Memoir

“Have You Found the Place that Makes You Want to Swallow Its Rhetoric Whole?”

The line above is drawn from a Facebook post entitled “To Any Folks Who Ever Want to Date Me: an anthem for 2017 singles.” Written by an apparently earnest young leftist activist feminist, the anthem begins with a list of verboten statements and actions that a prospective (non-social-justice-activist) mate may err in saying or doing. It then moves onto the preferable approaches that appropriate types might undertake, inclusive of the line that is the title of this piece:

Do not dare to comment on my body. Do not stare. Do not tell me all the things you want to do to me. Do not force me to bear the weight of your assumptions. Do not waste both of our time with things so hollow as this. Do not make wishes on my freckles. Do not touch my waist. Do not tell me I am precious, or pretty. Do not seek to make me smaller. Do not ask me to fit.

Instead, tell me a story. Tell me a secret. Tell me where you come from. Are you a communist? A socialist? Where is your activist home? Have you found the place that makes you want to swallow its rhetoric whole?

The question is so redolent – or dare I say pregnant – with hermeneutic possibilities that one hardly knows where to begin. But let’s start with the obvious: the sublimation of sex. Having foreclosed remarks about the body no matter how flattering, having shut down the “male gaze,” eliminating the possibility for feckless romanticism (including wishing upon freckles), anathematizing the touch however slight, and turning compliments into crimes, the young would-be lover lies well beyond the grasp of the standard-issue aspirant.

Only a particular type will do, only a particular type will know that only language and a particular kind of language will open the lock: a story, a secret, but preferably a confession of having swallowed whole the rhetoric of a particular leftist political tribe. This is the only way in – but to what? The seeker can gain admission to an apparent blind alley only by pledging sexual renunciation at the outset, as well as, as a replacement for sexuality, the wholesale inculcation of some socialist-communist creed, no doubt the more obscure and hopeless the better. One cannot but imagine sputum (or something) dripping from this obsequious supplicant’s lips, while he, she, ze, they, or whatever, confesses fealty to a leftist doctrine and begs admission to the cult of the goddess. Sex has been fully sublimated into religio-political devotion.

Now, to turn to the other disturbing aspects of this passage: its further implications regarding the contemporary Left. First, I wish to express my gratitude for its having been enunciated. It so clearly epitomizes the demand for uncritical acceptance of an ideology, especially given the use of the word “rhetoric” – the received connotation for which is added flourishes extraneous to content or substance and the denotation for which is the language of persuasion or propaganda – that one could not have asked for a better expression.

This is why the question has become a sort of reverse meme bandied about among my friends and me on social media. And, for some time, I have been arguing against just this kind of uncritical and anti-intellectual acceptance of received notions, especially in connection with the academic, “social justice” Left, which relies on knee-jerk responses to supposed infringements of its values and identities. This is the poll parrot, phrase-repeating, slogan-mongering Left that chants mindlessly to no-platform speech the illiberal leftists deem intolerable. It is the Left of the successful Stanford admissions essay that repeats “Black Lives Matter” a hundred times. The Left that swallows its own rhetoric whole.

This is the Left that I inadvertently introduced to my ex-partner some eight or nine years ago, and which eventually became one of the primary obstacles to an ongoing relationship. She may not see it that way, but I do. What follows is a somewhat agonizing tale for me to narrate, yet one necessary to expel. I cannot chronicle the entire relationship with the astonishing Sadie, but some of the history is necessary for showing how the swallowing whole of a political rhetoric became the final obtrusion that ended what had been an extraordinary love.

*     *     *

We met under rather inconsequential circumstances in the spring of 2003. From the moment that I laid eyes on her, I knew without a doubt that she was destined to be mine. I had no trepidation about this prospect. It lay like an eventuality about to unfurl before me, between us. I only had to participate and follow the somewhat obscure but nevertheless preordained narrative. While this may sound romantic to the point of delusion – and allow me to say that I am an otherwise cynical person – I firmly believed and still do that the truth of our love existed well before our meeting. It was just there, waiting for us to discover it.

The group we were part of sat in a circle and we sat across from each other, she in cut-off jeans. For reasons that I do not fully understand, her knobby knees, and affected, humble-bragging confessions of artistic doubt were sure signs of this inevitability. I think now that the latter indicated vulnerability and the former a peculiar beauty that needed no apology or adornment. Somehow, both were clear signs of our fateful connection.

