To wrap up my somewhat ranty and ill-conceived post, university, in spite of its best efforts, has never left me feeling satisfied and comfortable for too long. But this is exactly what made my experience valuable. University culture tends towards easy transcendence. Because I spent most of my time on the fringe, I was cut off from that.
Now the experience of privation is perhaps the most valuable educational tool there is. For that we are in a state of privation, at an extreme distance from where we need to be, is a fact of this life. So many of the modern bells-and-whistles, from Facebook to casual sex, show how much we want to fill in this gap. But to mollify privation is precisely to give it victory over us. To become absolutely comfortable is to stop progressing. One of Kierkegaard’s pseudonyms said that one should always choose despair, because to choose despair is paradoxically to have overcome it to some extent. The more aware we are of our present state, the more our eyes are fixed on the goal.
I do think that getting the proper effects of a liberal education is still possible in a university setting, but it requires more friction to create the spark. True, it is becoming increasingly hostile territory for the hungry (and God help you if you have some sort of allegiance to the Vatican or Israel), but a sojourn in a strange land can sometimes work good things. Now, the trouble is that all of this will do nothing to advance your career – and may even hinder it a bit. But really, the way to get the benefit of the humanities is to be naive. Someone who, having been pierced by a piece of poetry or philosophy, reveres and doggedly pursues that glimpse of beauty will come out the better. The problem with the Occupy folk produced by so many humanities programs is not that they are naive; it is that they are too worldly and cynical.