Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gathering the Gauntlet

Having successfully completed the three written comprehensive exams without either dying or melting down, I now only face the two-hour oral defense scheduled for 2:00 PM tomorrow. I think that if I don’t develop anal leakage or explosive diarrhea, then everything will go smoothly. I anticipate that this meeting will primarily be a conversation with my committee about what I did or did not write, filling in the gaps in my gap-prone prose devoid of even perfunctory transitions.

I spoke briefly to my chairperson this afternoon, and during our not-more-than-15-minute conversation, he made me cry three times. Not hysterical and uncontrollable sobbing but certainly a tear pushing at the duct seeking release. He told me that he has never seen the quality of work exhibited in my responses to my comprehensive exam questions. This professor is perhaps the least easily impressed intellectual I know, often openly declaring some thoughts as “utter failures” or dismissing scholars’ work for having “no intellectual value whatsoever.”

I wish I could accept such praise. I wish I could brush it aside. But I work so damn hard that even though I may have indeed earned it, I’m struck by how much time and effort I’ve devoted to the task at hand: making sure my Ph.D. has value and that I get a decent job when it’s all over with. Regardless, I am flattered, but I’m also fully aware that it’s not over just yet. There is no coasting allowed at such a crucial time.

April 1 is the deadline to submit my dissertation proposal. I hope part of tomorrow’s conversation concerns what I’ve written so far. I’m still not sure what a literature review should look like for my field. But I have managed to map out my five chapters quite well, and I’ve written a page on my methodology. So many bizarre hoops to jump through while trying to be a boy genius.

Assuming that I pass my oral defense and that the graduate school accepts my proposal, I will be ABD come April 2—officially, not till later, but in my heart I’ll consider myself ABD for all practical purposes. And I plan to take the remainder of the semester off to read a handful of books. I even have a stack of fiction I want to curl up with: Michael Henry Heim’s translation of “Death in Venice,” Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin, some Blanchot, some Gide.

If you can, think of me tomorrow. And wish me waves of boy genius-ness!


  1. Some of us have always seen the boy genius in the man. And we know the praise of the uneasily impressed intellectual is neither undue nor misplaced.

    Couldn't be prouder of you.

  2. Do you know that I love, admire and respect you so much? I know I don't tell you enough.

    I'm proud of you too.