The Academic’s Peculiar Dissonance

The academic state of mind is distinguished, I think, by a peculiar kind of dissonance; the academic is able to entertain two conflicting states of being simultaneously; each informs the other and brings to it its peculiar intensity and torment.

At one end of its affective and emotional spectrum lies the well-known impostor syndrome: the academic worries that he or she is a fraud, unsuited to the rigorous demands of the profession that their life’s choices have brought them to; they are besides themselves with anxiety that one day they will be ‘found out’ or worse, that they will go through the rest of their lives living out this charade, one in which they have managed to somehow convince others–by a toxic combination of lies and artifice and outright dishonesty–that they are purveyors of knowledge, skilled and educated beyond the imaginings of most. They are shocked and surprised and intimidated by the blustering displays of knowledge that their fellow academics subject them to; they examine their own achievements and find them wanting in every dimension when compared with those of their colleagues and other contemporaries; they find that academic life, rather than providing for occasions in which their knowledge will be on display instead provides one forum after the other in which they find out just how much they don’t know; they enter a bookstore and retreat, intimidated by the talents on display; they are convinced their ability will never match up to all those who seem to effortlessly master domains of knowledge they themselves can only nibble at.

At the other end of the spectrum lies what I will call the ‘frustrated and unrecognized genius syndrome’: the academic is convinced that the world has failed to adequately recognize his unique and distinctive talents and knowledge, all the while paying obeisance and elevating to the highest reaches of their profession charlatans of all stripes. They look on with barely contained frustration and anger as accolades and recognition are funneled and channeled to those they consider unworthy; they consider themselves cheated by the vagaries of the fortunes of the academic world; their books and articles are unread, unremarked, uncited, falling stillborn from the press to be embalmed on the dusty shelves of libraries, while those of utter nincompoops are elevated to the status of icons; they look back on their intellectual careers and remark on its many contingent occurrences that could have, with a slight twist or two, catapulted them into those very zones whose air they yearn to breathe. They are always on the cusp of ‘making it’; but they never do; and they remain convinced that if only the chips had fallen in the right way, they would be where those they consider unworthy reside instead. Fate and fortune have been cruel; accursed is this world and its ways. A prophet is never recognized in his day and age.

This is an uncomfortable state of affairs at best; it afflicts students and professors alike. It infects the life of the mind with its own distinctive anxieties and neuroses; it may account for some of the depressing statistics pertaining to mental health in the profession.

Hug an academic today. Or not.

5 comments on “The Academic’s Peculiar Dissonance

  1. landzek says:

    That’s terrible. Lol. Why would anyone put themselves through such an ordeal?

    It almost sounds like trust in acedamia is misplaced. Lol

    But you know what, I don’t think it’s just academics. I think it occurs with every intelligent and reflective person nowadays. I think it might even be a sign that the person is intelligent, to have such doubts and yet such confidence.

    But at the same time I would also say that this condition of our time indicates a certain problem, or a certain issue with the very condition. The emphasis now I days on being human is to somehow identify with the insecurities. There is a certain ambiguity involved in becoming human. The usual standard psychological approach of dealing with issues nowadays is to somehow hold a high standard and yet also meet the person where they’re at, which is really aiming cognition to the lowest factor. The lowest factor is under individuation, it is to put an emphasis on the importance of what we could basically call chemical process without any inherent meaning. To delve into the depths of chemical process and somehow redundantly apply a meaning to something that inherently is coming from my chemical process that has no meaning is really to invite chaos into what otherwise the higher cognition would want as order and confidence.

    As we here everywhere, throughout time the middle ground is the best ground.

    It seems that the more we want to find some absolute truth of the matter, the more we dig into what human beings are doing as if there is some sort of inherent or E sensual or spirit or soul or some side sort of purpose for meaningful foundation of the human being that form is an impetus into agency and purpose, The more we find that there isn’t any basis for this ground. End it seems to me that the way consciousness deals with this hypocritical motion of investigation is to supply an equally aggravated and enlarged sense of person. It really is kind of that in the effort to find some sort of basis of truth we are developing a kind of manic depressive person who is intelligent and who feels these positions of power and authority.

    That may be the symptoms and the answer of our present situation in the world. The method of investigation is incorrect; the premise that goes into finding out what a human being is and then postulating upon what this findings mean is actually creating a situation of discrepancy of insecurity capped off by enlarged sense of righteousness.

    No I am not saying this from my position as if I am beyond it. I totally relate and understand what you’re talking about and I don’t think it’s particular the academics. But what I am saying is I don’t propose to put myself in a position of authority and power and then spread it all over everyone in a sort of group, we’re all in this together group kind a messed up nurse, that we get to have this giant social support group or encounter group is it like the world is a giant 12 step meeting . Lol

    I’m sorry I’m just agreeing with you but I’m also saying that perhaps sitting in your academic office in saying like whoa us academics — I don’t think it’s just you guys.

    Thanks for the post I love your your stuff

    • Samir Chopra says:

      This is a very thoughtful post – thanks very much for it, I will try to respond in a post at some point. I appreciate your thoughtful comments on my earlier post and am sorry I did not respond then. I’m glad to see you are still reading me. I appreciate the kind words.

      • landzek says:

        I’m kinda an ‘attacker’ in topics. Like setting off an explosion of particles to get the outline of a room. It’s just a sort of strategy of beginnings. So if I ever sound confrontive or just plain like an asshole, it’s just because I want a response, not because I think you are an idiot. Btw.

  2. […] it is now to get one, but also the anxiety that accompanies such a position; I am thinking of The Academic’s Peculiar Dissonance — Samir Chopra, his recent post on this […]

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