From The Chronicle:
“Collaboration in the sciences makes good sense: Two of us can see more, and more clearly, than one of us can. Together we can correct one another’s work, share our experience, and if all goes well, advance human knowledge. But ask a tenure-and-promotion committee just about anywhere in the United States, and you’ll learn that admitting to collaboration in the humanities is like admitting to doping in the Tour de France. Everyone does it, but woe to the one who is caught.
You would think we’d know better. We are, after all, paid to dwell in texts that remind us that “it is not good for the man to be alone.” (In case you don’t recognize it, this is from the Genesis creation myth; after God pronounces creation very good, this is the first thing God declares to be not good. Selah.)
Goethe’s Faust restates the problem of academic isolation in a way that is particularly apposite. Faust, like many of us in the humanities, is incredibly good at making his scholarly pirouettes. All of these performances are masterfully executed, but his apparent success depends on a disturbing fact, namely that these solo performances matter so painfully little to the outside world. Faust’s study looks a bit like ours—a small, darkly lit, book-filled, mausoleum-for-one. And as we work by ourselves, we may, in our quite moments, admit, as Faust does, “Here now I stand, poor fool, and see / I’m just as wise as formerly.” Such admissions may sometimes reach the threshold of consciousness, but rarely remain there very long.”