Why did Elif Batuman go to graduate school? Why did she go to Uzbekistan? Why did she go back to both places? Why did Pushkin go to Turkey? The answers are in Elif's terrifically funny memoir, part one of which is published in the latest n+1, and includes a lovely description of the sort of blackmail one may receive at the hands of academics, if one has made the tactical error of exposing the contingency of one's commitment:
"This doesn't look good," [the grants administrator] said. "You're backing out of your research proposal just because you aren't eligible for this particular job at Berkeley, this particular year?" She shook her head. "It doesn't look good. I like you, Elif, and I want you to succeed. That's why I'm telling you that, if you back out of your proposal now, the likelihood of this comittee ever awarding you a grant again will be very small."
Of all the circumstances that contributed to my ending up in Samarkand, this ultimatum was the most unexpected. Go to Uzbekistan now . . . or you will never get departmental funding ever again?