An unpleasant question I encounter everywhere I go is why I’m where I’m at. Why am I at a two year school where I largely teach first and second year courses? After all, I’ve written three books and published four, written numerous articles, had some small amount of influence both in academia and outside it, and have been fortunate to speak all over the world. Everywhere I go I have to explain myself, or maybe I just feel I need to explain myself. I feel as if I’m either asked to apologize or that I feel I need to apologize, that I need to explain who and what I am. Such is one of the sad things about academia: I either am dismissed for where I am or am attributed far more prestige and power than I have.
What can I say? In the last couple of years I’ve been approached for a number of positions– I didn’t apply for them at the outset –and asked to interview. Most recently I was approached for a full tenure professor position in a discipline that’s not my own in a rather prestigious department. It was an honor. I don’t think I interviewed well but, that aside, I also think they made the right decision. I just wasn’t that sort of scholar. It stung a bit, sure. I also think I just don’t interview well. I need to talk to people. I close up in the face of impassive faces, of mirrors without reflections. Still, and maybe I’m rationalizing, I’m just not sure this position would have been good or right for me.
I’m very proud of the institution where I am. I think Collin is something special as far as two year schools go. We have internationally recognized programs in a variety of fields. We’re genuinely devoted to academics and scholarship. This is a good place to be. I’ll never forget when I first came here, when driving home every afternoon tears would streak my face as I crested a hill and saw the plains and the wide open sky with its blue clouds and sun setting. I would crank up the music and hit the accelerator. I was alive even as my voice felt dry and croaked from teaching all day long. The road was before me. I had survived academia and I was in a good place, a place that respected scholarship and thought.
If I’m speaking selfishly and in terms of my desire (Lacan says not to give way on your desire), I think this is where I belong. I love the classroom. I adore the classroom. I thrive in the classroom. I dance; I sing; I perform.
I was not a good student in my younger years. I even failed a year of high school. I was always elsewhere, distracted. I thought education was a conspiracy. Then, around fourteen or fifteen, I discovered philosophy and the world changed. To me teaching feels like a conspiracy between students and educators against that far darker conspiracy. I like instilling my students with the idea that there might be some value to education beyond submission or assimilation. I like filling them with a hole, with questions, with wonder and joy in exploring. I like being the educator that I needed and yearned for– and I had some great ones –at certain very dark periods of my life. I like the endless discussion that happens from semester to semester and how it always surprises me. I grow depressed when I’m not in the classroom.
But, if in addition to the song of the classroom that Collin has made possible for me (what a gift and kindness), it has above all given me absolute academic freedom. I don’t think that The Democracy of Objects or Onto-Cartography would have ever been possible, that I would have had the courage for them, had I not been here. Here I am authorized to range over everything regardless of whether it’s in my discipline, whether it be biology, physics, sociology, ethnography, history, mathematics, or literature. I am given the freedom to explore, well, freely. That is an amazing and wonderful thing for which I am eternally grateful. This place has given me the freedom for folly. I’m not sure it gets better than that, and I’m not sure there’s a better life than this.
In Blade Runner the character of Roy says “I’ve seen things people wouldn’t believe.” That’s been my life. I’ve seen extraordinary students. I’ve had, and do have, graduate students from the Americas to India. I’ve fought passionate fights about theory and philosophy. I’ve been privileged to travel the country and the world, learning from others and dialoguing with them. I’ve seen new movements in theory and politics arise and played some small role in them. This seems like a good life to me. I hope to eventually reach the point where I can stop apologizing for my existence or feeling like I have to apologize or explain it.