. That was pretty much it: we were all very willing to trade our chance at riches for a nicer, lazier and more indulged, unworldly life as something like an ersatz squire.

It was a good idea. Those who figured it out early led enviable lives, with an extended youth full of intense affairs with nubile students, culminating in marriages to brilliant yet docile women eager to subsume their careers to those of the aging cranks they had married. But these lucky few were the oldest Boomers, who grabbed tenure in the late 60s and early 70s, perfect timing. As their students saw what pampered, indulgent lives their professors lived, the number of applicants rose. Meanwhile the number of jobs was shrinking fast, because a tenure-track job, once filled, is filled for 30 or 40 years. That's not much turnover. Competition for jobs got fierce. And that didn't mean only the smart ones got jobs. Nope, what happened was pure mainstream America: it was the eager, the joiners, the professionals who got the jobs.

A professional was a grad student who entered Ph.D. study like one of Mao's blank-page peasants. He or she had the right sort of intellectual insecurity. That was the key trait: willingness to learn a new diction and purge all private ideas. The non-professionals were those who arrived with something of their own.

It was, like everything else in America, a social matter: the professionals yearned to lick the discourse. We quixotics felt we could and should live out the script of the great Names they were reading: be bloodied by long rejection (at the hands of professionals, of course), and attain esteemed old age being asked about themselves by adoring biographers.

My personal strategy, as a devout quixotic, was to apply for freshman composition jobs after writing my dissertation on the Marquis de Sade. Not professional.

The professionals read the same thorny, idiosyncratic Critics, but they imitated the language, not the plot. The language was apparently violent and solitary, full of self-conscious, quasi-sadistic sexual metaphors and jargon used at irritating angles to agreed meanings. But as the professionals realized--in their blood, in their DNA--this vocabulary of revolt, bitterness and isolation could be job-hunting banter/schmooze-talk every bit as effective as the blandest Church-social prattle.

It was a strange ritual listening to them jabber their savage, harmless jargon at conference cocktail parties--a bit like a Sunday school class of prim dweebs who were spewing obscenities to impress the pastor.

And they were right. They who had had their asses kicked in seminar display-rhetoric accepted their defeats, knowing that only one encounter mattered: the job interview after finishing one's Ph.D. Every smile and parry was hard training for that great test.

Doesn't that sound comfortingly familiar to you non-academics? We're talking office courtship here, nothing arcane except the French jargon (mispronounced in truly populist style, anyway).

I'm telling you, you don't have to worry about these puppies. They slap backs with the best of you. They're talking your language--they're talking career--even when they say "abject transgression marginalized fetishize!"


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dolan@exile.ru
 
 
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Bye-Bye, Miss Russian Pie : The Ofis is now closed forever
Horse Ride Girl
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