This Academic Life
This morning my wife and I refinanced our house again. Rates are good, the housing prices in our region are absolutely insane and show no signs of coming down to earth at any time in the near future, and let's be honest here: assistant professors don't make gobs of cash. At least not compared to what comparably-educated people make in the rest of the job market. Factor in the need for my wife to remain home to be a full-time case manager for our autistic son, and you have a "structural deficit" -- one that we were meeting, as many Americans do, with credit cards. And it was getting quite out of hand. Hence the refinance, and the new home equity loan, and a variety of other financial jiggerings to keep us solvent.

On paper, assistant professors are reasonably well paid at my university. Now, when we factor in the actual working hours, plus the need to do a lot of stuff on one's time "off" (like summers -- even though I have had to teach two summer courses a year since moving down here in order to pay the bills), it works out to a pretty raw deal, which is one of the things I always make clear to those of my students who think that they have a vocation for the academic life. One does not get rich doing this. One does this because one can't imagine being happy doing anything else long-term. It's that calling, that perverse inner drive, that keeps one slogging through.

I find it fascinating that we've built a financial system in which the restructuring of debt can save the borrower so much money in monthly payments; our refinance this morning actually increased the aggregate debt load, but shuffled things around such that we owe less per month. The motor of such a thing, of course, is the expectation of dependable future income and dependable high home prices, both of which are arguably traceable to the Protestant Work Ethic (tm) that sustains the level of marketization that is required to sustain such a system. [I am setting aside for the moment the issue of whether the Protestant Work Ethic was causally responsible for erecting the present system, or whether it was the most significant cause; the fact is that some such notion -- and arguably the Protestant Work Ethic is only one of the commonplaces tossed up by the same discursive formation that brought us the Inherent Justice Of The Free Market and the Blessings Of Deregulation Of Basically Everything -- provides the legitimating framework for the system as it is now, which is more than enough for my purposes.] So it makes sense to sign papers for a thirty-year commitment to regularly pay back a massive loan, and for there to be legal penalties if one fails to follow through; both of these institutions instantiate the same basic arrangement of commonplaces, and are sustained by the deployment of that arrangement in multiple fora.

I also find it fascinating that the signature means so much to the process; we must have signed our names hundreds of times over the course of an hour and a half. My personal favorite is always the signature that affirms that this is my signature; coming in a close second is the form that says that we will work with the lender to adjudicate any typos and other ambiguities (which is itself, of course, ambiguous about what constitutes a "typo" and what constitutes an "ambiguity"). Both are aporia moments in the process, I think: places where the apparent solidity of the legal and financial arrangements fall apart and have to be smoothed over by an almost purely arbitrary political action. Language tripping on itself, so to speak. And as usual, when I make a crack about the irony of those forms, we paper the cracks over with a chuckle, a shake of the head, and a move on to the next form in the sequence. The ways in which social action produces the effect of solidity are endlessly fascinating to me…never moreso when I find myself in the thick of them.

Of course, analyzing them like this is perhaps a way of bringing some psychological balance to the fact that we just committed to assume even more debt, and distancing myself from those aspects of the situation -- like when I translated the Yankees' loss in the ALCS last year into an extended meditation on randomness versus contingency. But that explanation would get us into territory that I am not really all that comfortable entering; personal motives aren't my business.

[Posted with ecto]

<< Home
"Academia als Beruf," or, an occasional record of the various aspects of my life as an academic. Written by "21stCWeber," an arrogant handle I know…but I must confess that I do want to be Weber when and if I grow up :-)



Powered by Blogger