The Things You Read in Graduate School
In a quest to distract myself from end of semester madness, I am currently reading some wonderful and terrible things.
First, the wonderful:
In Week Four, Zipperstein assigned Umberto Eco’s The Role of the Reader. It hadn’t done much for Madeleine. She wasn’t all that interested, as a reader, in the reader. She was still partial to that increasingly eclipsed entity: the writer. Madeleine had a feeling that most semiotic theorists had been unpopular as children, often bullied or overlooked, and so had directed their lingering rage onto literature. They wanted to demote the author. They wanted a book, that hard-won transcendent thing, to be a text, contingent, indeterminate, and open for suggestions. They wanted the reader to be the main thing. Because they were the readers.
-Jeffery Eugenides, The Marriage Plot, p.42
Eugenides’ book (NOT text) takes place in/around the English department at Brown in the 1980s, when all of this bullshit became in vogue. I am guessing that some of Madeleine’s views are autobiographical, as Eugenides was at Brown himself around the same time. It’s a hilarious send up on some of the egos and viewpoints that continue to make the life of a grad student…difficult. The whole thing is intelligent and delightfully fucking self-aware (meta, you might say) and the ending is as satisfying and clever.
Now let’s move on to the terrible:
Furthermore, the ‘age of metaphysics’ that Derrida demarcates becomes all the less propitious to the logocentric thesis in that those areas in which the question of writing was raised–general grammar, the Leibnizian project of the characteris universalis— exerted energies more accommodating to a nascent grammatology than metaphysical phonocentrism.
-Sean Burke, The Death and Return of the Author, I forget the page but you can’t pay me to open that book again.
First of all, spell check didn’t recognize half of those letter groupings to be actual words. When have you last seen such pretentious garbley obfuscation ? Earlier today I read it out loud to someone much older, smarter, and well read than me and ze had no idea what the hell Burke was talking about either. I’m inclined to agree with Madeleine though. How can the ‘author’ die? Without the author, you only have blank pages, or maybe trees. I am so sick and tired of having to take random philosophy and use it as a framework to interpret texts that have nothing to do with said framework. I’m going to take the McDonald’s dollar menu and use that as a theoretical framework. It would have about the same level of relevancy.
As I near the mythical day where my thesis is ‘finished’, I keep getting feedback around the bits where I have made (what I believe to be) some kind of new conclusion, my contribution to the ever expanding ‘field’. And right next to these conclusions are comments telling me that this should really be the starting point of the discussion, and that I should use Spivak, Derrida, Kant, or Fergus McShitland to help me develop a framework upon which to hang this future discussion.
Except I feel like I am DONE. I have nothing left to say. And that statement is my fucking conclusion, because I have CONCLUDED. The majority of the theory books I have read maybe have 2 interesting bits in 200 pages. And because Burke or whoever did not want their TEXT to be an article but a book, they had to wax the fuck on for an additional 190 pages in order for it to be published.
I do not want to follow their lead. So I guess I will continue to play by my rules and hope that I escape with those very fucking expensive three letters after my name.