In order to make accurate maps, to plot location and orient oneself, cartographers need elevation. They need to be able to see things from above – the larger picture, if you will. I take from Bayard his reminder to look at the larger scope of this enterprise in trading ideas. We will all specialize and be drawn to beautifully nuanced nooks and crannies of language and literature, but we must not lose sight of the library, the map. Organization, focus and precision are necessary, but so is remembering to find the joy in being surrounded by the books and being surrounded by the ideas. It is important to know that I am somewhere on this map – the weeds sometimes, I fear. That is what will make this (ad)venture sustainable, for myself at least. Soon enough we’ll be knee deep in the minutia and sorting out the madness, and talking plenty about books we may or may not have read. So, uh, who’s ready for Comps?
As professional academics, present and future, we trade in ideas. And, sometimes, it’s enough just to be surrounded by those ideas and not necessarily knee deep in them. Sometimes, ok a lot of times, it is easy to get lost in the minutia. Reading Bayard’s “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” for our Intro to the Profession course, I’m reminded over and over just how many types and levels of interactions we have with not only books and ideas, but also the interactions with a spectrum of other folks who too have their very own personalized interactions with books and ideas. Whilst I may talk to a colleague about the critical lens through which I’m examining a text, I might discuss with a friend the plot of that same book, or with the writer, the context and import of the work.
In class this past week, Professor Mentz asked us to choose just one thought from Semenza or Bayard that would, hypothetically, act as our primary guide through this grad school experience. (See Kathleen’s post from earlier this week, which is a fantastic break down of both texts.) Personally, the decision to go with Bayard wasn’t even a decision. Whilst I genuinely appreciate Semenza’s methodically pragmatic grad school game plan, I was never one for such a concrete thought process. I am drawn, rather, to Bayard’s more abstract approach to the study of books. The bit I identified with most in the Bayard was the image of the library – the very systematic organizing of ideas. In a library, books, and subsequently ideas, are mapped in not only contextual spaces, but also in physical locations. The librarian, in Bayard’s example, is only too happy just to be situated within that map, surrounded by the books, noting that to read all the books would disrupt the relationship he has created with the books. He genuinely understands his position. The You Are Here arrow on the map of ideas? He knows where that is. As grad students, then, mightn’t we need to very truthfully understand our own relationship with the ideas we read? Since we ultimately claim to have the authority to discuss these ideas, shouldn’t we genuinely be able to locate ourselves on the map?
Kerouac writes, “I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another ’till I drop… I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.” I do sometimes feel that way about Academia, with a capital A. We may, at times, have nothing to offer except our own madness and confusion. The goal, there’s the rub, however, is to be able to situate that confusion and locate it in the system of larger ideas. It’s particularly important to remember that we, like the books, are a part of a structured system – an organized web of thought, both potential and manifested musings. We need to be able to orient and locate ourselves in the system of knowledge so as to relevantly and meaningfully participate in the dialogue. Just as the librarian knows he is the tour guide, perhaps our own role is to be that of a discoverer or a creator or an instructor. Or a combination of it all.