Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday in Indiana. A little past noon. It's been raining this morning, nothing serious, but the cooler air feels good and Jinx and I are sitting on the couch. In a minute or an hour or so, whenever I get done writing this, I'll work on a practice prelim answer to keep pace with the study group and make new material that hopefully I can use towards the real prelim come August 4th. Prelims work like this: there is a 24 hour component, five questions, each limited to 1200 word answers, and each question is from one of the core classes. Then, after a day break, we're given 7 days to write a 20ish page paper on a topic chosen by the department. It's a nine day task and begins in about three weeks from now. Since the middle of June I've been studying, rereading the important texts and reading the things I hadn't read during the semesters, taking lots of notes, thinking ahead to how I'm going to answer prelim questions, and trying to build a workable framework for each class in the sense of understanding the movements within, say, rhetoric from Ancient Greece to the Romans, or composition/rhetorics development during the Enlightenment and how it's been carried over into higher education in the U.S. It's a lot of work and stressful.

And while I don't want to say, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, that it's been miserable during these last four weeks, it kind of has been miserable. But this is what I've been told to expect, that studying for prelims is not fun, and like most of the things that I've been told by people in the program who have been there (done that), they're right. It's hard to imagine that sitting in a chair or in a library reading and writing on a sunny day in July could be stressful but, well. Or the very act of studying, as opposed to say, writing what one already "knows," is a kind of a lowering, and so to hang out all day with the idea that I don't know enough about, say, the transition from 18th Century rhetorical treatises to transcendentalism or Deluze's Control Society in relation to Derrida's theories of deconstruction put me in a constant state of not being quite good/smart enough. This wears on me, and while maybe some can maintain a degree of confidence in the face of daily self-immolation, I find the whole process demeaning and disorienting. As most people say after prelims, they didn't want to read or pick up a book for a while after the ordeal had passed. So tired, is the claim.

But I understand that it's a "hoop" (as people call it) to jump though, and on the plus side I get to reconsider and relearn this material in a more concrete way. If I'm ever in a position where I am called to teach a class on, say, post-modern philosophy, I'll be in a better position to do this. Um, so yeah. That's what I'm doing these days. In less bitter news, after the day's work (including teaching, which, thank god, puts me in touch with human beings) is done, I've been taking evening hikes along Burnett's Creek, sometimes solo and sometime with friends. A canopy of trees covers the valley and at night all the fireflies come out. They don't land on me, or bite or eat my food. And when the sun sets all of a sudden they're everywhere, like I'm walking through a city at night. I wonder if they can distinguish the different hues of each other and read them as we read people walking down the street. Which lights call us out of ourselves and which don't? Now I will eat some lunch and get back to studying/writing/Summer.