Advice


[The Owl Mocked -- can't recall the source]


From an address given by SJC tutor Eva Brann to the Graduate Students in Classics at Yale, 2006.

"The scholarly world is more and more a virtual world, spatially expansive but often topically restricted. For my part, I think the humanly full life is concretely local and intellectually wide, to be lived in a face-to-face community whose members can talk to each other about anything, where nothing of human interest is interdicted; where you don't have to mount a colloquium to have a colloquy; where discourse does not divide into either shop talk or chat but observes the truly interesting human mean; and above all, where no one owns a specialty so that others have to venture opinions with the disclaimer, 'Of course, that's not my subject.'"

"So don't use words you don't understand or don't mean to come to understand at least partly. Graduate school is rightly more training than education, more preparation for a profession than learning for the sake of being all there. Hence, the possession of a professional vocabulary, often well-invented and always serviceable for expressing yourself within the guild -- and, I can't help but adding, for marking greenhorns and amateurs -- is not only an accomplishment but also a professional deformation. So talk human whenever possible and know something, at least a little, of the explicit or implicit theory behind the language of the humanities. "

"Before I stop, one afterthought: if you could all band together to found a movement for the abolition of the 'original contribution' requirement of the doctoral dissertation you would do the world of learning a great service. For in the humanities the drive for originality and the search for insight are often at cross-purposes."

That final advice is echoed in Borges' essay 'Partial Magic in the Quixote,' which begins:

"It is plausible that these observations may have been set forth at some time and, perhaps, many times; a discussion of their novelty interests me less than one of their possible truth."

In moments of disillusionment with it all, I return to these thoughts.