August 6, 2015
The academic study of literature leads basically nowhere, as we all know, unless you happen to be an especially gifted student, in which case it prepares you for a career teaching the academic study of literature—it is, in other words, a rather farcical system that exists solely to replicate itself and yet manages to fail more than 95 percent of the time. Still, it’s harmless, and can even have a certain marginal value. A young woman applying for a sales job at Céline or Hermès should naturally attend to her appearance first and foremost; but a degree in literature can constitute a secondary asset, since it guarantees the employer, in the absence of any useful skills, a certain intellectual agility that could lead to professional development—besides which, literature has always carried positive connotations in the world of luxury goods. …
I’d never felt the slightest calling to teach—and my fifteen years as a teacher had only confirmed my lack of vocation. What little private tutoring I’d done, to raise my standard of living, soon convinced me that the transmission of knowledge was generally impossible, the diversity of intelligence extreme, and that nothing could undo or even mitigate this basic inequality. Worse, perhaps, I didn’t like young people and never had, even when I might have been numbered among them. Being young implied, it seemed to me, a certain enthusiasm for life, or else a certain defiance, accompanied either way by a vague sense of superiority toward the generation that one had been called on to replace. I’d never had those sorts of feelings.