Sunday, July 20, 2008

Strict Tempo

William Deresiewicz in The American Scholar on "the disadvantages of an elite education" (thanks to my dad for sending me this). A little too existentialism-is-a-humanism for me at times, but still, touché; and this, at least, is a piece of anecdotal evidence worth verifying:

"This is not to say that students from elite colleges never pursue a riskier or less lucrative course after graduation, but even when they do, they tend to give up more quickly than others. … This doesn’t seem to make sense, especially since students from elite schools tend to graduate with less debt and are more likely to be able to float by on family money for a while. I wasn’t aware of the phenomenon myself until I heard about it from a couple of graduate students in my department, one from Yale, one from Harvard. They were talking about trying to write poetry, how friends of theirs from college called it quits within a year or two while people they know from less prestigious schools are still at it. Why should this be? Because students from elite schools expect success, and expect it now. They have, by definition, never experienced anything else, and their sense of self has been built around their ability to succeed. The idea of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them, defeats them."

How much of the midcentury academicization of poetry can be explained by the eagerness of aspiring poets to achieve success within a few (how many? five? ten? fifteen?) years after graduation — an eagerness which is itself a function of a class and generation (beginning, say, in the mid-1940s) inculcated with both a desire for the poetic life and a terror of waiting forever for it? Future research project: compare the tempo of the bohemian life to that of the academic.