Posts Tagged ‘Voltaire’

Since Voltaire clearly wrote Candide as an allegory for the academic job market, I thought that it would be fitting to share a few more of his insights into academia:

On leaving graduate school for a tenure-track job:

“We are going to another world,” said Candide; “it is there, without doubt, that every thing is for the best.  For it must be confessed that one has reason to be a little uneasy at what passes in this world, with respect to both physics and morals.”  (pg. 30)

On modern life:

I find that all goes contrary with us, that no one knows what is his rank, or what is his employment, or what he does, or what he ought to do; and except entertainments which are very gay, and over which their appears to be considerable union, all the rest of the time passes in impertinent quarrels, Jansenists against Molinists, members of parliament against dignitaries of the church, men of letters against men of letters, courtesans against courtesans, financiers against the people, wives against husbands, relations against relations; it is a continual warfare.  (pg. 68)

On graduate training:

“Some fools admire everything in an author of reputation; for my part, I read only for myself; I approve nothing but what suits my own taste.”  Candide, having been taught to judge of nothing for himself, was very much surprised at what he heard…”  (pg. 79)

On academic pride:

“Well, my dear Pangloss,” said Candide, “when you were hanged, dissected, severely beaten, and tugging at the oar in the galley, did you always think that things in this world were all for the best?” “I am still as I always have been, of my first opinion,” answered Pangloss; “for as I am a philosopher, it would be inconsistent with my character to contradict myself.”  (pg. 89)

Pangloss confessed, that he had always suffered dreadfully; but having once maintained that all things went wonderfully well, he still kept firm to his hypothesis, though it was quite opposed to his real feelings.  (pg. 91)

From:  Voltaire.  1966.  Candide and Zadig.  New York: Airmont.

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Being on the job market this year, I was frequently reminded of Candide by Voltaire.  This occurred whenever friends, family members, or my advisor told me that everything would work out for the best.  My advisor repeated this mantra after I ended up with a job at my second choice of the schools that had interviewed me, arguing that the region of school #2 would be a better fit for me than that of school #1.  A writer in the Chronicle’s “Landing Your First Job” section shares this view, stating:

I’m amazed and relieved and convinced, now more than ever before, that things usually happen for a reason, or at the very least, things eventually work out for the best.

While this statement may seem natural for somebody who has just received her first tenure-track job, the author had been on the market for six years before having success.  Surely, she would have found a job sooner than that if things had truly worked out for the best.  Personally, six years on the job market sounds a lot more like “Mad World” than “Shiny Happy People.” Could it be that we as candidates are so beaten down by the job market that when and if we finally accept a tenure-track job offer we are compelled to feel that it is “for the best,” regardless of our experiences on the market?

If this is the case, Candide is a particularly fitting allegory for the job market experience.  Written in response to the philosophical optimism of Pope (whatever is, is right) and Leibnitz (God is good so he created the best of all possible worlds), Candide represents the candidate who is forced out of the comfortable confines of graduate school and onto the job market (Ch. 1 – How Candide was brought up in a fine castle, and how he was expelled from thence).  The philosopher Pangloss represents the candidate’s dissertation advisor, who is denied tenure and is forced to enter the market shortly after Candide.

Each new adventure in the book can be seen as a job interview.  Most of these go painfully wrong and, thus, end in rejection.  Throughout these adventures, Candide attempts to maintain that everything that happens is for the best.  Eventually, he is offered his dream job, which he turns down because it is not near his fiancee (Ch. 17 – The arrival of Candide and his men at the country of Eldorado).  After a great deal of suffering on the market, Candide and Pangloss finally accept tenure-track jobs at a low-ranking institution, causing a friend to ask:

I want to know which is the worst; to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, to run the gauntlet among the Bulgarians, to be whipped and hanged, to be dissected, to row in the galleys; in a word, to have suffered all the miseries we have undergone, or to stay here, without doing anything? (pg. 91)

After a visit with the dean (represented by a Turk), who tells him that success and happiness depend on getting work done (no doubt referring to tenure expectations) Candide accepts his position and turns his attention toward receiving tenure.  The end finds Pangloss arguing that if he hadn’t spent six painful years on the job market he wouldn’t be where he is today, to which Candide replies “That’s very well said, and may all be true, but let’s [get back to work on that conference submission].”

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