Visibility, of a Sort

This entry comes with an Irony Alert, though it’s an irony more in the Alanis Morissette sense, rather than irony in the classical sense.

The Chronicle of Higher Education contains in its April 30 issue an article about the sign-off of the Invisible Adjunct, both from the blogosphere and from academic. (If you are a Chronicle subscriber, the article can be found here; otherwise, the article can be read here for the next five days. [UPDATE: the article is now available on the free site.])

As the article, by Scott Smallwood, opens:

Through the blurry glass of the classroom door, a professor can be seen at the front of the room. It is a woman, but the thick window obscures any clues about how old she is or how tall or what color hair she might have. Maybe brown.

She’s the Invisible Adjunct. Or at least, she used to be. After five years of being an adjunct and a year after starting one of the most popular academic Weblogs, she is giving up and getting out. More than a decade after entering graduate school with great promise, she hasn’t landed that full-time, tenure-track spot she dreamed of. So although she’s unsure what comes next, she is quitting the academy and shutting the blog down.

“What I need to do, I think, is to revise and rewrite my own script,” she wrote months ago when she began to consider this jump. “Get me rewrite! I’m done with this story and I want a new script.”

Her departure from the classroom at the end of this semester will cause barely a ripple on her campus. No farewell parties. No mentions in the department newsletter. Remember, no one can really see her. But on the Internet, her goodbye spurred an emotional cascade. Scores of other blogs mentioned her departure. Some even mourned it. Nearly 200 comments were posted to her final blog entry in late March. They called it essential and “one of the great good places.” One fan gushed: “While academia is becoming a poorer and poorer place by the minute, the lucky place you end up will be enriched by your arrival.”

There’s of course an irony in the contrasting responses to IA’s departure, which Smallwood rightly points to — that only in her invisibility, or rather in the discursive space she created through her invisibility, will she be missed. But there’s another irony, one that Smallwood must surely have picked up on, but of which the article gives no real hint: that this ceasing-to-exist of an online persona has forced the academy itself to take notice, in the form of an article in its journal of record.

And yet: one can imagine IA’s very “colleagues,” reading in their offices, shaking their heads and muttering about the terrible loss to the field, never noticing the woman down the hall, packing her few things to leave.

This is the way we like our tragedies: visible enough to be clucked over, invisible enough to avoid any personal implication therein.

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