By Susan Carter
Threatened with the prospect of possibly losing academic status while being restructured, I realized how addicted to academic writing I have become. Yes, my pay, and working with fabulous people would stay the same.
I’m addicted, though, to writing as a game, competitive, edgy, frustrating: it is a bit like cryptic crosswords only even more multi-dimensional. I like jostling in this competitive world, controlling my emotions around writing or criticism of it (including my own dissatisfaction), hunting out thought in amongst the words where it sometimes feels hard. I don’t mind it when it is hard. At least if feels real. I feel slightly guilty at recognising that writing is an addiction.
I know that guilt seems counter to the logic that in academia it is good to write. A good dotoral student is one who is writing. I’m conjuring up writing’s wicked attraction against the grain here. I’m hoping, though, that in amongst those who find writing to be hard labour, some of you will recognise that you also have at least a love hate relationship.
I did a bit of soul searching about addiction to writing and it being a sort of vanity. I almost like myself best in the way I write–I’ve got more stamina and agility as a writer than I have with almost everything else I do. Rather than feeling conspicuously embodied as a writer, for me it is voice in writing, and a sense of identity.
(If the links between knowing and being and writing a doctoral thesis interest you, see Carter, S. (2011). Original knowledge, gender and the word’s mythology: voicing the doctorate, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education.)
And consider, for example, Inger Mewburn’s “Is the university a bad boyfriend?” siting her friend’s profound realization that “The university is like a bad boyfriend. One day it is going to break your heart.” The university can only be a heart-breakingly bad boyfriend if or because we care so much about knowing, thinking, writing and entering into the exchange of ideas. Knowing more, knowing it better, and naming, owning knowledge. Saying things accurately.
Along the same lines as ‘bad boyfriend,’ at the Academic Identities Conference in Auckland this year, Eva Bendix Petersen, a keynote speaker, also used the term “bad love” to describe academics addiction to the university. However, Eva’s metaphor was more centrally addiction. She eyed us to say “You think you are an academic at a conference; I see a room full of junkies waiting for their next hit. And like junkies, you want to get young people hooked too. When a student’s eyes light up because they have learned to love your topic, yours do too because you know you have another person hooked. Your trade is secured.” Scary, or a touch of realism?
Eva was principally investigating why academics have been so compliant with the neoliberalism and commercialization of universities when we’re meant to be the consciences of society. Her answer, found through interviewing academics, was that we are hooked on our guilty pleasure for research. Our addiction is guilty because we know people out in the world often do not believe that reading, talking and writing is real work.
Could this thought about the sin of academia—vanity, desire, addiction–be of any use to motivation with doctoral writing? Or am I a complete misfit with this idea?