Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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April 01, 2008
the insecurity of the autodidact

Paul Johnson, in the "God's Elder Brother" chapter of his Intellectuals, writes about Tolstoy:

Like Rousseau he was essentially self-educated, with all the pride, insecurity and intellectual touchiness of the autodidact.
(emphasis supplied)

Is it true? Are autodidacts really "insecure"?

How? Why? What does the presupposed state of "security" look like?

If a person's autodidacticism and related insecurity were in doubt, would their blogging about the issue be a dead giveaway that would settle the question?

However, who among us is not an autodidact these days, to some degree? In this age of ever-expanding reliance on Wikipedia searches and obsessive Googling? Of information that constantly redoubles and reorganizes itself?

[A pretty much randomly chosen example, from merely one field:

from William Alexander's review, newly published here, of Becoming Shakespeare:
Jack Lynch, a professor of English at Rutgers University, estimates that the Shakespeare industry publishes new prose at a rate of at least 750 pages per day.

"In the time it takes you to read this book," he says of his own 300-page contribution, "dozens of newer books about Shakespeare will have appeared.

"Not even the most devoted expert can keep up with all of it."

Yes yes, we know, this is all quite well-known.

Moreover, it must also be regarded as "yawn-inducing," especially at moments when the correct defensive, adaptive response to novel & threatening conditions that induce confusion & panic seems to be to assume a game face of total unsurprise & jadedness.]

Who among us remains unaware that we are ever more often faking it, bluffing out way just barely through, making it all up as we go along, desperate not to be revealed for the uninformed, clueless, behind-the-curve frauds that we are?

So do all autodidacts at least not have expanding company in their insecurity?

Self-described autodidact Kendall Hailey attempted to identify the nature of the insecurity in positive terms in 1989:
The reason I will always be glad I am an autodidact is that there is a lovely, lingering insecurity caused by calling oneself that as opposed to being able to claim the degrees B.A. or M.A.   An autodidact is never possessed of the assurance of knowledge a degree provides.

Perhaps, but what about the insecurities of the non-autodidact?

Is not every apprentice's antennae attuned always to assess whose master or mistress at the moment is bigger, badder, more respected than their competitors?

Then we have Bourdieu's belief that some institutions of higher ed reproduce within their hierarchies some of the auto/non-autodidact insecurity, paranoia and tribalism, with their supposed distinction between legitimate vs. illegitimate     autodidacticism. Evan of the wonderful blog, Let's Read and Find Out!, seems to have detected deviltry of the same sort afoot at Princeton.

Whose hell is hotter?

[i.e., the inevitably selective and exaggerated character-persona that ends up "doing" this blog]
   will not attempt to answer any of these questions right now, because we intend April to be a month of hurried, half-digested posts.