Monday, December 10, 2012

Dissertation Defended and the Lessons Learned

Nobody tells you that to finish a Ph.D. is just a step into a larger world. Well, that factoid is true. Also, you learn about all the nasty habits of writing you've picked up and at the same time, these habits of writing become purged. You are then beaten over the head with your dissertation and made to defend it to such lengths that when you leave the room of the examining committee, you will start to doubt yourself. At that point, your dissertation committee comes out of the room, shakes your hand and calls you "Doctor." The immediate contrast is striking and jarring.

One minute you enter the room as the student and next some weird supervenient-thing happens when you leave as a Dr. There are no words for this transition, and while you are done with school -- as I have said --, it is only the beginning.

I hammered out a dissertation in about 1.5 years. Even now, I sit more carefully tending to the sentences within, trying to tease out a clearer way to say what I wrote. Often what I write becomes embedded in a larger structure to be forgotten and discovered for better or worse months later. Other times, I am very conscious of one section and not another. During my defense, for instance, I wrote a comparative section between the emotivists and Scheler's phenomenology. When I confessed to the reader, I did not have a knockdown argument to prefer Scheler's connection between intentional-feeling and the values intended in feeling, I revealed a larger implicit commitment. What I revealed is simply that I do not think there are any knockdown arguments at all in philosophy. However, that passage was taken to be self-undermining. Why bother one examiner said if that is the sense I am conveying to the reader. Why compare them at all if that is what I am going to write? I understood how it looked, and did not even comprehend that sense of the passage when I wrote it nor in my revisiting it two days ago. Yet, the fact that the passage can be taken that way, read as a self-undermining confession of one moment of intellectual modesty meant that I earned every intellectual blow I received about it.

Straight after my prelim exams, I went to writing, and the project has had several stages -- as readers of this blog may know originally it was a comparative project between Scheler and Heidegger --, and found home with a tremendous advisor/supervisor here at SIUC. Needless to say, however, the editing comes next and while you may defend it, at some point you also have to discriminate when a project is done. Yet, there is no such thing as done; there is only prima facie done. When we write, we can always revise, and revise we do. Even this blog post has undergone some revisions, and I do not even treat these as formal entries carved upon the soul of the world as I do when I revise potential journal articles or presentations.

Another life lesson learned: you will learn who has a vested interest in your development and you will learn how to grow and with whom you should grow.

For those of you that have read and commented, I thank you. This blog has been a repository of thoughts, even to the point of generating some ideas for papers that came out of it. I do not know what will become of this blog, or the earlier versions of myself that has only grown.