Sobriquet 43.20: Therefore Art Thou Loco

All right. It's been a few days since I last wrote anything of substance. The big development, if one can regard the isolated toiling of an obscure academic as "big," has been the completion of the second chapter of my dissertation, the seemingly endless section on The Master of Petersburg that I put together between February and May. Although I finished writing the sprawling beast a couple of weeks ago (wow, has it really been that long?), I was not comfortable regarding it as finished until it met with the approbation of my supervisor. I'm funny that way, I suppose.

The real problem, though, is one of faith. Although I use the term in a purely secular sense, I realize that faith inevitably invokes the spiritual. And this is not without good reason: faith, after all, requires us to discard empiricism and suspend our truth-seeking faculties in favor of paradoxically accepting something unverifiable as fact. That's the principle behind much of the world's religious belief: the individual senses or feels something to be true to the point of "knowing," but ultimately can't "prove" it. But, let's drop the quasi-spiritual for the moment.

But by taking the whole seeing is believing thing, we see the problem: there is, quite obviously, a difference between believing that, as I write this, my right hand is attached to my right wrist (which I see) and believing that the sun will rise tomorrow (which I do not see). And yet, were I to say that I do not believe the sun will rise tomorrow, I would likely be regarded as something of a fool with an eschatological fixation. The ceaseless string of dawns spanning the millennia of recorded human history, of course, has made such statements essentially absurd. (But, seriously, try prove in the present what will occur in the future).

In other words, we accept the extremely frequent as axiomatic or inevitable (how many people bet their bottom dollar on the 18-0 Patriots winning just one more?). And we do this in every facet of our existences. I mean, how do you really know your parents didn't kidnap you as an infant, forge a birth certificate, and feed you an elaborate story? We just believe it and take it for granted, right?

That's sort of what this whole dissertation thing is like. I know that people have written dissertations in the past and I know that I have written literary criticism that is of the quality sought by academic journals and dissertation panels. The problem for someone like me is in the therefore that will link these tangible observations to an as-yet unrealized (and thus wholly unprovable) future scenario. I have to take it for granted that my hard work will, in the end, result in a doctorate. Like George Michael says, I gotta have faith in something as intangible as this:

An individual

A) Displays an ability to write literary criticism at the level deemed appropriate for successful doctoral work;

B) Knows that others with a similar aptitude have written dissertations and received their PhDs;


C) Works hard and steadily.

D) Therefore, he or she will be able to earn a PhD.

The logic, though appealing, is flawed. Such a doctoral student will have to go on faith that A + B + C will equal D when, in truth, A + B + C has only been shown to frequently result in D. That's on the macro level. On the micro level, it's more like this: I know that I have written a solid chapter. Therefore, if I work as hard as I did on that chapter, I will write another solid chapter this time around.

The root of the problem, of course, is that, while I am engaged in a discipline that teaches the virtues of doubt, skepticism, and adamantine refusal to accept the fundamentally unknowable, I am also encouraged to do precisely that towards which I am wholly disinclined.

And then there's the waiting. I often feel like Vladimir or Estragon, patiently waiting for the unseen Godot. Were I a Tralfamadorian, this would not be an issue because I would see what comes after the now.

Instead, I have to be like Little Orphan Annie: the sun'll come up tomorrow . . . (we'll not mention, for the moment, that I live in one of the cloudiest regions of the nation). At any rate, I've already bet my bottom dollar on it . . . (and that's on an adjunct's salary!)

For tomorrow: Read another article.


From Minxy:

Existential AND humorous at the've been thinking a lot lately, my friend. But I can see where it may be difficult to believe one's work is good enough, and that's why I'm keep you plugging along and try to lift your spirits here and there when I can. It's a task I'm happy to be charged with. :)
Ed said…
"And yet, were I to say that I do not believe the sun will rise tomorrow, I would likely be regarded as something of a fool with an eschatological fixation."

Unless you said it to David Hume who would reply, "I wrote an entire treatise on this very subject!!"
Which is precisely why I carry a stack of mimeographed copies of "An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding" to hand out to passersby. I would have already given a copy to every man, woman, and child in New York by now if it weren't for the dearth of waxed mulberry paper in the region.

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