Tuesday, 09 October 2007

I Am Become Intimidating?* One of the odd (and unanticipated) effects of blogging on academia is the inversion of the traditional hierarchy. Example: at the conference this weekend, two tenured faculty members—both of whom do the kind of work I only dream I could do—introduced themselves to me, acknowledged that they've read Acephalous for quite a while, then told me they almost didn't introduce themselves to me because, in their words, they were "intimidated." Two things struck me as odd: Tenured faculty with illustrious publication histories felt intimidated by a grad student whose only publication to date is forthcoming in the minnesota review. They think I'm intimidating based on what I publish here. The first point is more interesting from an institutional perspective, but right now I'm more interested in the second one. From my perspective, Acephalous is a silly place tended by a silly person. I don't think my online persona—if you can call it that, given that I resemble myself mightily—would lead someone to think I'm intimidating. But I'm wrong. So I'm thinking I should soften my image, but I'm not sure how. A new avatar? More frequent cat pictures or posts in which I cry? To return the first, more interesting point: these professors obviously put some weight into what I've written here. Would they be nervous approaching a colleague whose work they've read? Of course not. So what makes them nervous about approaching a graduate student whose random online blather they've read? Is it the component of guilt implicit in the reading of blogs? Are they nervous not because of me per se, but because I represent the victory of the will-to-procrastinate over the will-to-produce? I don't know. Maybe some certain somebodies will enlighten me. *The LOL phenomenon has really sapped the horror from Oppenheimer's famously ungrammatical statement, hasn't it? Wait a minute—no one's done that yet? Pardon me while I consult Google. (Scott consults Google) Apparently not. Lucky for the Internet, I live to serve.
The Key to Literary Theory: Don't be an Asshole Since this comment's been linked to a few times, I thought I'd lift it from the thread and score a cheap post. The context: I turned in the paper savaged in yesterday's post. It came back with comments to the effect of: I'm giving you an "A," but come talk to me. You don't want to become an asshole. But There Is Danger. Office hours Monday. Please attend. Don't, and for certain, you'll become an asshole. I showed up on Monday morning to receive my dressing-down. Went something like this: You like theory, and that's awesome. I wish more kids were enthusiastic. BUT—and this is an ALL-CAPS, BOLDED "BUT"—there are different ways to approach theoretical problems. I'll charitably define yours as an "entitled imperialism," because you believe that reading a tiny excerpt of a three-part philosophical masterpiece entitles you to lay waste to Kant's entire project. You can't do that. Only assholes can. Hence, The Danger. You have to take writers seriously, study them, the commentary on them, and then—and ONLY then—should you assert yourself as you did in this paper. Only it took an hour to deliver, and was peppered with detailed examples from secondary literature on Kant to show me what engaged critique actually looks like. I left the office in tears, but with a firm idea of what solid theoretical critique looked like. If only it hadn't taken three years for me to produce any ... but that's another story. (Also, if you haven't read the comments on that last post, you've missed out on J.S. Nelson's maudlin tale of intellectual un-discovery and Human's inspiring story of Kant, conversion, and sexual discovery ... and are the worse for it.)

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