Let me first concede that the following diatribe may owe itself to the fact that UT is substantially more status conscious than other universities (or so my more learned sources inform me). Notwithstanding this human propensity to engage in institutional pissing contests, let us briefly ‘consider’ (which, for those who haven’t yet figured this out, is my euphemism for ‘methodically critique’) the mold to which those undergraduates who wish to participate in academia feel they have to conform.
I think it’s embodied most vividly by the biographical information one is asked to produce after one receives an academic award or honour. ‘What are your research interests?’ I recognize that not everyone shares my instinctual disdain for how ludicrous it is to pose this question to an undergraduate. I’ll therefore make explicit the correct response to that question.
‘My “interests,” as someone who has done this for two and a half years, pertain to my establishing a foundation of classical [alternatively, insert preferred Humanitarian discipline here] knowledge that will enable me to engage in research at the graduate level.’ Done.
I think what afflicts me so violently about our conduct-and I refer here to ‘presumptuous students,’ a category into which I place myself before all others-is our assumption of the affectations that attend the profession of ‘scholarship.’ We see actual ‘scholars’ interact with other ‘scholars,’ and then seek (inadequately) to ape their behavior.
We’re not ‘scholars.’ I know this because I was raised by two ‘scholars,’ and two damn good ones, at that. We’re ‘good students who are interested in seeing if “scholarship” suits us.’ ‘Scholarship’ describes both a profession and a way of life. It’s a temperament and a vocation rolled into one. One ripens into a ‘scholar’ after one has spent two decades (or somewhere thereabouts) doing a profound amount of legwork. One develops ‘research interests’ after one has bestowed oneself with a working knowledge of all the areas of their professed discipline.
This is why I’m so dismissive when I’m asked to familiarize myself with a visiting scholar’s research. If I’m interested in his or her work, I’ll attend the bloody talk. Until then, I’ll continue to improve my Greek, my Latin, and my writing style; ditto for my knowledge of classical history and philosophy. If I happen to run into the guy in the hallway, I’ll conduct a conversation with him like a functioning human being.
The question that everyone has to asks themselves before attending grad school is: if/when left to my own devices, what would/do I do? If the answer is ‘read a book,’ ‘talk about the Gracchi,’ ‘look at Ancient Greek ruins,’ or some such sentiment, perhaps it’s the place for you. Sure, exception must be made for delightful hobbies like bagpipe playing. However, if you find yourself only professing an interest in these topics, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you really want to pursue this, or if you just want to kick it with the nerds.
‘Classicist.’ ‘Historian.’ ‘Philosopher.’ These are ontological states of being. They’re not characters one assumes. If you aspire to partake, let us go forward together. But let me warn you, it’s a long, hard road ahead. Dilletantism will not be tolerated.