The salience of this particular moment fades a bit as we get further and further from Friday's spoiler-line, but I feel compelled to comment briefly on the conversation between Marathe and Steeply that begins on page 638. How can I, or anyone who has chosen a life in academia, read this week's material without feeling interpolated by it? How could any academic, would-be or otherwise, avoid asking him- or herself more than once just what it is that separates us from Steeply's M*A*S*H-obsessed father beyond the razor-thin veneer of professional legitimacy? It's my job, allegedly, to develop intricate and sometimes bizarre readings of pop-culture artifacts, which means it's perfectly okay for me to (still) spend all my time reading science-fiction novels and watching science-fiction movies just like I did when I was twelve. Heck, I wouldn't be doing my work if I didn't! And if I can just trick somebody into paying me to do it I'll never have to stop.
Herman Blume:What's the secret, Max?Intellectually, of course, I've always been able to recognize the tragic irony of this exchange—Rushmore, you'll remember, doesn't offer a post-graduate year—but I wonder sometimes whether deep down I've ever really come to terms with it.
Max Fischer: The secret?
Herman Blume: Yeah, you seem to have it pretty figured out.
Max Fischer: The secret, I don't know... I guess you've just gotta find something you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life. For me, it's going to Rushmore.
Is this addiction? Does pursuing a academic career studying literature and pop culture—a preoccupation which over the years has diverted me from any number of more financially lucrative pursuits—mark me as the writerly equivalent of a functional alcoholic? Do I even qualify as functional? And it occurs to me now, reading this section against not only my own life and those of my grad student associates but against the life of anyone who has ever been a "fan" of anything—anyone, that is, who can recognize themselves in the way Steeply's father looked at M*A*S*H—that the danger DFW is highlighting is central to the construction of modern subjectivity. If everything is at least potentially bad for us—even/especially the things that give us pleasure, the things that make life appear to be worth living—just what is it we're supposed to be doing? Where is the authentic, healthy, free life, if there was ever such a thing to begin with? When even the things we love conspire to destroy us, what is left?