Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Academics against editing

I have lost my ability to edit. I might be like the pupil in Eugene Ionesco’s The Lesson, the one who can only add and not subtract. The student who can add things to infinity but cannot subtract 4 from 7.

What does it mean to add everything the comes into your awareness, your field of vision, to a book, a performance, a poem? Especially with a poem. To set your guidelines and then only add. It does seem to be only poetry where I have lost my ability. Then again, there IS the dissertation . . .

Cheryl told me the story of a professor at Augustana whose dissertation was over 1000 pages. What if, instead of trying to edit it down, you added every element that was relevant (as if you were a poet and could rhyme element and relevant). Not that you wouldn’t be “rigorous” in choosing your arguments, but that you would throw every argument into the stew and then argue for or against one, ticking off everything possible until you got down to the core of your argument, and so then your argument that could have been expressed in a sentence or a page or one small chapter becomes a behemoth, a life’s work, of over 1000, 10000, 10000000000 pages until you lost track of the zeroes? What if you just accumulated all of the scholarship. Isn’t that what we talked about in graduate school, reading Derrida, who is only read by graduate students, half of whom (or more) don’t like or understand him? Isn’t that what Derrida was talking about in Archive Fever? The desire to archive, to accumulate, to collect knowledge? Collecting knowledge like it was garden gnomes or stamps or world coins, attempting to have every single one that is still known to human kind. What if my dissertation were like a huge giant stamp collection of every idea that was relevant to my topic? That would be a life’s work, crossing out things as they no longer become relevant, keeping a library, an archive, or all the things that have been discovered and disproven over the years.

This is what it means to be an academic that cannot edit. That leaves you with only poetry.