Cormac McCarthy U: Come bag yourself some Shakespeare

Call of Duty. Photo by Patrick h. lauke

My "radical living" experiment convinced me that the things plunging students further into debt -- the iPhones, designer clothes, and even "needs" like heat and air conditioning, for instance -- were by no means "necessary." And I found it easier to "do without" than I ever thought it would be. Easier by far than the jobs I'd been forced to take in order to pay off my loans.

[. . .]

I refused to join those ranks. I became a deserter, an eccentric, an outsider. At Duke, I felt like an ascetic in the midst of wealth, a heretic in the Church of the Consumer. I had to hide.

Because I was so paranoid about campus security finding out about my experiment, I kept myself apart from other students. Whenever I did talk with a fellow classmate, I found myself souring the conversation with preposterous lies -- lies I'd tell to protect myself. Whenever someone asked me where I lived, I'd say "off campus," or I'd make up an address before changing the subject. I found it easier to avoid people altogether.

[. . .]

While I have plenty of good things to say about simplicity, living in a van wasn't all high-minded idealism in action. Washing dishes became so troublesome I stopped altogether, letting specks of dried spaghetti sauce and globs of peanut butter season the next meal. There was no place to go to the bathroom at night. I never figured out exactly where to put my dirty laundry. Once, when a swarm of ants overtook my storage containers, I tossed and turned all night, imagining them spelunking into my orifices like cave divers while I slept. New, strange, unidentifiable smells greeted me each evening. Upon opening the side doors, a covey of odors would escape from the van like spirits unleashed from a cursed ark.

But no adventure is without bouts of loneliness, discomfort and the ubiquitous threat of food poisoning. I loved my van. Because of it, I could afford grad school. So naturally I was nervous as I listened to the security guard's weapons jingle as he ambled by my windshield.

But he just kept walking. (Ken Ilgunas, “I live in a van down by Duke University,” Salon, 6 December 2009)

frontiersmen as men-of-letters--or was that just Northern Exposure?

Do your grad school papers reek of beaver stank? Was the paragraph ahead an adversary, the one past, a trophy kill?

Rather than go 2001 cavemen -- BEFORE they found fire -- we would do better to BUY the ipod, go itunes U, and enjoy our free education ... with a drop of brandy.

Best to you, but you'll need a few years of recoop, in the spa. Actually that's probably what we all need . . . hopefully Obama's got that on his agenda.

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I talked about it! Itunes U -- it's free! I already have 11 degrees, from all the best profs from around the world! May never really get credited, unless they figure out some way to scan my head and say, yep, he's real smart!, but real university attendance is so stressful it drops you down the evolutionary ladder, even if still helps you along the corporate one.

That's too cute. It gives you PTSD. You go lupine, even if you don't grow fur. Canines chunking down the curriculum, but just as ready to dig into your own skin, so you're always on the ready. Humanities -- fuck. The best capture of this is a 30 second bit in "Accepted" when Bartleby visits the real university to see his girl, and the essay by Deresiewich.

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The good news is that the best education, i.e. the most valuable education this guy is getting is how to survive on less. When the lights start to go out; all over the world, those skills will come in very handy.

Who knows how to cook a meal on a gas stove anymore let alone trap a rabbit, skin it, cook it and eat it?

The oil is half gone, and in the future we are all going to have to learn how to live using just a fraction of the energy that we use now. Ken is leading the way.

The average single family home was 2,349 square feet in 2004, that takes a lot of energy. That energy has to come from somewhere, and right now that's the middle east. America's thirst for energy from oil, is one of the root causes of war. (Bill Owen, response to post, Ken Ilgunas, “I live in a van down by Duke University”)

Cormac Macarthy U

Yeah, let's train our kids so they're ready for fracturing of America, the clash of civilizations, the environmental collapse. They'll be all jacked up on mountain dew --not the best neurochemical mix for contemplation, but I've seen Gladiator et al. and know the first to go is always the liberal arts "professor," who, despite all evidence, thinks life's about peace, solitude, friendship, and soul. Heck, his/her excess brains and lack of response-readiness make him/her sure zombie meat anyway, so maybe sooner rather than later we should think of using him/her to shore up our own body fat. Maybe if we all start skinning rabbits, the more sensitive and weak amongst them will see where we're going and nobly sacrifice themselves, in hopes the rest will find some wry way away.

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Some of us don't want people to take a Call-of-Duty approach to university. There are times when people go off the grid, and despite the debris, it still smells of flowers. Dillard's stuff can still read like that. Whole Earth Review still reads like that. Makes you more soulful, and more truly civilized. Here we get the Call of Duty ethic, cloathed in Thoreau. It is about bagging the biggest buck, survival of the fittest, pretending that the worst thing in the world is the current conditions (which it is) when you're in fact using it to enable your own self-narratives, to legitimize as desperate and necessary a regressive course (engage the fear!) you clearly prefer to be on (as someone below pointed out). Someone else referred to Wendy and Lucy. See that film for a strong sense of this truly being exactly what we should want to avoid. It'll have us either joining the packs, or clinging to moribund Great Books for some sense of the lasting, at the cost of self-development and a worthy future.

What I would like to see here at Salon in the future are stories from people who go OFF university altogether. I think the time is near ready for it, because I think that some of the most sensitive, most genuinely curious, just won't be able to take much of the university atmosphere as it is right now. If they have the strength to find one another -- and this is key -- it is probably in their best interest to form something on their own. For the longest time, regardless of the state of the universities, the best still went there (though I agree with those who argue that their journey-of-the-soul approach, ensured they never made it to the ivy-leagues). I think we're at the point, though, of "what the hell else is there?" After all, if you go to university and everyone there is thinking career while you're still hoping soul, the company you keep might just deflate and estrange more than it invigorates and "accompanies." Could be like Goethe and court.

Make itunes U your friend. Leave grades behind; leave large lecture rooms behind. Adults ARE closing in on you -- sadists strangling the struggling child -- but please find your own way through without becoming bullets and armor.

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The Duke part of the story is crucial. It's about aura, the woodsman that becomes Abe Lincoln, the rapiersman who becomes a royal Muskateer, and thus participates in further disenfranchising the anonymous good person from the mid-level university that bookgrrrl speaks of, who puts his/her skills to best use, at genuine risk of never receiving real credit/attention for doing so.

Can you go about your life with NO means of demonstrating you're relevant rather than wastage? When people get scared, I think they de-evolve into preferring kings, queens, princes and magic solutions, over the beautiful in the everyday. Becomes harder to ignore the crowd, living without aiming to please, and be a true hero.

Link: “I lived in a van down by Duke University” (Salon)


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