Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Life In the Pissant Swamp: The Princessa and the Peasant...

There are a zillion stories in the Pissant Swamp.
This is just one of them.

On and off during my time blogging during the last three years or so I have written about the surreal bizarrity and peculiarity that is the academy. I want to continue to reflect on my life in the academic wasteland where the intellectual life is more an accident than a planned commodity under the general rubric of Life in the Pissant Swamp. So off we go.

The Pissant Swamp is a term I first heard in reference to academia in Andrew Davies wonderful television programme, A Very Peculiar Practice (1986-1988). This BBC television programme, which ran for two series, was based on Davies experiences while teaching at the University of Warwick. Like me he apparently found academia a very peculiar practice. Ironically, I was admitted for post-graduate work at the same University of Warwick, though I never had any intention of matriculating there. But enough of TV cabbages and university kings. I want to go back to the pissant swamp in the rest of this blog and talk about one of the more than one million tales I could talk about in the pissant jungle, the story of a Princess and one princess in particular, the Princessa.

I met the Princessa for the first time in 2012 if memory serves. In that year all of the History adjuncts and all of the English adjuncts were stacked like sardines into an office in one long narrow room in the Campus Library. There were, if I remember correctly, four or five computers and one printer for the English adjuncts and three computers and one printer for the History adjuncts. I dare say this was symbolic of the relative status of both groups. At any one time three or four adjuncts might be hanging around the pissant swamp at any moment making it rather difficult to study, grade, or even prepare for class. For this very reason I usually didn't try to do any of the above. I usually simply tried to relax after my one hour and a half commute from Albany to the pissant swamp.

It was an entirely different fairy tale story for the Princessa, however. Before I get to that, however, a bit of prologue. The Princessa and I didn't really hit it off. She was a bourgeois living the bourgeois dream. She and her academic hubby had a nice little home and one bright little one child, or so she told me. But she wanted more. She had a Ph.D and she dreamed more than anything else of that fantasy so many of the legion of PhD's that are being overproduced (syllogism: too much supply, too little demand) by graduate schools these days, she wanted a full-time job in the academy. And the academic life she fantasied became a kind of reality for her. When she was in the office she spent most of her time conversing with another History adjunct about her bourgeois life, her bourgeois husband, and her divine bourgeois semi-domesticity. I was, I understand in retrospect, apparently supposed to bathe myself in the brilliant bourgeois light radiated by the Princessa and bow before it and her.

But I was and am not a proper bourgeois who spends hours politely barking out banal bourgeois niceties about nice little husbands, bright little children, or the joys of the weather. I am instead an intellectual who finds the academy about as far from the intellectual life as one can get. When I said this I think I hurt the poor Princessa's feelings. I now had the honour of being the first person in the Princessa's life who, or so she once again said, did not like her. Apparently the Princessa also Mrs. Bourgeois Congeniality for time and eternity.

Anyway, my relationship with the Princessa blew up once upon a time ago. On one fateful day I was first into the office. The Princessa and one of the English adjuncts came in later. As I commute to campus from a city 90 miles away and as I don't have the dreamy bourgeois life of the Princessa, to make ends meet I have to work three jobs. One of them, to digress a bit, is a cashier job at the Co-op in Albany, a job that is far more intellectually stimulating than any I have experienced at any of the bourgeois university I have taught at. But back to that day of horror: To prepare for class, preparation I had been unable to do because of my busy schedule and commute, I was watching a documentary I had asked the class to watch as part of their homework. The Princessa came in and demanded in royal tones that I turn the documentary off because it interfered with whatever she did during office hours. Point: Note that she didn't ask me whether her bourgeois conversation with her bourgeois colleague about the joys of the bourgeois life interfered with what I was doing. It did. I have been annoyed by the banality of contemporary culture since my Holocaust seminar but I found it absurd to complain about a situation that brought a bunch of academics together in the same strange place and at the same strange time. Anyway, long story short I refused to turn off the video though I did turn it down from the already low volume I had it at. Supergrass that the Princessa was is she ran with metaphorical tears in her eyes to the Department Chair complaining that I had threatened her and that she now feared for her sweet little bourgeois life. Needless to say such a fantasy scenario seems to come more from one of those multitude of soap operas that permeate American life than it does from reality and that says a lot about the Princessa.

The Department Chair, needless to say, sided with the Princessa. She is apparently one of his favorites. I was ordered not to watch videos even if they were preparation to the classes I teach in the sardine office. I don't know whether the Princessa was told that her attempt to grade, study, or prepare for class in an office full of any number of adjuncts at one moment was more than a bit looney but I do know that English adjuncts were, for obvious reasons, provided with an office in the Library to which they could take students for consultation. And I do know that two years later History adjuncts were given offices in which there was less adjunct traffic and as a result were more reasonable and rational places to have office hours. I also know the Princessa now refuses to deign to talk to a prole like me. I, however, couldn't give a toss. Bourgeoisie with aristocratic attitudes, absurd demands, and fantasy delusions, are not by cuppa anyway. I learned that long ago when I did a term at another fantasy land full of fairy tale delusions, Cantab.

Needless to say I won't miss any of this silliness when I (hopefully) gain my pension and my health care pension after the fall term of 2016. I look forward to doing something I like much more than the peculiar job of teaching in academia, thinking. Thinking is, after all, the best way to travel...

Any resemblance between this blog post and reality is purely coincidental.

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