Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Musicology nice

I've been thinking about Phil's recent post on the subject of politeness and the lack thereof in our field.

A lot of what he writes I don't doubt its veracity, but I haven't seen it. I'm thankfully a couple years and a dissertation away from being on the job market. I've gotten turned down a lot for conferences, but I'm not vindictive about it, just resigned to keep trying. There are some people whose papers I find not terribly well-delivered or clear or maybe I just disagree with the premise. There are some I disagree with politically. There are some who, frankly, annoy me. But that doesn't mean I can't chat with them in the book room or that I won't listen to what they have to say, or solicit or offer advise when it's desired. There's room.

And I expect the same, not because I'm a musicologist, but actually because I was born in the midwest. I think a lot of it is a cultural thing. Midwesterners, I've found, do put on a veneer of niceness and politeness at all costs, and it's hard to break that expectation. I like to think that in most occasions it is deeper than that though.

One thing Phil talks a lot about is the high-small-stakes competitiveness. I'm not very competitive. And one of the big reasons I chose Michigan over the other school I was accepted to was because of the student interaction (not that the other school was competitive per se, but because I didn't get a community sense). I like the idea that you're part of a larger community of scholars and friends and mentors, and that there's room for disagreements of all sorts, but that doesn't mean we don't care. Or at least that I don't. And over the years, I've been witnessed some tackier moments from friends. Once someone responded to someone's paper by asking what conference it was from, and upon learning said, "Oh, you mean the one I got rejected from?" Please. That's not getting your paper in, and that's not helping the other student. At the same time, my silence probably wasn't helping either, but neither would severing ties. This is actually part of why I like community- when someone makes a bad comment, you can feel slightly better that it's not ill-intended.

And I like Phil's suggestions. We should be willing to listen, to rethink, to question ourselves and each other. That's not beneath anyone. And I'll add one more- make sure whatever you do is helpful. Promoting fear isn't helpful. Pointing out weaknesses can be, but in order for it to be, you have to know that the person means well. That's where niceness, real niceness, goes a long way. There's no denying the arguments get heated because we care enough to actually do this for years and years. But we're people first, scholars second, and there's a difference between calling someone's work idiotic and getting personal. So the midwesterner in me says keep it nice, and the scholar in me says keep it honest. I don't think that's contradictory.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home