At the time, however, I was married, a father of three, in a marriage with my wife Heather that had been troubled for several years. I had been working as a writer in an Artificial Intelligence lab of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and was also a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at the same university. I was writing a dissertation on nineteenth-century British science cultures. I would wake at six, be at my office by seven, and work on the dissertation until the programmers arrived in the early afternoon. If the project manager had any work for me, I would put the dissertation on hold and switch to writing about the AI software under development.

As it happened, I was left alone to work on the dissertation uninterrupted – often for hours, days, and weeks on end. I finished the dissertation in two years. In a field in which the average total start-to-finish time for the Ph.D. is eight years, I was done in just over seven, submitting an oversized, 420-plus page dissertation seven years and one month after beginning program. During my time in the Ph.D. program and the three years in an M.A. program before that, I had also worked full-time, often more than full-time, on top of the full-time classwork, and the reading, teaching, and writing.

Meanwhile, coming as it did in my early thirties, this change in careers (from advertising executive to budding academic) put considerable stress on the marriage. Not only did the time spent taking classes, then studying for exams, then writing the dissertation, eat into our time together, but also and especially my obsession with the field proved to be driving us apart. Little did I know that this situation would be paralleled by another, similar one in the future. Heather worked in real estate and my rather arcane pursuits were quite remote from her interests. She wanted to continue the marital and family life that we had had hitherto engaged in somewhat normally (although even earlier it had been troubled by other factors), but which seemed to be slipping away from her and seemed to me more absurd as I delved further into my pursuits. By the time I met Sadie, I had been convinced for at least three years that the marriage was loveless and effectively over.

Sadie was a renowned, New York choreographer on a paid visiting artist-in-residence gig at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Over our first dinner together, she expressed a sophisticated interest in my field of study and even knew about some of its leading lights. I remember distinctly as she said, cultural studies, enunciating the phrase laughingly but also with a peculiar emphasis indicative of knowing what she was talking about, then mentioning Foucault and other theorists with familiarity.

She was clearly impressed. As was I. There was something very immediate about the attraction but it pointed to something beyond the mere signaling. A confluence of interests and something else, a sense of profound familiarity, were clear to us both. Mostly importantly, perhaps, she was the only woman I had ever met who had bitten her fingernails to the point of disfigurement, much as I had mine. Her targets were thumbs, while mine were baby fingers. As we both saw it, this was the ultimate sign to seal our union. When, that first night after dinner, she said, “goodbye Michael,” I knew it would not be the last time that I would hear those words from her lips. Her careful naming of me was a kind of love-making; she formed my name in her mouth and issued it forth with care, as if delivering me to me.

When we drove in my van to a bar in Monroeville to hear a friend’s band play, she complained about the suburbs like an adolescent. And I chided her lightly for the immaturity. After that night, I lost track of her. Her six-week artist-in-residence stint neared its end and her return to New York was imminent. For some reason, I made no plans with her, nor did I ask for her email address or phone number.

On the Sunday when I knew she due to leave, I drove to Shadyside, the neighborhood where she’d stayed. I was desperate to make it to the door before she’d disappeared. Racing in the van from Point Breeze, I heard a flapping, thumping sound. I changed the tire in the middle of Fifth Avenue. But by the time the spare was on, it was late afternoon and my hands were covered in grease. I rushed to the door of the house. The romanticism of the situation was not lost on me. I played a part in a movie and this was one of the most gripping scenes. I knocked. I rang the bell. I repeated, again and again. But no one answered. Sadie was gone.

The next morning, I sat in my office, desperate. Had I really let her slip away?

By 9 AM, I received an email – from her: a chipper and fetching communique. It was on. We were on. My belief was vindicated. From that point, the communication between us was never to be risked again by indolence on my part, or by impudence on hers. It was constant, intense and extremely exciting. It brought her back to Pittsburgh for visits in no time, and took me to New York as well.

There are many salient episodes in the romance that I could add – like when we were spiritually “married” during an Easter Sunday service at Grace Episcopal church on Broadway in Noho and we felt the kneading together of our souls. Or the time we went to a dance performance in Union Square that took place above us on ropes and we peered into the air together, then kissed. Or the time we took a bus from Soho to Tribeca and she lightly laid her head on my shoulder, trusting.

