It came from Jason A. Bartles

It came from Jason A. Bartles

Jason A. Bartles’s story “Leiprenese 101” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 21 May 2021. Metaphorosis

Burnout. Achievement culture. The trivial matters that become blood feuds among academics. Administrators who rebrand the defunding of public education as a meritocracy. These are just some of the things that had been weighing on my mind going into 2020. If there’s a very small silver lining to be found amidst the ineptitude and indifference toward human suffering that has been on full display, the pandemic brought some modicum of clarity to a number of issues for me. In many ways, “Leiprenese 101” is the result of a lot of processing that took place in quarantine.

There’s this thing called “the post-tenure blues”. When I describe it, it sounds like the epitome of privilege, especially in the context of the orchestrated crisis in academia. In the wake of the 2007-08 economic collapse, neoliberal administrations across the country took advantage of the situation to gut higher education. It’s a very complex scheme, but the gist is that universities have been taking on massive amounts of debt to replace public funding, and they pass those costs on to students in the guise of tuition. Meanwhile, doctoral programs that rely on student and adjunct labor to teach most of their undergraduate curriculum for cheap continue to churn out highly qualified teachers and scholars for a job market in which, in a good year, not even half will have a chance at a tenure-track job. As one of the lucky few to get a tenure-line job (and it really was luck), the reality today is that if you don’t get tenured, you will be unlikely to find another tenure-track job. That pressure only exacerbates the performative nature of academic culture in which people send e-mails in the middle of the night as if to prove how much harder they are working than everyone else.

Tenure should feel like a celebration. It’s an incredibly privileged position, and for a gay kid from West Virginia, even more so. But the post-tenure blues are real. Once you get to the other side, the burnout mixes with the realization you don’t know what else you want out of life. Then you hear how whiny it sounds to complain about this situation. It’s an exhausting negative feedback loop.

Most of these ideas were present in some form in the earliest drafts, and anyone who has studied neoliberalism or read Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society—which I highly recommend—will recognize the ideas that structure the world in my story. However, the original spark was something like the desire to tell the story of a language teacher who comes to regret working for the aliens that colonized Earth.

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