August 01, 2010

Revelations of an MA degree

Now just days from my MA thesis defence, I'm taking a bit of time to think back over my time in this program. Where was I when I began? and where am I now? Here are the biggest changes:

1) Badiou, obviously. I had only heard the name a few times, and saw the book at the store a few times. In fact, I recall picking up Being and Event for the first time and enjoying a certain aesthetic quality it has. Books sometimes just feel right in your hands. Upon opening the book and reading a few pages at random, I found an incomprehensible mush of mathematical symbols and references I couldn't possibly follow. That was then! Desiring to read more contemporary continental political theory, I approached a new, young professor who's areas of expertise are Derrida, Nancy, Heidegger, etc... and asked her if she had time for a reading course. Of course, the kind soul she is, she made time for me, and my life will literally never be the same.

We discussed a few names briefly, and she suggested Badiou and Ranciere, thinkers she was not well acquainted with, but would like to be. So we read Badiou. Over the course of about five months, I read nearly everything available in English and set my sights on writing a thesis on Badiou's political ontology. It turns out that this is what I've done. I will forever have this strong Badiouian influence to draw on.

2) Something that strikes me as significant, was that I went from being a student who'd read some Kant, and toiled in misunderstanding, to one who is actually reasonably fluent in Kantianese. In the process, I've come all the way from having a strong distaste colored by curiosity (a kind of curious masochism that philosophers are often stricken with) to considering Kant one of my main points of philosophical orientation. I have a great fondness now for Kant, though I disagree with nearly everything he says. Kant is an odd figure. Much like Hegel, I think he is fantastically wrong about nearly everything, and yet he is incredibly useful to understand. So, along with Badiou, I officially added Kant to my intellectual arsenal.

3) The next most significant thing I think that has happened is that I am now much more refective upon the ways I work, and the kind of relationships I want to and within philosophy. I used to go to class, read the book and write a paper. I've always read a great deal more than required for class, mostly because I have a penchant for very current and sexy philosophy. But now more than ever I think about my approach to my job, I write, I take on projects and I consciously try to build a network of allies. The desire for a community is greater now than it ever has been for me.

I can't help but to think that this comes largely from three places: an excellent, though small, group of grad students who joined the program this past year, with whom I share little in common intellectually, but with whom I always have great conversations; from my exceptionally supportive supervisor, who's showed me a more personable and enjoyable way to interact with others in the academy (her genuine concern for others has rubbed off me thinks); and from my partner who's had to deal with so much bureaucratic nonsense, harsh departmental in-fighting and gossip, and a generally inhospitable and unfortunate climate to work in - her experience has been a great example for the kind I hope never to have or to contribute to myself.

There are many more things that I will take away from this program, but these are three things that strike me most immediately upon reflection. Perhaps there will be a significant addendum or two as I reflect further.

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