Eventually, I knew I had to break it to Heather. One Sunday night, I left the house for my office, something I often did to get some relief from our marital strife. Once in the office, I called Sadie. I sat with my office door open, talking to Sadie freely for over an hour. Little did I know, Heather had followed, snuck into the office building behind me, and had been listening outside my office door. After I hung up, Heather walked into my office and my heart jumped. Her presence struck me as incongruous, wrongly placed, utterly. She was a very significant figure. She confronted me directly. What was this about? Stunned, I confessed everything. Within mere weeks, Heather and I sold a rental property in Shadyside and I bought another house a few blocks from our family home. I moved by May and I managed to convince Sadie to leave her beloved New York to live with me soon after. She arrived before Mother’s Day.

I know that Sadie moved in before Mother’s Day because on Mother’s Day, Heather came to the house to confront us, but especially Sadie. I locked the doors and refused to answer. Sadie hid in the basement, terrified as Heather pounded on the front door first, rang the bell repeatedly, then moved to the back door and pounded on it, yelling in. I completely ignored her. That was her Mother’s Day gift from me, I suppose, and I still regret that the day transpired as it did.

*     *     *

After nearly a year in Pittsburgh, Sadie decided to begin a year-long, low-residency M.F.A. in dance. In hindsight, I suppose she had visions of becoming an academic, like me. She left for Hollins University in Virginia and left me alone in Pittsburgh.

Then, amazingly, I got an academic job in Durham, NC. This was truly incredible because Sadie had to finish the remainder of her M.F.A. at the American Dance Festival, which was held at Duke University in Durham in the fall. So, we were back together in a spacious loft adjacent to Duke’s East Campus. Sadie told me later of having had a dream, while still living in New York, wherein we walked together through an idyllic college campus, apparently in our new world together. The fortuitous confluence of our lives continued.

If this were not enough, after two years in Durham, Sadie went on the academic job market and asked me to look for a job in New York as well. She wanted to get back to her career as a choreographer in the downtown avant-garde scene. We both applied for jobs in and around New York. I landed a job at NYU and she a position at Gettysburg College, just over three hours from New York. We both accepted our offers and thus began my town and country life, living in Sadie’s rent-stabilized apartment on Mott Street in New York during the week, and commuting to South Central Pennsylvania on weekends, while living with her over breaks and summers. Thus, we had realized our dream of being mostly together, having academic jobs, and I relished both the city and the province – and whatever time I could squeeze from Sadie’s now extremely demanding schedule.

It didn’t take long for me to begin resenting Sadie’s job – not only that she was making more money than me, that she was the director of a dance program, that she was on tenure-track while I was on a long-term renewable contract, but also and mostly because her job became her new lover. I found myself travelling three plus hours every Friday, only to sit and wait for her to finish some school activity – a rehearsal; a show; a meeting with students, parents or prospective students; or, all of the above.

As for the envy, I had completed ten years of graduate study culminating in the M.A. and Ph.D., while she had undertaken a year-long, low-residency M.F.A. program. Yet she landed the tenure-track and I the contract job. This disparity of preparations and outcomes definitely grated on me. Further, her college was lodged on a pastoral, idyllic campus, like the one she had dreamed about, while I had to negotiate security checks upon entering every over-crowded building on NYU’s “campus.” To top it off, Sadie had received a sizeable loan from her father, and managed to buy a house only a few hundred yards from her office building. By contrast, having to move from her apartment after a landlord dispute, I began the desperate struggle to secure decent housing in New York.

But aside from her obviously better situation, the real rub was the time she spent on the job, which amounted to no less than eighty hours a week. As she reminded me time and again, hers was a residential campus; the students expected faculty involvement, not only during classes but also in numerous extracurricular activities, almost around the clock. I saw this solicitousness as disgusting handholding and insipid over-nurturance, and for Sadie, surrogate parenting. Being on tenure track, she was extremely conscientious about doing everything asked of her. She never said no. And as a member of a theatre and dance program, notoriously time-intensive fields, the opportunities for activities were endless. And to compound matters, Sadie’s insecurities about teaching made her obsessive-compulsive in her preparations for classes. Likewise, despite her somewhat feeble attempts to integrate me into her life, I was increasingly left out.

I recalled a recurring childhood dream: I am a small boy standing outside of a large supermarket on a fall afternoon. Hundreds of people bustle past in all directions, pushing shopping carts. I try to cry out to them, but they can’t hear or else ignore me. And every one is my mother. I realized that our relationship was failing us both, but for precisely the opposite reasons. Sadie saw me as the menacing male trying to derail her career as her father had supposedly short-thrifted her “That Girl” ambitions in favor of her brothers. I saw her as a replica of my mother, never having time for me.

