Nine Inch Nails has a new album out, and I am really enjoying it (ah, industrial melancholy, how I missed you so). One of the first songs on the album is A Copy of A Copy of A Copy; the repetition, Trent Reznor’s vocals, the ambient industrial melody, have put me in a reflective mood. The metaphor is not terribly original, but bears repeating: when you make a copy of a copy, the quality deteriorates with each subsequent facsimile, the further away you get from the original.
As I apply for jobs both inside and outside of the academy, I can’t help but feel that way. I try to represent my whole self in my letters, but look at my CV and Resume and can’t help but think about all the ways these two documents only represent a part of me. Also echoing in my head is the message that I need to hide certain parts of myself in order to get a job: don’t emphasize your social media and blogging if you want an academic job; don’t emphasize your academic work/interests if you want a non-academic job. Each letter that I write, I’m trying to get closer to the truest version of myself, and instead feel like I’m going in the opposite direction.
The “My Professor” tweets also got me thinking about copies, fragments or distorted images of ourselves. As Dr. Vim alluded to, when students tweet one moment, removed from the context of the classroom, we are incomplete and, and an extent, powerless. For POC, women, and others this process is one that is quite familiar to us: we are reduced to our gender (and how we perform that gender), our color, and other clear markers of our status or position within the power structure. That these and other reductions of ourselves are then broadcast on Twitter is one way to further, perhaps, police our appearance and behavior. Another copy of a copy.
As I was browsing job ads last week, I came across two attractive job opportunities: one of them stated at the end that they were looking to hire the whole person and specifically asked the question about what we enjoy doing in our spare time, what our passions were outside of work. Another ad specifically emphasized that they were looking for someone who “lived for their work” thus deriving all of their identity and importance from their job. I didn’t apply to the latter job. While some might bristle at the question the former potential employer asked regarding what we choose to do with our private time (“none of your dang business, that’s what”), I still appreciated the opportunity to write and talk about my passion for swimming, and that they cared enough about me, as a person, to ask.
In her recent piece on the ever-elusive question of “fit”, Cheryll Ball brings up the important question about where we want to work; I want to work at a place that encourages me to have a life and interests outside of their place of business, not somewhere that expects or even requires me to “live my job,” sublimating important parts of myself. Academia has increasingly done that, asserting over and over that we do this because it is our passion, our life’s work and mission. Academia reduces us in a lot of ways into reductive categories and lists, number of lines on a CV, letterhead our letters appear on, references we can produce. Our bodies in front of the classes get reduced even further, from above and below.
I’m tired of being a copy of a copy of a copy.