rough notes

the end is nigh

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the end of the term is nigh. I had my second-to-last seminar yesterday, to be followed by the final seminal next Monday afternoon. Only two hours remain in my public life as an arts student. There are yet several papers to produce as well as the thesis to complete (and its requisite ‘defense’), but the seminar hours have whittled their way almost to the zero point, and I’m for the most part relieved.

It’s a little weird to be at the end of the arts career. The thesis won’t be complete until the end of the summer, but this April can be read as something as a completion of my Arts life, the completion of my public Arts persona. Living the arts has been a plan to pursue for over ten years now, and while I had to work my ass off to actually do it (*), it’s been for the most part a blast. I do love the theoretical, cerebral, stoic way we can consider our selves and the the world we make for ourselves, and to a certain degree will miss that line of study. But in many ways, I do have small regrets about staying in English. I did wonder if English was the place I was best suited to be five years ago, but had concluded it to be a very good compromise. However, at the time I was trying to make a decision between English, History, Classics and Film – all fields which have at least one foot planted in the humanities. While I knew back then that I was definitely not a literary critic and rather bent toward the study culture and cultures, I saw literature as the place to stay most current in the field. (This is still true, to a certain degree.) If only I hadn’t had been so close-minded and had allowed myself to consider the social sciences (sociology and anthropology, namely), I may yet be sticking around in academics. This year has been incredibly frustrating because I’ve been forced to contend with traditional literary criticism, and have been reprimanded, too, when I’d argue that exclusive lit-crit is a narrow approach to the study of literature and culture today. This, of course, speaks as much to the political leanings of the Department I’m enrolled in as it does to the field of study, but I’ve come to realize that sooner or later I would be forced to take this medicine if I wanted to stay in English. I think English Departments remain, or choose to remain, tied to the vestiges of its high-minded ivory-tower-culture of the past. Those who reject it have for the most part left English for other departments (Film, Comparative Lit, Lit Studies), or have created “new fields” and departments amenable to their contemporary paradigms (cultural studies, social and political thought, popular culture, media studies, contemporary studies, etc).

I probably should be in one of those non-traditional departments. My best papers, my best seminars, and my most fruitful dialogues and work have so far been in my queer theory course. This week, I found myself arguing my ass off (with requisite fists-pounding-the-table and fingers-pointed-at-articles as if they embody their authors) on the awful Silence=Death / Voice=Life binary and 10 years of bickering and inaction in the HIV/AIDS and Homosexuality debate. While we argued over the veracity of, and public apathy regarding recent numbers about the suicide rates of gay teens in NB versus the climbing number of afflictions and deaths by way of HIV/AIDS of gay teens in NB (in spite of protease inhibitors!), our Shakespeare class had a mind-numbing discussion about the murky definitions and delineations between tragedy, comedy and tragi-comedy. You can probably surmise by my attitude and rhetoric which class I found more interesting personally, and fruitful, socially.

So the remedy to all of this, as you’re all aware, is “The Big Switch” to the MLIS. When other students ask me what I’m doing next year (a veiled reference to their real question – “Did you get in to any PhD Programmes?”), I’m more than happy to say that I was accepted long ago to a programme housed in a building “across the street”. The MLIS is literally accross the street from English at Dal. It is housed in the “School of Information Management”, a sub-unit of the Faculty of Management (a faculty that actually only offers graduate programmes – the MLIS, an MPA, MBA, and MES [environmental studies] – I’ll discuss this administrative stuff some other time). But in the eyes of many students, it is also figuratively “across the street”. It is not English. It is not the Arts. It is not the Humanities. It probably is not academics. They don’t all think that way of course, but there are still a few who are so embedded in the system that they don’t realize the unnecessary arrogance in their thoughts and action. But, I say to them, “whatever”. If they really need me to answer a question like “but what will you **study** as opposed to **learn**” (a question that betrays their aversion to professional programmes, in my opinion – these are the people who would suggest that journalism or a life writing comic books is a poor man’s game when compared to literary travel writing or completing a high modernist tome), I sometimes break down and say “I’m going to study the internet”, and they return with “oh cool! that’s so cutting-edge!” (when the internet as an academic phenomenon really began in the mid90s!). But generally I tell them that I’m looking for an income, because I don’t need the structure of the university and its campus to study any more. If all of our BA(Hons.)s and SSHRCs imply that we have proven ourselves capable of independent thought – as the faculty constantly remind us – then I’m going to think independent of the academy for a change.

(* – I have many words for anyone who assumes that post-secondary education is accessible to any and every Canadian who wants to attend. This has been a myth for at least twenty years now.)


Written by mitchellirons

April 11, 2008 at 7:45 am

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