Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Exam Time

Professors like to complain about grading.  I can sympathize: it is a hard part of the job.  The scandalous secret is that it is the only hard part  of the job.  Other than grading, you can spend your life in following your bliss, and if your trifling classroom obligations aren't what you want them to be, why then you just haven't engineered them right, so you have no one to blame but yourself.  

The trouble with grading is that it is a constant and unforgiving reminder of how little you've accomplished: I blow it in so straight and it comes out so crooked   I told them and I told them.   You really know how to hurt a guy, don't you? Which isn't to say the papers are awful.  Often, by any independent standard, they are pretty good, okay, good enough (once in a while they slip in a ringer but that doesn't change the generalization). The thing is, you want them to be brilliant, just like y--  

Oh wait a minute, maybe they are just as brilliant as you are, and maybe that is precisely the problem. As I think I've said before, my two great nightmares are, one, that I haven't lived to my potential; and two, maybe I have.  As Nietzsche said, you gaze too long into the bluebook and you will find the bluebook looking back. Welcome, professor, this is your life!

But grading time is a good time to put your mind on something, anything, rather than the task at hand.  I wouldn't be surprised that this (grading) week is the week when a whole lot of first drafts get done on the syllabus for next semester, when, of course this time at last I will finally get it right. As for me, I haven't actually retooled the syllabus (though maybe I should)--but have you any idea how many really great full-length operas there are available for free on Youtube?

This might also be a good time to reformulate your entire research agenda.  And for this I can offer a suggestion from the late C. Wright Mills.  It's stated in pre-digital terms, but you can recodify:
[T]he rearranging of the file ... is one way to invite imagination.  You simply dump out heretofore disconnected folders, mixing up their contents, and then re-sort them.  You try to do it in a more or less relaxed way  ... Of course, you will have in mind the several problems on which you are actively working, but you will also try to be passively receptive to unforeseen and unplanned linkages.
 --So Mills in "On Intellectual Craftsmanship," reprinted as an appendix to The Sociological Imagintion (OUP 1959).  And now back to the blueb--oh look, there's a kitty!

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