Sadie insisted, apropos of nothing, that she was “really a radical feminist.” I scoffed at this suggestion, saying that she merely thought she should be a radical feminist and that she wasn’t really a radical feminist at all. So as if to prove herself a radical feminist, she went on to rant about “dick culture,” “white male dickheads,” and, during the political talk shows, “talking dickheads.” It all seemed juvenile to me, much like her scorning of the suburbs had been. Sometimes, she would suddenly demand to know why I was looking at her face. You’re talking, I would answer. That’s where the words seem to be coming from. She insisted that I was inspecting her. I tried to explain that if I was lingering on her features for a half-second beyond the time permissible, I did so because I found her face exquisitely beautiful. But that was never satisfactory.

I decided to teach a year abroad at NYU’s campus in London, feeling less than obligated to gain Sadie’s approval, although I did ask and she did grant it. It seemed as if she might even have been happy to get rid of me. I was a chore. But I ignored this in light of the prospects. I would have free, luxurious housing with great amenities, and a light teaching schedule with no service work to speak of. Thus, I would find the time and wherewithal to undertake archival research for a project I’d been delaying work on for several years, and this work helped me turn the corner on the publication front. But I was lonely as hell.

*     *     *

I have not yet mentioned that I had sworn off drinking over fifteen years earlier, but after returning from England I began to occupy my time with the help of another substance: Adderall. Sadie and I would work, she upstairs and I downstairs, twelve to fifteen hours a day, with almost no interaction between us. I used to joke that the secret of our success was that we agreed to ignore each other.

The good news was that as I joined Sadie in her careerist obsession, I grew much less concerned with waiting around for her. I focused on my writing, and the method for undertaking it became another obsession. The proof was in the pudding. Publications began to roll in. After landing several well-placed articles, I began to focus on books. By the academic year 2015-2016, I managed to have three books published within a nine-month span. Over the entire period that Sadie was at Gettysburg and I at NYU, I also managed to edit and substantially revise every document that she submitted for her job, including end-of-year review documents, program notes for dance concerts, grant applications, and nearly every installment in her tenure file.

*     *     *

I came to despise Sadie’s priorities and values. Despite being an artist of some renown, she grew more and more obsessed with financial security and other rather pedestrian concerns. And I told her so. But this was not until after she had berated me about money seemingly without cessation. The daughter of a successful doctor, Sadie had never faced financial insecurity, yet she constantly felt financially insecure. The son of a home remodeler and the brother of eight siblings, I had known nothing but financial insecurity, yet rarely worried about money. I had always lived on the edge and was quite accustomed to it. Yet Sadie always felt edgy.

The arguments led to expressions of bitterness about her circumstances. Who was she to criticize me about money? She’d never known financial hardship. Anyway, how was it that she had it made, while I, the worthier academic, struggled without a break? I criticized her for being “nothing but a middle-class householder pretending to be an artist,” and the like.

*     *     *

Thus, I arrive at the final hijacking of our relationship by social justice ideology. Over the course of several years, Sadie had imbibed the pseudo-feminist, identity politics, and victimhood tropes of campus and feminist therapeutic culture. Rather than joining me in my irreverence as she was once wont to do, she now chastised me for being politically incorrect. She didn’t use that phrase, but that’s what her remarks amounted to. There was more of the male-gaze shaming: Why are you looking at my face, she would ask? And my answer was always the same. That’s what people do when they talk to each other.

Above all, Sadie began to resort to the language of “abuse.” But what she called abuse, I call criticism, albeit sometimes intense criticism. She had bought into the notion that language that one did not like represented a form of violence. She wanted to no-platform my critical commentaries, while reporting me to the equivalent of the bias hotlines at her disposal. She wanted a safe space whose walls my contradictory views could not breach.

No doubt I was being demonized by several of her confidantes. Sadie had read websites and visited the Women’s Center on campus, while also seeing a therapist. They all held a particular narrative template based on victimology and seized upon scenarios that might confirm and conform to it. They told her that she was being abused, and she believed them. Once the word abuse had crept between us and mediated every encounter, past and present, all hope for the relationship was gone. This is because the word tainted me, her, and the relationship, irrevocably. She now identified herself as a victim of verbal abuse, and projecting this abuse into the distant past, berated herself for having accepted the purported abuse “for many years.”

