Lately, though, the modernist genre has taken on a more modern flair. The “goodbye to all that” essay has expanded into a less literary form that has come to be known, ironically, as “quit lit.” The term, if not the genre, is currently most prevalent in academia, a field that has recently birthed a spate of “why I quit teaching” essays. The “why” in question might best be summed up under the heading “because reasons,” but those reasons generally include: demanding students, poor salaries, unnecessary bureaucracies, limited opportunities for creativity and self-actualization, a vaguely Gravesian sense of expectations unmet and promises unfulfilled.
Quit lit—“the ‘lit’ designator seems generous,” my colleague Ian Bogost noted earlier this week—also tends to involve, at the peak of the form, glorified humblebrags. As the author of Vox’s recent and widely circulated entry in the genre explains, humblebraggily:
I graduated from college at 19. I went to law school and passed the bar exam. At 24, I was admitted to the history Ph.D. program at the University of Pittsburgh. There, I made connections with brilliant academics, won prestigious fellowships and grants, and, at the age of 29, just five years after starting graduate school, I landed a tenure-track job.
I can’t understate how rare this opportunity is: Tenure-track jobs at large state universities are few and far between. Landing one without serving a postdoctoral appointment or working as a visiting assistant professor is about as likely as landing a spot on an NBA team with a walk-on tryout—minus the seven-figure salary, naturally.
The author goes on to declare that he had, in getting his plum professorial job, “not just survived the academic Hunger Games,” but “emerged triumphant.” Which, in the context of the essay, does the work of clarifying to the reader the significance of the author's willful sacrifice of the reward he’d claimed in his victory: the tenure-track job. This particular example of quit lit, in other words, treats quitting not according to its traditional, familiar, Protestant-ethical logic—“quitters are losers”—but according to a different morality. Quitting, if you graduated college at 19 and got a tenure-track job at 29, isn’t shameful. It’s noble. It’s enviable. Look upon my non-works, ye mighty, and despair.
But quit lit, in its a contemporary form, isn’t specific to academia. Quitting itself has in some ways become a decidedly active thing, and the subject of contemplation across the culture. People quit Twitter, and write about it. They quit watching TV, and write about it. They quit Facebook, and write about it. (A lot: The Huffington Post’s “quitting-facebook” tag appends not just of dire warnings about the social consequences of Facebook-freedom, but also of contemplative essays about what it means when the social network is the “all that” being said goodbye to.) They quit watching/reading/listening to the news. They quit gluten and sugar and carbs in general and dating and weed and yoga pants and makeup.