Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Went to see J.'s defense today.  Stunning… absolutely stunning. However, stunning in a very affirming, unexpected way.

J. would never in a million years talk about herself in these terms, but many of my colleagues (and myself) talk of her in terms that echo people from my former life as a medievalist. There were professors and students all those many years ago who were lovingly (love meaning in this case admiration, respect, collegiality, but mostly idolatry tinged with a perceptible hue of envy) referred to as "sick-savant".  The professor who could quote pages upon pages — verbatim and in Middle English — from the Riverside Chaucer and most of the secondary literature... the student who had seemingly memorized their entire dissertation, the annotated bibliography of their literature review, and most of the major articles they cited.  We were all so much in awe and amazement, yet at the same time so conscious of our own foibles and feelings of imposterism that the quasi-natural reflex was to pathologize the behavior, because to do anything short of painting their performance as non-normative would have us all asking for their autograph and then running back to our offices for a dose of our Cymbalta (actually, back then it would have been Elavil or Pamelor, but I digress.....).

Today, I think a lot of us saw side of J. that those who know her much better likely take for granted, but which makes the rest of us think that we could actually emulate her in many respects and be the better for it, regardless of whether we're quite as brilliant. I can't speak for everyone else ( they all have their own blogs...) but I wanted to share at least a couple of places where I took great solace and comfort from what J. had to say.  This is not to say that these were the only places where I felt great solace and comfort... there were a lot of places where expository snippets of her theoretical and methodological perspectives resonated strongly with what I want to do, and brought some of those things into sharper focus.  I'm more interested for now in what follows.

Dr. G. asked the immortal Dr. G. question: "What do you know now that you didn't know before?"  This was the first time that I heard J. talk about her struggle with moving away from the medicalized language of her dissertation topic and the journey of inscribing herself in the critique of the constrained use of language as she wrote.  I cannot begin to tell you what a painful process it has been (and continues to be) for me personally to attempt to extract myself from the cognitive nomenclature and discourse that I marinate in on a daily basis. Neo got to take a pill...the rest of us aren't that lucky.  I know it has been the source of some critiques of my writing, and I was beginning to think that it was just me. You have no idea what a cathartic moment the answer to that question was to me!

Another cathartic moment was when J. discussed the travails of research… the tedium and neck pain brought on by the transcription process, the mental and emotional exhaustion of  participant observation... it is so refreshing to have something so mundane in common with someone you admire so much!

Oh, I could go on...  the discussion of what inclusionary communication practices would look like in a radicalized version of higher education, her gracious offer to send those who ask her journal entries pertaining to personal reactions to doing research (by the way, I'm asking...)... What about her avowal/observation/accusation that "This" (she was likely referring to her dissertation but it doesn't take a whole lot of mental horsepower to see that there is a j'accuse about what we do in academics...indeed, what we do period...buried in her confession) "is trafficking in some version of the world."?

So, I'm an unashamed groupie now. I'm making a club. Line forms behind me. I will read her journal, and her dissertation. Anyone who knows Dr. G. knows that she doesn't "blow smoke", so when she holds J.'s dissertation up as an excellent example of clarity for other students to follow, that is genuine praise couched as an invitation to everyone else in the room. I may not be smart, but I know what smart is.....