I occasionally wonder if I take my work seriously. Sometimes, when I’m researching or writing, I find the thread of a theme and I grab on for dear life, pulling, stretching, and, ultimately, tying myself up in knots. Then (and it always happens) I get a big “shit-eating” grin on my face and slice through everything like I’m Alexander the Great and my paper idea is the whole fucking world.
I never wonder if I take myself seriously. I do not, and sometimes, that comes through in my academic work. I worry that eventually someone will ask me, “are you making fun of what we do?”
Not really, but I can’t deny, that occasionally, I like to, as the French say, take a piss.
See, what we do in English studies is terribly important. The critical thinking necessary to navigate the sheer volume of rhetoric attacking our faces every day is mind numbing. From Twitter feeds to car commercials, the ability to evaluate intent and disregard manipulation has never been more important that it is today. Our current political environment is the result of two generations of voters ignorant of the psychological projection of half of our governing body.
I blame Freud, because fuck that guy.
But our job isn’t just deconstructing the morning news. Our job runs the breadth of human history. It is the job of telling a story, the entire story. We read, write, evaluate, deconstruct, disassemble, disrupt the full volume of narratives; from the first cave painting and the epic of Gilgamesh (the sexiest bromance ever told) to the latest fanfiction on Tumblr. And if we do our job, if we collect and combine and coalesce all the words, from all the worlds, and compress them into one knowable text, we must come to only one conclusion:
Humanity is ridiculous.
We expend huge amounts of labor in order to tell a story, to amuse each other, to fall in love, to gain something from another human being and those efforts pile up in papyrus and prints and still we haven’t learned how so silly we are. Innovation and invention have brought us to the brink of total destruction (and for many cultures, complete annihilation) and yet our greatest accomplishments accumulated over time add up to little more than a babbling of slightly intelligent monkeys shitslinging with words instead of actual shit.
Most of us.
So yes, what we do in English studies is important, and while we carry that responsibility let’s not forget we are a subset of those smart, shitty monkeys. We should not take ourselves so seriously we forget to turn our critical eye self-ward. We need to take a piss occasionally. Otherwise we will be standing on the edge of discourse, hopping like a juice-filled toddler, our intellectual filters slowly filling with poison before failing altogether.
Maybe that’s my role. Maybe I am the designated English Studies Piss Taker. I gladly wear that golden crown while I peruse the stacks for some great story to completely destroy with my mishandling of theory. Let it be me, monkeys, cause I’m good at it. And perhaps what I write will be a good story, and maybe it will entertain you.