In Search of Lost Time: Further Reading

Time as infinite spiral

With thanks to all who have read and shared my “In Search of Lost Time” (an essay on why academics work so much, published in Inside Higher Ed today), here are a few links for further reading. Most of these were embedded in the original piece, but didn’t make the transition to the Inside Higher Ed website. I’m listing them in the order they appeared in my piece.

  • Kate Quick, “Hello, Class. Your Professor is on Food Stamps,” Huffington Post, 24 Jan. 2014. (I’d linked my claim “adjuncts are increasingly joining the ranks of the working poor” to this piece.)
  • Miya Tokumitsu, “In the Name of Love,” Jacobin Magazine, Jan. 2014. Excellent piece argues that the “Do What You Love” mantra “may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around,” and notes that it’s particularly pervasive in academia.
  • Kate Bowles, “Beyond a Boundary,” Music for Deckchairs, 9 Dec. 2013. Really thoughtful essay makes the point that “we don’t yet understand this as behaviour that is harmful to others, not just to ourselves. We overwork like cyclists dope: because everyone does it, because it’s what you do to get by, because in the moment we argue to ourselves that it feels like health and freedom. But it isn’t.”
  • Stevie Smith, “Not waving but drowning” (1972). Repr. on In my essay, I quoted the title to this poem.
  • Dekka Aitkenhead, “Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system,” Guardian, 6 Dec. 2013. The Nobel Prize-winner observes that the imperative to publish constantly would disqualify him from contemporary academia. “Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough,” he said. “It’s difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”
  • Kate Bowles, “Irreplaceable Time,” Music for Deckchairs, 24 Nov. 2013. I didn’t link to this one, but it definitely influenced my thinking. Among the many great points Bowles makes is this: “If we have created a culture in which only those who are most single-minded about work are applauded, promoted and respected, we have made something whose capacity for harm is pervasive and long-term.” Go and read it.
  • Mark Slouka, “Quitting the Paint Factory” (Harper’s 2004). I was reading Slouka’s Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations (2010), and this piece — also not linked to in my original — was another influence. The whole collection of essays is great. I recommend it. (The link is to a — probably unauthorized — reblogged copy of Slouka’s essay.)
  • The tweet below appeared after I’d already sent in my essay to Inside Higher Ed, but it would have made a great epigraph to the piece.

More thoughtful comments on this subject (links added 4 Mar. 2014, thanks to Kate Bowles).

  • Ferdinand von Prondzynski, “Recognising hard work in higher education,” A University Blog, 3 Mar. 2014. “But honestly, in what other profession would you find anyone reading their work mail after midnight?”
  • Overworked TA, “The Underbelly of Putting Yourself Last: Mental Illness, Stress, and Substance Abuse,” Overworked TA, 3 Mar. 2014. “This culture of ‘do, do, do’ never stops.  And it starts in graduate school.”
  • Kate Bowles, “On impact,” Music for Deckchairs, 4 Mar. 2014. “We overwork because the current culture in universities is brutally and deliberately invested in shaming those who don’t compete effectively; as a correlative to this we are starting to value and promote to leadership roles people who really do believe in the dodgeball triumphalism of university rankings as a way of nurturing educational values and critical inquiry.”

Thanks again to all who have read and commented on my essay!

Image source: time as infinite spiral from Mom Biz Coach.


  1. Pingback: On impact | Music for Deckchairs

  2. Brynja


    I just wanted to say thank you for the article in IHE. This is my first full year as a faculty (tenure track) and I have frequently felt like I was drowning and often feel guilty because I spend more time in meetings, planning teaching and working with students than I do writing the articles that I know I should be working on.

  3. Reply

    Brynja: Thanks for writing. The first year on the tenure-track is often overwhelming. The good news is that you learn to keep up. The bad news, of course, is that the pressure to take on more work persists.

    About six months ago, I asked a friend to be my “enforcer”: if I wonder whether I should say “yes” to something, I ask her first. (She usually, but not always, tells me to say “no.”) You might try an approach like that. Perhaps a trusted senior colleague or mentor could serve in this role for you? I should write another essay on this subject….

  4. Jennifer Askey


    Hi Phil,
    thank you so very much for the list of links. “Quitting the Paint Factory” came rather opportune for me. In various imaginative exercises, I’ve been trying to articulate my ideal job/ideal life/goals (things I have to go out an actively hunt down now that I am no longer a tenured professor–a lot of self-definition got swept away with the international moving box debris). Finding that space for idleness, for play and enjoyment that is specifically NOT “travellingtheworldinyournewyacht” or “bookingthatluxuryvactationhome” commerce, has been nagging at me. Nice to see someone put that in words.

  5. Reply

    Thanks, Jen! Glad you found the links to be of use. Idleness is important, no matter who we are or what we do. We need space to think, to love, to be.

    Incidentally, I really enjoyed Mark Slouka’s whole essay collection, Essays from the Nick of Time. Another essay in there that’s germane to this discussion is “Dehumanized: On the Selling (Out) of American Education, and What It Costs Us.” He’s a thoughtful and sharp writer. I’d like to read more of his work.

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