Clifford Geertz commented that a diary is always in danger of feeding an appetite for salaciousness, and the confession of personal secrets. This he called the ‘diary disease’ and while this diary is a reflection about academic life, I hope it isn’t infected with the malaise that Geertz diagnoses so ably. My intention was never to write some kind of campus exposé. It is not intended either as an exercise in ‘professional impression management’ which conveys tiring self-importance or an ‘advertisement for myself’ to use Norman Mailer’s telling phase.
Writing creates a world of thought that is both solitary and still and yet is not lonely or isolated. Zygmunt Bauman describes this well in his book This is Not a Diary, the title of which communicates his own scepticism about the dangers of the diary disease. For him, writing is not just a matter of reporting life but way of living life. ‘A day without scribbling feels like a day wasted or criminally aborted’, he writes. Turning on his computer and opening up Microsoft Word is the start of a conversation with others. Rather than documenting a single life Bauman’s anti-diary shuttles between a description of events unfolding in the society and his own reflections on how to come to terms with them.
I have tried to reduce the risk of the diary disease in a similar way, through focusing on small experiences with students and staff on campus and connect them to larger issues relating to the ethics and conduct of intellectual life. The aim is not merely to counteract the dangers of solipsism inherent in the diary format but to convey an appreciation and recognition of the people – students, lecturers, administrators, receptionists, porters, security guards – that make a university work.