Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Smithing the Poop
Let me introduce you to the Poopsmith. He is one of the residents of Strongbadia, but he is also the unofficial mascot of English graduate studies, and English in the academy in general -- at least for Mike and me (Really, this post should belong to wargoon, but Mike is a lazy blogger so I have dibs).
A lot of what we do amounts to poopsmithing. Every once in a while we have a great idea and somehow have the time, energy and money to explore it, but most of the time we sift through a lot of crap we're not interested so we can write a paper we aren't interested in for someone who isn't interested in it. Face it: grad profs are just as selfish as grad students -- their classes are meant to promote their own research projects and they're looking for cheap labour. Or they don't actually need any more research but want students to kiss ass and validate their work. I don't know why I would expect anything more from them, but I do -- maybe because my own supervisor is a more involved, interesting teacher and I think there should be more teachers like that at the graduate level.
But back to the poop. Poopsmithing, for me, involves reading various articles and books that are tangentially connected to my own idea but really aren't going to contribute to my thesis or the framework of my project in general. Why do it then? Because it's expected that we will show that we've waded through all the crap and emerged victorious, poopsmithing implement in hand, above the putrid piles of academic writing that will then cling to our brains like horrible little butt crumbs. I'm not saying that all journals are useless piles of hangover-black turds on porcelain white printing paper. There are important articles and books out there for almost every essay I write, but I hate the expectation that my tiny little 20 page article (15 without those stupid double-spaced blockquotes the MLA decided are the new standard) is actually going to address or even need more than 3 reference citations. Maybe I'm a bit old-school in my attention to the actual text, or maybe I like to talk about bigger ideas and thus my background reading tends toward larger trends rather than specific smaller articles. Or maybe I'm just lazy. But if laziness lets me get away with a little less poopsmithing on every third essay I really don't care about, is that really such a bad thing?