*     *     *

In the fall of 2016, I was hospitalized due to a medication crisis. On the phone, I heard Sadie say that she had no intention of visiting me. Crushed but not surprised, I told her I was considering sending an email to the president of her college, telling him what I had done for her career, how I’d revised her every document, including her application letter. She was leaving me now only after she had gotten tenure. I told Sadie I would send it unless she came to the hospital to visit me, just as she had done for her dear friend who had been similarly hospitalized in Baltimore over the summer.

Of course, I had no intention of sending any such email; I just wanted her to visit. While she had once been someone who could understand a maneuver like this as some obvious cri de coeur, her sensibilities had since fallen under the compression of ideological reductionism, and likewise she had lost the ability to recognize it as such. Instead, it represented another example of abuse.

She said she wouldn’t visit someone who had called her a fucking bitch. I hadn’t called her a fucking bitch, but now I said that she was a fucking bitch for such a refusal, even if I had called her a fucking bitch. She ended by saying, “I’ll talk to you later.” And that’s the last thing she ever said to me. Instead of visiting, she blocked me on Facebook, and filed for an order of protection with the local magistrate (which was dismissed for lack of evidence).

This is what’s become of us.

*     *     *

I ask: Have you found the place that makes you want to swallow its rhetoric whole? I have found no such place, but not because I haven’t looked. Rather, I have seen too much to believe that such a place exists.

Michael Rectenwald
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Michael Rectenwald

Michael Rectenwald is a full Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University and author of seven books, including Nineteenth-Century British Secularism (2016), Academic Writing, Real World Topics (2015), and Global Secularisms in A Post-Secular Age (2015). A prominent spokesperson for academic freedom and free speech, he has published widely and has appeared in numerous national and international media venues regarding politically correct authoritarianism and social justice ideology. He is currently working on a critical genealogy of social justice morals.
Michael Rectenwald
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Filed under: Memoir

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Michael Rectenwald is a full Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University and author of seven books, including Nineteenth-Century British Secularism (2016), Academic Writing, Real World Topics (2015), and Global Secularisms in A Post-Secular Age (2015). A prominent spokesperson for academic freedom and free speech, he has published widely and has appeared in numerous national and international media venues regarding politically correct authoritarianism and social justice ideology. He is currently working on a critical genealogy of social justice morals.

51 Comments

  1. kurtzs says

    Nothing about your kids. You are so into yourself, that I suggest you seek professional help. The planet is being trashed, humans are in plague phase having quadrupled in a century, and you focus on narcissistic neuroses. How about taking some responsibility for the three lives you fathered, including their guidance and education.

    • Lori says

      What do you know about how Michael Rectenwald treats. his children? I happen to know that he’s a wonderful father and a deeply caring person.

    • Jake J says

      Oh boy. He can’t have a personal life because the planet is being trashed, etc.

      Love your compassion, by the way. Are all liberals as heartless as you?

      • kurtzs says

        Am a conservationist conservative BTW. And I responded to the long angstful self-promotion piece. He mentioned his three kids exactly once, and showed zero concern for the future of the planet they will inherit. Pomposity over the top.

        • Jake J says

          You can’t even bear to be honest. You’re not a “conservationist conservative.” You are a typical cruel liberal jerk.

    • David says

      What you are regurgitating is not related to the brilliant topic of this essay. Your comment is boring and cliché. Id suggest you get tutoring and coaching, in addition to professional help.

    • Sarah says

      The planet is being trashed, the human population has quadrupled in a century, and your contribution to our predicament is to drive by an honest literary account examining human shortcomings with specious insults and lay diagnosis. Bravo!

  2. Envious Kurtzs: How do you know Dr. Rectenwald hasn’t focused on his children and their education? LOL. BTW, you sound like one of the pea-brain adjuncts NYU brings on board to ensure they’ve satisfied every identity-based hiring requirement.

    • kurtzs says

      As I wrote above, I can only respond to the voluminous words in the article. If you are clairvoyant, then please enlighten us. You speculate wonderfully on my political position! What I envy is the biodiversity and low toxin habitat of a mere century ago. Self-aggrandizement by people with high IQs is revolting. Reminds me of DJT with an IQ 50% higher. That is much more dangerous in my view. As to the size of my brain…well, I wager for charity on outcomes. Care to engage at longbets.org ?

