When the writer Jim Harrison died last month, I came across the following quote from one of his books:
“I wasn’t very long at Stony Brook,” he writes in Off to the Side, “when it occurred to me that the English department had all the charm of a streetfight where no one actually landed a punch.”
I promptly put this quote up on Facebook. Those words appealed to me. They revealed the tensions that make academic interactions so very fraught, and they also told me that all the warring that goes on is quite pathetic and achieves little. There was a macho swagger to Harrison’s statement, sure, but I was prepared to overlook it in favor of its honesty. Or what I was calling its honesty, because of my belief, as a naturalized citizen of an English department, that we fight, often for small stakes, and without any real result.
But is there a recognizable style to our fighting?