When I was in the throes of abandoning my academic career, there was really only one mental stumbling block that I struggled with. But it was a big one. In my deepest heart, I believed (and still do) in the life of the mind. To dedicate oneself to creating and sharing new knowledge is to live a life of the highest order. I had to ask myself, if I wasn’t willing to dedicate myself to that life until the bitter end, was I ever a real scholar in the first place? A real scholar like theatre historian Oscar G. Brockett (1923 – 2010).
Brock died yesterday, and he did indeed research and write until the very end. It was always clear that he would. Even though his definitive theatre history textbook had gone global generations earlier, he continued to write more and more books. A mentor and a friend, he was to me the sine qua non of our most noble profession.
But Brock taught me something else, even more profound, that permitted me to walk away from all that I had invested, intellectually and psychically and financially, in academia. He taught me that a necessary part of being an intellectual is the willingness to be challenged and even disrupted. To consider a Do-Over!
When I joined Brock on the UT faculty of Theatre & Dance, just recently out of graduate school, something called post-structuralist theory was calling into question the foundation of traditional scholarship. It questioned the very assumptions of books like Brock’s. For many professors of his generation, it was an unwelcome and threatening new wave of thinking. But Brock embraced these new ideas, incorporated them into his teaching, and even hired on a young feminist upstart such as myself. I quite self-consciously told myself, “That’s how I want to be: I want to remain open to the new all the way down the road. I want to keep thinking it over.”
It’s a high bar you set, Brock. I’ll try my best.