      • Lori says

        Have you considered the possibility that the author’s children asked to be left out of the account for privacy concerns? Your judgment was premature and harsh for no good reason.

        • kurtzs says

          Please enlighten us with the core message the piece intends. I dislike PC and leftist-feminist co-option of Western academia (past generation or so), but that didn’t strike me as the main point of such a long stream of consciousness piece.

          • Jake J says

            Are you bound and determined to keep digging that hole, jerk?

  3. One almost feels like a voyeur reading this. But I do thank you, MR, for sharing it.
    Long may ‘feckless romanticism’ transcend ideological dogma.
    And even heartbreak and world-weary cynicism.

  4. DiscoveredJoys says

    Now here’s a thought. A century ago, in the developed world, marriage was ‘for life’ – but men and women often died young and the surviving partner often remarried quickly to get help to look after or provide for the children.

    Perhaps we are in a transitional state where a longer duration marriage is no longer so secure, but the care for children is no longer such a huge burden? Angst about romance and/or ideology are just handy justifications for ending a partnership that has reached its expiry date.

  5. concerned says

    Quillette is publishing bad autoethnography now? Sigh.

  6. WeWillWin says

    Sounds like you need professional help but probably won’t seek it unless court ordered.

    • Lori says

      OK, doctor, where did you received your degree sin psychiatry and/or psychology?

  7. Joe says

    So, you open with an obscure quote from someone’s Facebook like it’s a statement from a world leader, and…

    I’ll assume you tied it into your Harlequin novel below it, but I lost interest a couple pages into the soap opera of your failed affair.

    I follow this page for the political and social commentary, as I presume most people do. You should start a LiveJournal account instead of inflicting your diary on an unsuspecting and unprepared readership.

    • Lori says

      If you can’t understand how this piece is political then I don’t know what to say, other than perhaps enroll in some reading comprehension courses.

  8. mikeb says

    So this is criticism today: explications of facebook?

  9. EK says

    The whole thing reads like the plot summary of a Woody Allen movie from the 1980s.

    The Facebook poster, let’s call he Lisa Sorenson, is clearly a Maoist and back in the 70s, everyone knew that the Little Red Book was the key to their hearts.

  10. Fabiola says

    It takes courage to write such article for it depicts the process of strangement between two people who deeply cared for one another. By giving us a glimpse of the grieving process of loss. Most Relationships reaching its ends are messy, and sharing this experience and vulnerability with strangers is not an easy task

    • Thanks Fabiola.

      Allow to say that while not every aspect of the relationship and its end was political, the political definitely entered in.

      One other point that I’ve asked the editor to add as a footnote, the “order of protection” was dismissed entirely as there was absolutely no evidence of abuse. Instead, she presented text messages in which I had criticized her for her priorities and PC politics. Not even a curse word could be produced.

  11. Yancke says

    Thank you for the article Micheal, thoroughly enjoyed it. Don’t sweat the haters, small minded folks abound. While they feast on outrage, you do your thing.

  12. Livy C says

    This entire essay can easily be edited down to two words: “-fart noises-“

  13. Jake J says

    I think there was some courage here. All love is foolish, otherwise it’s not love. It’s irrational, and thank God for that, but to lay it out bare like this is to open yourself to ridicule from small minds. Yet the author did it anyway. That, alone, makes it remarkable.

    Mr. Rechtenwald is also vindictive here. By identifying himself, he also identifies, at least to a small circle, his former lover, and in doing so, exposes her academic misconduct. Someone doesn’t do that unless they’re angry and want revenge, no matter how elegantly couched.

    My comment about vindictiveness isn’t as much of a condemnation as it might seem. So it’s messy, as these things often are. There are only sinners, not saints. Human nature, baby.

    Something else from an outside perspective: It looks like a lot of the reasons on both sides were after-the-fact rationalizations. Her uber-feminist crap comes across to me as a vessel for her anger. If it wasn’t that, there’d have been some other word casserole. So I’m not sure how seriously to take her words, as stupid as they were.

    That said, wow, she was offended by your staring at her beautiful face? Just wait unil she is in her 40s or 50s and men aren’t staring. I’m gay, and 59 years old. I remember feeling burdened by my tribe’s version of all this when I was in my 20s. These days, to be cruised is a treasure. Time and its passage does have rewards, but it’s a bitch too. She’ll learn.

