The other day I received a distressed message from a friend that I met in college. Marvin’s career somewhat parallels mine; he went on to get a PhD, taught for a few years in New Hampshire until the economy claimed his job, tried to make it as a fiction writer and adjunct instructor for awhile before moving to Boston to work with a publishing company. He’s never made any money for his writing, but that may be for his own good because the money that authors make goes to support the CEO of whatever corporation owns the publishing house. Still, I wish him luck. Yesterday he emailed me about a book he’s reading, The Last Professors, by Frank Donoghue. He’s convinced me that I should read it, but I thought his message would be appropriate for this blog. In Marvin’s words:
“If a more bleak preface has ever been written, I’m an illiterate ape who never reads. The writing has been on the wall for years, but those of use who are able to see it have been hopelessly myopic. In the preface he tells how industrialists since the end of the Civil War have been dead-set against liberal arts education as useless. People like the two of us who studied ‘useless’ fields, they would have as the cogs in their efficient machines, suppressing our thoughts. The only useful education they can deign to approve is one that earns them more money. There’s only one value system in the world, it seems.
“Don’t you feel like a sell-out, working in New York City, that cathedral of capitalism? Is NYU on anybody’s list of tourist stops for people down there in New York? Who goes to visit a university when there’s so much of commercial interest to see?
“And yet, corporate types are the ones who can afford tickets to shows written and put on by people educated in their ‘useless’ craft, but who are in reality their unwitting chattels. And who wants to be seen with authors and intellectuals to enhance his personal prestige, so that he will appear smart? Who are the dogs in the manger who keep everything they can’t possible use for themselves, for fear that others might enjoy it?
“We all play along with their game—we wear jeans on casual Friday and declare how good we have it. We speak their demeaning language, using humiliating phrases like ‘best practice,’ ‘core competency’ and ‘corporate values.’ In this dehumanized state we all live in cages that we’ve helped build. Corporate moguls hold their power over us because we let them. We, the workers, have the power to change it. They make the rules and we obey because we all want to be in their place.
“Education is the way out—that’s why they hate it. There’s an entire support industry built around it; those of us in the book business rely on educated readers. What happened to Borders looks prophetic to me. Time to close—I’ve just arrived at work.
“Sent from my iPhone”