Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Letter I'd Like to Write

Dear Student,

Yes, I remember the conversation in which you explained how much smarter you are than your peers here. But that draft you turned in, really was not up to snuff. Did you read your peers' drafts? Did you notice how many of them had, even at the draft stage, full arguments, sensitive to the critical conversation about their texts? Did you notice how some of those arguments were critically sophisticated? When you read your work in the context of your peers' work, do you really think you're heads and shoulders above the rest? If so, you might want to reconsider. You're plenty bright, but you're not a halogen lamp in some dark dank basement of our program.

Your draft revealed that you'd read one book of historical interpretation, based on one historical text, and used a cookie cutter to fit that information onto your text. If you'd even read that one book attentively, you'd have noticed how careful that historian was to contextualize the one source text and to acknowledge that his/her information is incomplete with regard to broader cultural interpretations of the issue.

No, I'm sorry, but I wasn't impressed when you said you had "done feminism." Do you think your single grad paper with a feminist focus exhausts the critical power of the approach?

Nor am I impressed when you interrupt your peers during class discussion. You're right that I just don't seem to understand why talking about your job and spouse contributes to our discussion of a 17th century text.

Yes, I'm glad you read the second book I suggested after I read your draft and critiqued it with attention and care. But no, I'm not impressed that you're "way ahead of [me]" when I suggested that the book might not only be useful for this paper, but for your thesis work. If you hadn't read the book before, how did you get ahead of me about that, I wonder.

No, I don't actually want to read a one or two page reworking of your argument so that you can then "fill in" the textual stuff. No, I don't think revising your paper so that your whole argument hangs on a cursory reading of the second text I recommended is going to make it a whole lot more interesting or informative.

No, thanks, but I'd rather decline the privilege of writing you a letter of recommendation for a phud program. I think I just don't adequately recognize how you're going to revolutionize the world of literary scholarship. Chalk it up to my myriad inadequacies.

Sincerely, Bardiac


  1. Anonymous9:11 AM

    BURN! That was a good one. Sorry you're fed up with this difficult student.

  2. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Honestly, THAT student is the most difficult one for me to deal with. I just find myself imagining where they'd fit into Dante's universe...

  3. Oh god, I think I have this student, too, Bardiac. Is it possible for a person to be in two places at once?!

  4. seem a little tense. a certain student working your nerves?

  5. GOd, I hate the "I've done feminism" thing. I had to deal with it as a grad student donig feminist work, in a program of self-designated revolutionaries who essentially said they'd "done feminism" and now were on to a more sophisticated analysis. Harumph. I carry lifelong bitterness over that one.

    Doesn't your student realize that if they had really "done" feminism, they would know it would never be "done"? It's not do-able. Seriously - I think that is one of the great insights that feminist theory can give us; about the impossibility of total knowledge.

  6. Wait, somebody gets to go through grad school feeling BETTER than their peers?! Who do you call to get that?

    One of the most brilliant people I've ever met is in my grad class, and we have to threaten him with violence to get him to speak audibly when he comments about literature because he's so insecure.