Saturday, October 14, 2006

Continental Alienation

My discipline's conference ends each day with what is called, anachronistically, a "smoker." The APA has these as well, but in the case of Continental Philosophy, they are more appropriate. Lots of pierced, funky glasses-wearing, bedecked in black grad students have mobbed the conference, and repeatedly step outside to inhale, anxiously, from their cigarettes. I am just grateful that hotels have banned cigarettes in the room; during my early conference days, I got burned a few times by drunken francophiles leading with their cigarettes through thick crowds.

The minute I arrived in the lobby of the hotel, and saw all the devoted conference goers standing around debating the papers they just heard, I felt like a fraud. Teaching in a liberal arts college pretty much kills off the pious Continental in me. A few friends, from my more abstract days, asked me what I am working on and I said: "Nothing. I have tenure." After saying that a few times, I realized I should probably be more earnest in my answers since I do actually write things beyond this blog.

I studiously avoided any theoretical conversations and just hung back with "I," making snarky comments. We ran into one of our peers from grad school who spent the entire conversation telling us about her job, her commute, and her book. No questions about us. "I" astutely noticed that most of these conference goers have no social skills.

Another guy, hanging back with us in our snarky moods, made fun of all the french-y thinkers, who, he said with great disdain, you felt like you had to genuflect for. I asked him what he worked on: "Nietzsche," he said. This exchange, by the way, makes no sense if you have read Nietzsche, who is as impenetrable as the French thinkers he eschews. Frankie, my favorite Heidegger guy, who really is French, was given a reprieve from this condemnation by the Nietzsche scholar. It seems that Heidegger has made Frankie's writing less abstruse.

Oh, how is it that I ended up here? I suspected I would feel alienated at this conference and I was. While others were talking the Ontological difference, I was worrying over the effect of gerrymandering on the upcoming November elections.

The very last thing I did before giving up and heading up to my room to watch You, Me and Dupree (which was not worth 13 bucks) was look at a flyer for a conference upcoming called A-Way from Heidegger. That was the last straw. I needed to get A-way.