Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ivory Tower Events

Last week I had the opportunity to attend two of what I'm beginning to call "Ivory Tower Events." Since a very wise Ph.D candidate that I know (with whom I attended one of these events) did not understand my colloquial, I will explain here in more detail.

An ivory tower, according to Wikipedia, "designates a world or atmosphere where intellectuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life. As such, it has a slightly pejorative connotation, denoting a willful disconnect from the everyday world; esoteric, over-specialized, or even useless research; and academic elitism, if not condescension by those inhabiting the proverbial ivory tower. In American English usage it ordinarily denotes the academic world of colleges and universities, particularly scholars of the humanities."

[Italics mine.] The irony of the whole bit is that Ivory Tower People, as I call them, would never deign to use Wikipedia as a source, but then again, I never claimed to be one, I just attend their events. These are generally lectures followed by wine and cheese where the rich and the famous of the intellectual world gather around and talk about how many incunables they own, which press just published their latest book, or how they've just returned from a sabbatical at Oxford or other some such institution of greater learning.

I dunno. They just amuse me. Not that I don't love learning myself, and I'd absolutely love to own an incunable (ah, to be able to afford incunabula...), but I just find these self-inflating ego events to be amusing. Enjoyable, yes, but highly amusing.


LT said...

I've been to events like that too, and I couldn't agree more. One thing that's always bothered me about academia is that academics tend to either:

1) See themselves as just like everyone else - which is often laughable, as academics tend to have a very different view on the world than most people, or

2) See themselves as not just different from the general populace, but better and more enlightened.

The self-congratulatory air of events like these really add to #2.

And to be clear, I'm not saying that all academics are like this. The ones who are humble and self-aware - those are the ones I've always felt drawn to.

Great post.

TRW said...

Exactly! I've met some wonderful, caring, helpful and non-egoistic academics, but I've discovered that it was the exception rather than the rule when I moved on to graduate school - 'twas kind of frustrating, 'cause my undergraduate department was full of those exceptions, so I thought that they were the was a pretty big shock when I discovered that I'd just had a really lucky choice in undergraduate institutions...