    Mr Rectenwald, did you notice the irony? Your wife, Heather, was alienated by your career obsession. Then you were alienated by Sadie’s career obsession. I’m really not one of those glassy-eyed “karma” types, but there it is, right on my screen.

    All in all, it was an interesting and very well-written piece, and honest, and unafraid to show his own flaws along with hers. I don’t think professional help is called for, but what do I know?

    • Jake J,

      Everything you’ve written here is spot on. Absolutely yes, I recognize the parallel of my own career obsessiveness during the marriage and the obsessiveness of the astonishing Sadie later. I threw one sentence in to acknowledge this: “iNot only did the time spent taking classes, then studying for exams, then writing the dissertation, eat into our time together, but also and especially my obsession with the field proved to be driving us apart. *** Little did I know that this situation would be paralleled by another, similar one in the future.*** Yes, this is karma, for lack of a better word. In some sense, then, I got what I “deserved.”

      You’re also spot on about the vindictiveness. I confess to it. You’re right.

      Thanks for being such a perspicuous reader.

  14. roylofquist says

    I have always sought to touch a woman’s heart. The fact that her breasts are in the way is not my fault.

  15. Sarah says

    Thank you for offering up such an honest and compelling portrait of our crumbling epistemology. The personal narrative illuminates this trend of epistemic folly vividly; let your small-minded critics cast their stones.

  16. Kevin says

    It is the role of men to take risk, to extend time and resources to attract a mate. This is a fact of sociobiology. Now it is instrumentalized by women who attain status among their peers by competing to collect the most resources and longest list of suitors. There definitely is a trend among women wherein they manufacture sleights and threats from their boyfriends and husbands. More than once with women I’d begun to date, I was put in a position of having to say, “That’s not true and you know it. What do you hope to gain by spreading such a falsehood?” Of course, there is never any answer to such a question. The fact that it is an honest question makes it offensive to even ask. The social and material purpose of this method of status and resource attainment strategy is to place men in perpetual debt. More and more these days, you don’t have a relationship. You have servitude. So resentments build and new obligations accumulate. SJW call-out culture is a reflection of the material role that this structure of obligation and servitude gives rise to. It is a faux dissent ‘movement’ working in concert with capitalism’s authoritarian reach into personal lives. The new McCarthyism actually does have the power to destroy lives and careers and children. Lest I appear to have no sympathy for “Sadie” here, I hasten to point out that the self centeredness of women these days leaves them more impoverished and lonely, accumulated resources and enhanced peer status notwithstanding. Personally, I have observed this in girlfriends for whom no amount of love and kindness could convince them that they are lovable. The insecurity forms the essence of their character and so loving them immediately becomes not loving them enough. There will never be enough.

  17. Repulsed says

    So you resented, rather than celebrated, your partner’s success; criticized her constantly; and tried to blackmail her into seeing you by threatening to damage her professional reputation?

    You’re a real catch, buddy.

    • Tim McKitten says

      So you are reading comprehension challenged. He said he resented the TIME and the completely OCD relationship she had with job. And he had the honesty to admit a twinge of some anger due to the fact that he undertook ten years of graduate studies including over 400 pages of a dissertation, whereas her MFA was like falling out of bed by comparison. But you can’t read very well. You wouldn’t teach in his program, by. chance, would you?

  18. Joseph Miller says

    One thing I usually like about Quillette is its resistance to first-person narratives in a media landscape that prioritises testimonials over statistics. Can we keep it dispassionate please?

  19. Hell No. says

    “In the fall of 2016, I was hospitalized due to a medication crisis. On the phone, I heard Sadie say that she had no intention of visiting me. Crushed but not surprised, I told her I was considering sending an email to the president of her college, telling him what I had done for her career, how I’d revised her every document, including her application letter. She was leaving me now only after she had gotten tenure. I told Sadie I would send it unless she came to the hospital to visit me, just as she had done for her dear friend who had been similarly hospitalized in Baltimore over the summer.

    Of course, I had no intention of sending any such email; I just wanted her to visit. While she had once been someone who could understand a maneuver like this as some obvious cri de coeur, her sensibilities had since fallen under the compression of ideological reductionism, and likewise she had lost the ability to recognize it as such. Instead, it represented another example of abuse.”

