Saturday, March 21, 2015

Death of the student

Today, I did something that might be considered sinful.

I went to the library, pulled out a ~500 page book, looked up two things, made a note of the pages where these things were written, and went home.

Thus concluded my engagement with the course literature. Or that particular part of it, at least. That book needed to be cited at some point as a proof of having been read; having the page numbers of the aforementioned two things is the absolute minimum required proof. Grammar will do the rest.

On the one hand, this might be construed as something wrong. I'm supposed to struggle with the ideas and concepts and assumptions found within that book, and through this engaging struggle come out as a wiser, more knowledgeable and well-read person. It's the journey that's the point, and taking the helicopter route misses it entirely.

On the other hand, academic writing is all about reducing the presence of self. The whole point is to make everything as intersubjectively accessible as possible, in such a way that whomever approaches it shall (in theory) be able to retrace the steps taken and get to the same place. The text stands on its own, as an autonomous object with its own internal deterministic dynamic. Whether the author has read the works cited or not does not matter: if these works objectively fulfill the function the text assigns them, the argument holds.

Thus, we find myself in a bind. On the one hand, there's the already mentioned goal of getting students (ie me) to read their appointed texts. On the other hand, the point of reading these texts is to get a feel for the nature of academic writing and the autonomy of the written word. On the one hand, I'm supposed to acquire knowledge; on the other, I'm actively acting on this very knowledge and putting it into very solid, very concrete action.

To invoke Wittgenstein: to understand something is to know what to do next.

There is a way out of this bind, however, and that is to insert me into the equation. That is, I cannot afford to buy the book in question, and the library copies have waiting lists longer than my arm. If I am to get anything done before the due date, doing it on the fly is the only way.

Such are the contradictions in the life (and death) of the student. -

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