Sarah P. was a long-time sufferer from vitaitis when she entered our fellowship. She had originally been contaminated with the disease by dysfunctionally literate parents who had bragged to the neighbors, relatives, friends at church, and the supermarket checkout people about every A she got, every academic award, every prize in essay competitions, and later about every degree program she entered at prestigious universities, every grant, stipend, and fellowship, her Ph.D. (with honors) from Harvard, and her first job (our daughter's a professor at Cornell). It was only to be expected, then, that she should relate to everyone she met through her disease, establishing her academic credentials long before anyone knew that she was divorced and lived alone with two cats:
"I'm in the Ph.D. program at Harvard. It's wonderful, the professors are great, and the intellectual atmosphere is so heady!"
"I'm on the job market, just finishing up my Ph.D. at Harvard. Yes, I'm very excited about it, have a few good prospects. Cornell is looking at me."
"I'm in the English department at Cornell. Great place to be, lots of good people. I'm waiting to hear from Oxford, whether they're going to do my dissertation. Oh, the dissertation? It's a French feminist reading of Alice Munro."
"I just heard from Oxford. Yeah, they're going to do it. I'm pretty excited. It's a good press, they'll do a good job with it. People will read it."
"Sorry I'm late, I have to have the index done on my book for Oxford by tomorrow, I couldn't leave until I had it done and in the mail. What a hellacious job! But at least it's done. The book'll be out in November."
"Are you going to be at MLA? Yeah, I'm speaking on Alice Munro's chora; should be a good session. Maybe I'll meet you at the Oxford party? What, you're not invited? Oh, yeah, my book is just out, they're pushing it pretty hard. Do you want to come with me? I'll introduce you to my editor."
Sarah's recovery has been complicated by the fact that she is a woman in a still largely male-dominated profession, where vitaitis is not only not recognized as the disease it is but is thought of as standard operating procedure--the natural extension of the patriarchally programmed male to strut his plumage, to hurl his ego in his interlocutor's face. Unlike many academic women, Sarah was trained by dysfunctional parents to act like a "man," to boast in subtly effective ways, to play the important games, to drop the important names, and has been hugely successful as a result, earning a salary in the top 10% of the profession--while most women in academia earn in the bottom 10%, as part-time instructors, lecturers, adjuncts, and the like. Professionally, recovery seems self-destructive; personally, her addiction is unquestionably self-destructive. How is she to resolve this conflict?
Sarah takes it one day at a time. She no longer builds her vita in conversation; in fact, boasting and name-dropping feel quite alien to her now. The problem remains that she still is the author of three highly influential books on French feminism and American letters, and she doesn't need to boast or drop names to continue to reap the academic rewards of her success. She has been working closely with her sponsor to determine what her best course might be--taking a job at a fourth-rate college where colleagues have less tolerance for publication than fornication, and where the library has a few hundred thousand volumes? dropping out of academia altogether and getting involved in academic addiction therapy?--but she is still very uncertain. We are confident that she will go on resolving her conflicts in ways best suited to her ongoing recovery.
(Sheee-it. Doug's confident. I think, personally, that she's fucked. BK)
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Copyright 1992 Doug Robinson and Bill Kaul