I have to put in a plug for Invisible Adjunct’s incredibly moving entry on grad school and “unalienated labor.” After years of sniping, resentful articles in the New York Observer and endless reports of backbiting from inside the academy, she comes much closer to distilling the conflicts between embodying a life of critical thought and achieving subsistence and harmony in the world. IA also isolates the sort of legitimacy conferred on studies by the academy. It’s not just being printed up by a university press and the establishment of norms and rankings for work; it’s the validation of a life and lifestyle based around that work. Even if it’s only people giving each other’s existence legitimacy a la Quine, it can be invaluable in the ideal situation. As Ray Davis points out, the ideal situation is rather uncommon.
I was speaking to someone yesterday about grad school. He happily reported that he had just been accepted to a graduate program and proceeded to tell me how highly the program was ranked, how the school was one of the top ten for this sort of work, how 80% of their graduates got tenure, how respected the professors were in their fields, his sizeable stipend, how much they wanted him to come. I’m happy for him, of course, but I’d be happier if the first thing he’d mentioned was what he wanted to study. I’d be happier (and less worried) if he’d even brought it up.