    ************************************************************************************

    Um…threatening career destruction against someone who refuses to fulfill your twisted (abusive) definition of the (your) ‘requirements’ of ‘love’ while simultaneously expecting her to interpret and understand abuse as something else entirely is….abuse. Your lack of understanding around the nature of abuse & your role in it does not create a responsibility or obligation for anyone else to explain it to you or to make you understand it as such. (By doing so, I both did you a favor & stated the obvious.) Instead, it only highlights your big-headed, empty-hearted, pea-brained stupidity & ignorance.

    I’m so glad I never had you as a professor at NYU. There is enough chatter happening now that many first-year & incoming students understand to avoid your courses like the plague. (If you have an issue with that, you could go write yourself more positive reviews on RateMyProfessors &/or dispatch your army of 18-year-old freshman ‘communists’ (who simply don’t know any better) to do the same.) All one has to do is point to your ‘publications’ (such as this one) which does the aforementioned job quickly & effectively. (Also, aren’t most of your other citations self-cited? Many students even know that by now.)

    Funny how you dispatched your Facebook army to police the ‘mean’ comments on here, also. What was that thing about victimology producing real victims…?

    • Tom Smythe says

      Everything is “abuse” to an SJW snowflake.Take your micro aggressions and shove them. You are a sample of the very idiocy this author describes and decries.

    • Adam Engels says

      The author of this essay has more books and articles published in top-notche presses and periodicals that you could not match in five lifetimes.

    • Tom Barnes says

      “Self-proclaimed Deplorable NYU Prof tops the instructor list for many LS students. They want to enroll in his Writing II class next semester, even after adjunct professor Michael Rectenwald gained recent media attention for his Twitter handle @antipcnyuprof.

      “He is presently on a paid leave but will resume teaching next semester. LS freshman Ashley Choi is presently enrolled in his class, and she has thoroughly enjoyed it. Choi called him a mad-genius type of person and said that while she was under Rectenwald’s guidance — before substitute professor Kristi Steinmetz started on Nov. 1 — the class was aware of his viewpoints against political correctness, trigger warnings and bias response hotlines.

      “She said that Rectenwald was a caring teacher and that she does not think he would say things to make himself famous or to attract attention.”

      • Tom Barnes says

        Btw, he was never an adjunct at NYU, but was promoted from Assistant directly to full Professor.

  20. Hell No. says

    Good to know both Tom Barnes/Smythe and Tim McKitten are direct lines to Rectenwald as they’re his psuedonyms.

    You cite an NYU article in the student newspaper rag written by the dipshit who made your story an event when no one was giving it any attention or gave a shit back in October? And in that very article the author cites 2 LS freshmen….? Who also cite the RateMyProfessors reviews you write yourself….?

    And a.) you don’t know me so can make no comparison between us, and b.) I didn’t cite ‘microaggressions,’ I cited textbook definitions of & examples of abuse.

    Go fuck yourself you piece of shit.

    • Tom Smythe says

      Wow, you are obsessed with Michael Rectenwald, and totally unhinged. What you’ve written above makes no sense, and the connections you draw are strictly of the kind lunatics make between what others see and know as disparate and unconnected phenomena. Really, are you off your Haldol?

      What’s your problem with Rectenwald? Did he best you somewhere along the way? Incidentally, I am a real person and not a pseudonym for him. How you think otherwise is quite mysterious. But instead of psychoanalyzing the author of this piece, maybe seek some help for yourself. You seem quite disturbed. But I wonder if someone as dishonest about his own problems is really beyond the reach of therapy. I’ll leave that to the experts, of which you are not one.

  21. I wonder if it’s safe to write personal essays any more. One’s ideological enemies look for character flaws and mistakes, as if there’s ever been a human being that didn’t exhibit them. What does this mean; the person who has a cause has to pretend not to have a life, a past, a history of mistakes and pain like everyone else who’s ever lived? Instead, he or she becomes nothing but a theory delivery system.

    • FWIW, “publish and be damned”.

      Exposing one’s errors and flaws can be risky to the ego, perhaps. But it’s not exactly (a medieval interpretation of) blasphemy. ie., There’s no significant risk to one’s well-being (is there?).
      Some folks might dislike you because of what you say about yourself and others. But that’s not sufficient reason to not say it.
      More importantly, there are others that will be moved, and even inspired, by what you have to say. And that’s reason enough to say it.

  22. Patrick Barkus says

    Great article.
    My favorite part was you locking yourself in the house with Sadie hiding in the basement when your wife came a calling.
    Great stuff.

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