‘I hate that I’m part of an academic system that seems to leave people out, to exclude people, if they’re not the ‘right’ kind of people.’
I CAN’T stop thinking about books.
I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. They’re plaguing my every thought. They follow me wherever I go. Novels hover over my shoulder in the queue in Lidl, pages flutter and rustle in the air above my bed when I’m trying to sleep, paper spectres glowing softly in the dark of night. It’s a literary haunting – the worst kind of haunting, surely.
Given that I’m a fortnight away from being freed from the shackles of academia, and knee deep in exams and essay deadlines as a result, it’s probably not that surprising that I’ve spent a lot of my recent time thinking about books. It’s hard to avoid, with the literature degree.
Sometimes my degree makes me hate books, just a little. I don’t like to admit that, even to myself. Typing it makes me feel very small and useless, but hey, why lie? It’s just the truth.
A lot of the time, I love my degree. I genuinely can say that I do, a lot of the time, without a hint of dishonesty. I find the lectures interesting, the theory exciting, and the work challenging in the best, most invigorating sense of the word. It’s something that brings a large amount of joy and pleasure to my life.
But sometimes, it really, really makes me hate books.
Or maybe just certain kinds of books, at least. Or maybe the attitude people have towards those certain specific breeds of books that we study in English literature courses. I’m still trying to wade through all the internalized book-hate and find the most accurate answer.
Yesterday evening, I pulled an all-nighter to write up a three thousand word essay. Which is always a less than pleasant experience in general. But this essay was on my enemy, my antagonist, my greatest foe, Michael Foucault.
I’m not going to bother explaining Foucault in this article, mainly because it would be boring for everyone involved. But it’s also because, to be very frank with you reader, I only semi-understand Foucault, even after writing a three thousand word essay on him. Sadly, I don’t think I have the abilities, skills or smarts to be able to explain him here.
But that’s part of Foucault. He’s a theorist and writes about theory type things in ( I would argue) a very convoluted, unnecessarily complicated way. After three years of an English literature degree, I have found that if I read more than one paragraph of Foucault within the space of a half hour, I tend to get a headache. My brain begins to overheat trying to understand these complex, twisting sentences, wordy and elaborate, until it starts to melt out my ears.
I’m not here to hate on Foucault, it’s nothing personal, really. Okay, it’s a little personal, and I am here to hate, a little. But in general, he’s not bad, the theory isn’t bad. He’s someone I found difficult to understand, but truthfully, the bits that I do manage to get are interesting, and make me want to learn more, to pin this theory down and unravel.
I think the thing that’s bothering me about the kind of writing people like Foucault produce, is that it seems like they write it in such a way so as only a certain amount of people, only certain types of people, will be able to read it. Will be able to understand. I guess the thing I’m finding difficult to come to terms with at the moment isn’t that my course is making me hate books, but that certain books are written in a way that exclude so many people. I’m struggling to find the real, genuine value in books that not everyone can actually read. And I suppose the thing that I really, really hate, the thing that bothers me the most is that a part of me worries that these books are written in a way to intentionally leave people out.
Academia is elitist. It’s not a pleasant thing to acknowledge, but it’s the truth. Even before a person enters the academic world, barriers are set in place to make sure certain people can’t get in; that barrier is money. Certain kinds of people can afford certain kinds of universities, and others are left out. If I didn’t have scholarships supporting me, I know I never would have gone to university. Just this week, UCC has announced that it intends to double the university capitation fee, a fee which isn’t covered by the SUSI grant; the people who will be affected by this, the people who might even consider dropping out, are those from disadvantaged economic backgrounds. This is a fee that will directly hold back working-class students from attending university. It is something that directly excludes them from the world of academia. And when things like that happen, it makes me wonder, does academia want them? Does it want us? If I didn’t have supports in place, I would be dropping out in September. I’m lucky. Not everyone is going to be.
I don’t really hate books. And I don’t really hate Foucault. But what I do hate is that I’m part of an academic system that seems to leave people out, to exclude people, if they’re not the ‘right’ kind of people. The books are written in such a way that they leave people out, the universities are organized in such a way that they leave whole class groups out. If I hadn’t gotten lucky, I would be left out.
I hate that I have to ask the question, why am I in a system that might not even want me here?