Why I Am an Academic

Michel Chaouli

Like most people, I have ended up where I am thanks to a series of accidents. But that is, finally, not why I am an academic. I am at the university because like no other institution I know it remains hospitable to the life of the mind. Ideally, I want to allow thinking to take me where it will, and I'd like to do so in the company of others who are similarly inclined. It is a stroke of luck that there is an institution designed to encourage this form of life. (And it pays a regular salary.)

That does not mean that I am not also conflicted about my intellectual and academic engagements. It does mean that I am able to inhabit the conflicts more fully than I might in other institutions. An essay I published in Profession 2003 tries to explore what might be productive in conflict (PDF). Years ago, I pursued this question in TLS (PDF).

It is easier to say what I don't want to do as an academic; here is a polemic, entitled "Against Moralization," presented at the convention of the German Studies Association in October 2005. A more recent essay, less polemical and more representative of my mood now, about what literary criticism should ideally be is called "Criticism and Style," published in 2013 in NLH (PDF).

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