If there were any doubts that an advanced degree in the liberal arts appeals to employers, I suggest you read the following announcement sent to the English graduate student listserv at my university this afternoon under the title "Job Opening":
JOB POSTING: [Company name removed for privacy] has an immediate opening for a full-time receptionist/administrative assistant. The successful applicant need not have knowledge of the window tinting industry, but must be willing and able to learn the company's trade. This position requires a personable and responsible employee with a professional attitude and outstanding phone etiquette. An understanding of scheduling, invoicing, and accounts payable is required for this busy, rewarding position.
When headhunters looking for "a full-time receptionist/administrative assistant" begin targeting people with MAs and PhDs, one cannot help but reflect upon his or her decision to attend graduate school. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a receptionist position in the window tinting industry, but from a certain jaded perspective, one has to wonder what this says about the relative value of a decade of post-secondary education in an economy like ours . . . I mean, theoretically one need not attend college to qualify him- or herself for a career in the service industry or in retail, yet many people I know with fancy-sounding degrees end up working in fields they need not have spent so much time and money in school to enter. Obviously, the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual value of an education should be enough of an incentive for an individual to attend post-secondary schools, but the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of people in the United States who attend college and graduate school with the explicit goal of obtaining a particular type of job and lifestyle theoretically only possible with an expensive and time-consuming education. And, sadly, it seems, many of these dreams will go unfulfilled despite the best efforts to succeed. This, too, is another throbbing anxiety in the mind of many a graduate student: will all this work pay off and position me for a satisfying career in academia? The answer in all its painfully unsettling glory: maybe.
And speaking of emails, I received this message yesterday:
A request you have placed:
10 August 1999
Title: Coetzee thinks publicly about new SA
Author: Michael Morris
has been cancelled by the interlibrary loan staff for the following reason:
We have exhausted all possible sources.
There is no library who can supply this item.
I have a hard time believing that no library has a copy of the Cape Argus from less than a decade ago, so if there's anyone who might have a copy of this brief newspaper article, I would be elated if you could contact me.
As far as reading goes, I finished two articles since yesterday evening, both of which deal heavily with poststructural theory. Of the two, the essay I read this afternoon -- Zoe Wicomb's "Translations in the Yard of Africa" -- struck me as most relevant to my dissertation. In her discussion of the correlations between the act of cultural transformation and literal and figurative translation, Wicomb cuts to the heart of one of the central issues in postcolonial studies: the palimpsestic nature of cultural production. Indeed, the traces of apartheid-era society is never fully erased and, in Coetzee's book, they often foil attempts at translating experience. This, in Wicomb's estimation, can be shown to reveal "the failure of transition as a crossing over to democracy" (Wicomb). The essay I read last night, Lucy Graham's "'Yes, I am Giving Him Up': Sacrificial Responsibility and Likeness With Dogs in JM Coetzee's Recent Fiction," like so many others, deals with the connections between The Lives of Animals and Disgrace. Although Graham is one of the Coetzee scholars I most enjoy, I wasn't as impressed by this essay as I normally am. This is not to say that her essay is not very good -- it is -- but I feel that the weight of the theory she brings into the article detracts from her astute reading of the novel. Jacques Derrida, Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Emmanuel Levinas, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others, each make an appearance in this brief (eleven pages!) essay. Although many academics are quite familiar with what amounts to a who's who of postmodern thought, Graham's tightly-packed essay demands a certain readerly vigilance not to get lost in the waves of complexly-wrought theoretical language running throughout the text. That said, Graham reads against the Mike Marais's Levinasian interpretation of Disgrace, arguing that Coetzee's texts "challenge the limitations of autrui and dissociation implicit in notions of transcendence," providing a slightly different (yet valuable) interpretation of the oft-cited "sympathetic imagination" at work in both Disgrace and The Lives of Animals / Elizabeth Costello (4). While I do not wholly agree with Graham's reading, I applaud her focus on the body as a site of suffering as well as the negative presence of silenced suffering in the two texts.
For tomorrow: Read another article.
Graham, Lucy. "'Yes, I am Giving Him Up': Sacrificial Responsibility and Likeness With Dogs in JM Coetzee's Recent Fiction." scrutiny2 7.1 (2002): 4-15.
Wicomb, Zoe. "Translations in the Yard of Africa." Journal of Literary Studies 18.3-4 (2000): 209-33.