Monday, 6 December 2010

Why I'm Learning to Loathe Academia

(It’s not about food! #1)

Before I went to university I belived in myself, the career I wanted and my ability to write. I decided (roughly) what I wanted to do for a career and how I would need to get there. University seemed the best route.

Since enrolling on my course in Photography and Journalism, I have learned a lot of skills and information; particularly from the journalism side of things. Now, however, one and a half years into my course, I’m beginning to lose the will to carry on, and am learning to despise the pompous and seemingly arrogant world of academia.

Let’s start with reading. I used to enjoy reading a lot. Despite the un-cool and nerdy-associations that secondary school attributed reading with, I did a fair bit in my spare time. There was nothing like the losing yourself in the blissful escapism of a beautifully written piece of fiction. Since enrolling for a degree, my reading time has deceased. No time for fiction, practically none for magazines and newspapers (ironically, considering that I’m on a Journalism degree). This is quite acceptable – I understand perfectly that one should have to do a lot of academic, course-related reading for a degree.

However, after suffering many a page of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Benjamin Walter and Sigmund Freud, to name but a few, I don’t really enjoy it anymore. Their incessant use of complex syntax and inconceivably complex lexis has left me confused and frustrated on many occasions. I don’t know whether these people had some kind of issue with their egos, but I really can’t see the necessity of making things so difficult to read, let alone understand. Or maybe I am just stupid. Either way I’m losing belief in my ability to read.

Sigmund Freud: You will learn to hate this guy.

Closely related to reading is writing. Academic essays come thick and fast at university, so one has to get to grips with very specific forms of referencing and bibliography styles quickly. It’s not a problem; it just slows you down a bit. When it does become a problem, though, is when different lecturers prefer you to use different styles for different essays. To make things worse, the style guide I have been given contradicts itself. Did I mention that marks are deducted for incorrect referencing too?

More importantly, in the space of a week I have been sat down with different tutors for tutorials about essays, and listened as several pieces of writing, the products of hours of painstaking reading, writing and editing, have been torn apart. In some places I’m too informal. In some I’m not using the correct referencing. Sometimes they’re not interested in contextual information, and sometimes they are. I should be talking less about this and more about that. It’s not the end of the world, as I know I can improve these essays. But it is wearing me down and I am losing the belief I had in my ability to write – as well as read. When I was at secondary school and during A-Levels, I was actively encouraged to pursue writing. I haven’t been encouraged to write – or about my ability to write – in any way since starting my course. I’m beginning to worry that Blogspot might kick me off their servers soon for failing to reach their minimum writing standards.

Finally, there is photography. On my course I have learned less about improving my photography, and more about understanding photography. The seminars, and the discussions we had in them, with Michael O’Brien were a highlight of the course so far. I learnt a lot and my mind was opened. But the problem is, is that I can no longer enjoy photography for the sake of photography. A photo always – always – has some interpretation to be made, some hidden meaning to discover.

And this is all very well, but this approach has to pollute even my own photography. As far as my tutors are concerned, a photo is rubbish unless it contains some kind of reading – whether that be feminist, Marxist or whatever. Photographs of a random piece of tarmac are applauded if they relate to some Freudian theory. A penguin on an iceberg lit by an astronomically beautiful sunset is not applauded, because it is kitsch, cliché, and doesn’t ‘do’ or ‘say’ anything.

But do you know what? I honestly don’t care whether that penguin suffers from the Oedipus complex, or whether he represents individualism and the freedom of the West. I want to enjoy, appreciate and relish in this photo simply because it is beautiful, an achievement and work of art by the photographer and a tribute to incredible aesthetics of nature. And by doing this, I believe that I shouldn’t have to suffer the disregard and disrespect from so-called academics that feel their brains are simply too large to appreciate this.

Victim of the Oedipus complex, or simply photogenic material? You decide...

To conclude then, I must ponder these emotions and thoughts that have been provoked by higher education: the feeling that I have been robbed of the ability to read and write, the idea that I lack the intelligence to appreciate the ‘superior’ realms of photography. Maybe I am simply too stupid. Perhaps I lack the intellectual capacity to surf the shallow wave of academia. Whether I am right or whether I am wrong, who knows – but either way I’m paying well over £3000 per year for this demoralisation.

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