The world, Set on Fire, by Reading

Adorno says: Few things separate more profoundly the mode of life befitting an intellectual from that of the bourgeois than the fact that the former acknowledges no alternative between work & recreation… Only a cunning intertwining of pleasure & work leaves real experience still open… Suck experience is less & less tolerated… Atomization is advancing, not only between men, but within the individual, between spheres of his life. No fulfillment may be attached to work, which would otherwise lose its functional modesty in the totality of purpose, no spark of reflection is allowed to fall into leisure time, since it might otherwise leap across to the workday world & set it on fire.

AcademicI think Adorno is onto something. I’m a big reader (obviously). I’m constantly reading, not for work, but for more knowledge. Even though I’m surrounded by “intellectuals” at work, my colleagues, when they see me reading, always ask me why I’m reading: are you writing a paper? Are you prepping for class? Are you teaching this next semester? & they seem to be perpetually taken aback when I explain that no, I’m reading for pleasure. Why is it that even in academic institutions, where people are supposed to by nature be intellectuals, that reading–for non-explicitly work-related reasons–is such an aberration?

So here I am, questioning the academy–the academy where I’ve been so comfortable for so long–asking if those hiding in it are  intellectuals or the bourgeois. And ultimately, is there any difference between these terms any more? (I’m leaving my cushy job next month. While scared of an existence outside the academy, I’m also thankful for a chance to rethink my place in it: Am I really a part of it or apart from it?)

One thought on “The world, Set on Fire, by Reading

  1. I think the answer is rather complex. Speaking for myself, I don’t have a very cush job. I’m an adjunct. This does afford me tons of free time, which is certainly cush. Yet my salary places me well inside the parameters of the lower class. I am functionally impoverished: I can do what I like in my sort-of bohemian way, but I could never do things like buying a car, taking an extended trip, or, god-forbid, taking on a mortgage. In Adorno’s construction, many of my co-workers might be ‘bourgeois.’ They are rewarded for living and breathing work. They don’t seem to have pleasure pursuits in line with their work. In your words, they don’t understand reading for pleasure. But these are mostly the folks who are my superiors – chairs, co-chairs, etc – or careerists. These are people who will do anything to get ahead and really aren’t true academicians: they aren’t really interested in knowledge and have no innate curiosity. They happen to be working in academia, but may as well be selling insurance.

    But most of my contemporaries – predominantly Adjuncts like myself – definitely commingle work and pleasure and are teaching their passions and working on their own pursuits and pleasures. And given the state of things at present there are a hell of a lot of adjuncts. And looking at trends, there are likely to be a lot more. Perhaps my notions are colored by teaching in Chicago, where jobs are finite and mostly everyone is overqualified.

    Also, Adorno hated jazz. He’s kind of a stick-in-the-mud. ;-)

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