Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dissertationer's Lament

In a new series, I wax self-pityingly about my continued frustrations writing my dissertation. The dissertationer is not under the same pressures as other people. Strict work times, manual labor, attentive taskmaster bosses, responsibility for others; all of these are irrelevant to an ABD graduate student. I will be exploring what the stresses unique to this, in some sense pampered, creature are over the next few posts.

Tired metaphors are all that come to mind when trying to represent the problems of trying to write a dissertation. Haunting and badgering the writer at every step are contradictory impulses. Intellectual honesty dictates not only that what we do is right (as it seems to us), but that we are stringent and careful about the claims we make. Qualifications should abound. However, clarity of communication requires simplification and condensation. The shorter you can make your communication of your point, the better. Qualifications get lost, forgotton, or pruned in the quest for clarity.

The vicious demon of self-doubt jolts your typing hands and tries to move your attention away, towards something less challenging to your sense of self and the equilibrium of your composure. "Is it good?", it asks. "Will anyone like it?" Almost as bad as this generalized worry, even if it is good enough for some, maybe it will not be good enough to impress the crucial coalition of interests that will both get it published in a relatively specialized outlet and be appealing enough to a general audience that you will be hired at a department where the majority are barely aware that your subfield exists. Better than confronting the possibility of writing a bad paragraph, says the demon, read another article, or better, a blog post, or watch a youtube video, because each post or video doesn't take so long. Afterwards, you can get back to the serious business of chiselling pixels of wisdom from the glowing white screen. Except that this calculation repeats.

1 comment:

LFC said...

I hope the demon is being kept at bay.
And if you'll forgive a nitpick, you don't wax self-pityingly: you wax self-pitying (or jovial, angry, expansive, whatever). To wax = to become, not to speak (or write).