all the best,

My very favorite tweet on Shit Academics Say:


Funny because it’s true, of course, butt it suddenly strikes me as very odd.  Look how illuminating social media can be!

I suspect that most of us academics have our own taxonomies of email closings.  I do.

“All the best,” is my go-to: administrative, scholarly, pedagogical.  In the absence of strong feelings about the recipient or the content of my email, I use this.  And I think that might be a problem (about which more below).

I recently tried “All my best,” for correspondence with a person to whom I was especially grateful.  At first, it made me feel really sincere and human.  But then it made me feel promiscuous.

Speaking of sincerity, it turns out that “Sincerely,” is the one I use when I’m not feeling particularly sincere.  My instinct is to use this for an email that is stern, serious, maybe a little cold … this is for those where-is-your-paper? queries and gentle reprimands of wayward students.  It’s for those circumstances when wishing the best seems disingenuous or inappropriate, but conveniently ambiguous (it can be read as “I sincerely hope you have not turned your paper in because you got mauled by a bear” or “I sincerely wish you’d turn in your effing paper.”)

And when my reprimands are not-so-gentle, I dispense with the closing altogether.  The austere “-Prof. Adelman.”  I’m not sure what the “-” signifies in this instance.  Maybe a withholding or subtraction of “the best” that I previously might have bestowed.

On the other hand, when I’m corresponding with a colleague (including those I know well, or respect, or genuinely like), I say even less: “-r.a.a.”.

Taken together, this reveals that the people to which I wish “the best” are those for whom I have least invested in seeing that come to fruition.  Excepting the “-r.a.a.” crowd, it appears that I am most honest with the “-Prof. Adelman”-ers, for whom I express no good will at all, just a neutral affirmation of my own textual existence.

My only other habitual deviation from “All the best,” is “Take care,” which I use quite selectively, most often in professional contexts for students in some kind of crisis.  But this, too, is curious, for at the precise moment when they might actually need the best given to them by some external magic, I instead imply that they might want to fend for themselves.  What I am really intending with “Take care,” is to use my professorial authority – such as it is – to encourage them, give them permission, to prioritize their own well-being in a difficult period, but it’s a curious way of communicating that.

This bit of introspection makes me wonder about how variations of “Best” became hegemonic in academic corresponding.  I have a vague recollection of making the switch myself (though I can’t remember what I used before it), sometime in my later years of graduate school, but I’m not sure why, other than a sense that it was the right thing to do, a subtle way of performing my apprehension and mastery of the subtleties required to be a credible academic.

But what, really, is the substance of “All the best,”?  Of what does the “best” consist?  And does the definite article preceding it imply that there is a consensus about what “the” best is, or presume that I and my correspondent are in agreement on this matter?  Do I have the authority to distribute it?   And is anyone really entitled to “all” of it, whatever it is?  Have they earned it simply by reading to the end of my message?

I’m wondering about the imperatives behind “All the best,” both affective and ideological.  It is a tiny, reflexive expenditure of affective effort from me; to prove I am a credible academic, I demonstrate that I wish the best for anyone who crosses my path, regardless of whether it’s true or I know them at all.  Moreover, it’s a way of partaking, I think, in the fantasy of the ‘good life’ that Lauren Berlant and others have critiqued of late, and perhaps also of locating it within the sphere of academic work.  It’s a three-word replication of neoliberalism, while the fragmentary nature of the phrase, without verb or actor, implies that one might simply call “the best” into being by force of will.



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