Impostor Syndrome

“You’re not Fooling Anyone”

The article is nothing spectacular; I heard about this phenomenon back in 2002 in my first semester of grad work in English, and I’ve experienced it periodically since.  On the one hand, when I compare myself to my colleagues, I know that I can hang with them, and moreover, the folks who have gone on to jobs at medium-sized universities are operating on a level about equal to my own.  Our department has something around a ninety percent placement rate, and I’m not worried when I think about that.  On the other hand, when they start talking in the abstract about what they expect, it’s a different story entirely.  There’s no way, short of abandoning family and church and for the most part the classroom, that I can be the superman who spends twelve hours every day working on journal articles.  It’s the impossible abstract that makes me feel like an impostor.

Anyway, the article is nothing new, but the comments section is telling.  A quick skim will show what kind of environment the big academy is–departments hate each other, the already-accomplished hate the up-and-coming and vice versa, the theorists hate the classicists and vice versa.   I could offer a hundred reasons why all of these things happen, but I have to offer that at least one reason might be that they never talk to each other.  Even within our own department I hear the old-schoolers talk about the theory-heads and vice versa, but far less frequently do I hear about conversations that they have with one another.  Perhaps my own banishment to the basement for the last five years fuels this ignorance, but even that speaks to the separation that defines university life, and tracing separation through loneliness and eventually to paranoia isn’t hard to do.  The New Historicists talk about such alienation in every historical period, especially the one in which I supposedly specialize; I wonder whether they notice it happening around them.

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