Cast Down Your Bucket, Professor Booker

by Jason Peters on May 18, 2009 · 2 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

In a piece titled “Growing Where You Are” in today’s daily report from The Chronicle of Higher Education a professor of English at Hope College takes a close look at his fellow itinerant vandals and asks, “How could we not find ourselves, at least for a time, living in a state of emotional and spiritual brokenness, in the aftermath of repeated dislocations?”

The piece concludes well enough: “At some point you must decide to grow where you are and give up yearning for whatever it is that you have lost and can no longer regain. I think I’ve reached that point.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Patrick Deneen May 22, 2009 at 6:52 am

A nice piece – though I think Eric Zencey’s earlier essay, “The Rootless Professors” (first published in the Chronicle, and re-printed in his fine book “Virgin Forest”) was generally superior. Still its basic message needs to be said and repeated among our itinerant colleagues, and then passed along to their students.

That said, I disagreed with this passage: “There were plenty of people I knew in graduate school who said they would never consider living in ‘flyover country.’ I used to privately scoff at would-be academics who claimed that they had to live in New York, where they could ‘get a decent bagel,’ or whatever. Such people were limiting their chances for employment in a tight labor market. But I get it now. A small thing can take on a large significance when it’s multiplied by thousands. The decent bagel represents a whole legacy of cultural capital and experiences stretching back for generations. It’s about feeling at home.”

I don’t think he should give up scoffing. Most people I have known who have said that line about bagels (and, just to be clear, few if any have been Jewish) did NOT grow up in New York City or the like. Far from indicating a desire to be “at home,” the deeper presupposition of that line – or the one about ‘flyover country’ – is a resistance to the idea of home itself. Such lines are used by ideological cosmopolites who desire high degrees of anonymity and fungibility in their social setting. Recall Descartes’ praise of living in Amsterdam at the beginning of “Discourse on Method” where he adores the fact you can basically be left alone – and align that with the solipcism and deracination of the Method – and you get the idea. And you thought he just wanted a decent bagel.

This is not to say that one can’t build a home and have community in urban areas, even places like New York. The origin of New York was as a patchwork of neighborhoods, often distinctively ethnic, religious, etc. However, much of its attraction today for those who would disdain “flyover country” is the liberation it represents from “entangling” relationships. As “Sex in the City” (or “Seinfeld” or “Friends”) educated a generation of young people, it’s a place that can provide a steady supply of hook-ups without the fear of constantly running into past partners.

I dare say that a very large – even predominant – swath of the professoriate begins with, or learns to adopt, this preference for life in the big (anonymous) city and a disdain for “flyover country.” This is not, however, a sign of their desire to be “at home,” but its opposite – the rejection of the idea.

avatar James Matthew Wilson May 22, 2009 at 12:24 pm

“As “Sex in the City” (or “Seinfeld” or “Friends”) educated a generation of young people, it’s a place that can provide a steady supply of hook-ups without the fear of constantly running into past partners.”

Not to be a one trix pony, but I think that’s it. Indeed, that’s “all there is to it.” Hence the anonymity and complete, if virtual, mobility of internet pornography is the symbol and apotheosis of our age. Whatever the cosmopolitan “cultural” pretenses, the defense of “choice,” “freedom,” and “mobility,” these are just so many rationalizations and masks over a modern desire to separate sexuality from its natural limiting context.

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