People have been telling me for years to read Richard Russo’s Straight Man. I resisted because I don’t like the genre of academia novels and I especially dislike humorous novels. Finally, however, I gave up and read the novel and, as much as I tried not to, I fucking loved it. I didn’t find it funny, though. I found it terrifying because it hits too close to home.
Just the other day, somebody was telling me on Facebook that professors who lead no intellectual life, do no research, and only teach some recycled intro courses don’t exist. Russo’s novel was written 20 years ago and it’s precisely about this kind of professors. And yes, it’s the 1980s and the 1990s that gave us this model and it still won’t die. Seriously, are there any academics reading this blog who haven’t seen what happens to their colleagues when they stop living the life of the mind, stop reading, stop writing? We all know the problem is ubiquitous but we don’t like to say it because it’s politically inconvenient.
This is a risk we all run. Intellectual stagnation can happen to anyone. And when it happens to really smart people, they go nuts like you can’t imagine. But you will be able to if you read this great novel.