Of heresy, fun, and gatekeeping speech acts

It's. . . The Bishop!

It's. . . The Bishop!

Go read Prof. Zero’s “A Heretical Post,” subtitled, “writing is fun, and publishing is easy.”  Here’s a sample:

The book I am reading now has one of those prefaces I dislike, that list all the funding, leave time, help, and culinary support the author had. Without all of this they could never have taken the first step toward formulating their book. This kind of preface makes sure we know the writer has an élite lifestyle, and intimates that writing is impossible without that. These prefaces thus perform a gatekeeping speech act: if you are not in my social stratum, you cannot write. But it is not true that one cannot write while also doing one’s own research and cooking, and it is not true that one cannot do one’s own editing.

.          .          .          .        .          .          .          .          .          .          .       

My theory on it was that the life of the mind was fascinating, being a research professional was interesting, teaching was fine, and service/administration was all in a day’s work. I had also noted that fieldwork = adventure travel = fun, and because interacting with other intellectually oriented people = fun.

What I did not expect to encounter was the investment of so many professors in suffering and/or false stoicism, and the common idea that suffering = research. I also did not expect to have to work with the assumption that writing + publishing = pain you must endure for survival’s sake only.

I think those proclamations are gatekeeping speech acts like the kind of preface I criticize above. I say that to be a professor you have to like to write academic prose and have some research questions you really want answered. You have to be in a position to insist on pursuing those questions, not just “more sensible” questions (according to someone else).

I remember that in grad school, it was fashionable to complain about how much “work” one had to do.  I tried to resist the one-upsmanship of misery then, and I try to resist it now.  Most of my friends and I talk all of the time about writing and publishing–about how to do it better and more successfully, because that’s the part of our jobs we love best.  What do you think?  Do complaints about how hard we have it serve as “gatekeeping speech acts,” as Prof. Zero suggests?  I think she may be on to something.  (I must confess:  my book has a pretty florid and extensive acknowledgements section, but at the time, I was so happy to have finished it that I thought I had to thank everyone I had ever met!  I don’t thank anyone for cooking my meals, though, because that is thankless work I perform myself, for the most part.  I realize how silly my acknowledgements section looks now, and promise to be much more abstemious in the future.  Merci, Prof. Zero!)

On the broader subject of “writing is fun, and publishing is easy,” I’m going to have a special guest blogger here in this space very soon who wants to help you get your articles published.  Stay tuned!

0 thoughts on “Of heresy, fun, and gatekeeping speech acts

  1. It just hit me – although I do take Veleda’s point on complaining (it’s indecorous because it lowers prestige):

    People are willing to complain, but not to stand up and say there are things they actually don’t like about the system in a calm way (because they have so internalized its values).

    *That* is why I don’t like all those advice posts – it’s not that the suggestions aren’t good, it’s that they are ultimately (or often) about internalizing sets of values, saying everything is OK if you just understand the rules, etc.

    Up until now I was always embarrassed that there were so many things I disliked about academia. It seemed like a moral failure. But perhaps it’s the opposite.


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