deferring things, like your thesis

Mmm, it's the morning, espresso, slight temperature rise from the night's dip into the incoming Fall chill and I've woken up from solid sleep after pounding out a lengthy, wordy and impossible chapter of the thesis. A chapter that will also, I hope, see some form of publication soon. (I'll keep details under wraps for now.)

Ah yes, the thesis--that nasty little beast that has been occupying me for some time now. Or, more accurately, hasn't been occupying me. Rather than R&D, I've been too caught up in direct word-to-print publishing to spend nearly as much time as I would have liked backgrounding the research. Reading is one thing, quoting is another, but having the time to think it all through is the luxury and the demand of critical work.

Which has led me on a little side tangent. Many of the theorists I tend to like--those who exhibit "writerly" tendencies--have also handed in deferred, late, fragmented or otherwise off-kilter theses.

(I'm also reminded of the manuscript for David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest which apparently was quite an interestingly patched mess).

For example, Jacques Derrida's final defence wasn't finished until 1980, although he published a trio of books in the late '60s that qualified for his Ph.D. The press release for DERRIDA, the film, describes it like this:

"In 1957, he began a doctoral thesis in philosophy (the subject was to be Husserl's phenomenology) only to abandon it for a set of reasons which now sound like a manifesto of deconstruction (his future philosophical brainchild): 'Is it possible to write about philosophical writing within the limits of an academic thesis?' he asked. 'Wouldn't it have to perform what it argued, and therefore be written differently?What if the examiners insist on the standard philosophical protocols--the ones I want to question?'"

In fact all of his books from the 1960's appear to be fragments of a project begun in the 1950s that eventually grew into his life's work, the questioning of the Western philosophical tradition. Of Grammatology (1967) seems to be part of this permanently unfinished project (the book itself neither really begins nor ends), and with Margins of Philosophy and Speech and Phenomenon the triad forms a matrix of work that cross-references through footnotes and citation yet rarely arrives at a singular, determinate point. The subject is clear enough and there are theses, but nothing that arrives at a thesis. Likewise, the translation of Husserl's Origin of Geometry (1962), which includes a lengthy introduction, and is Derrida's first published work, appears to be an aspect of his earlier doctoral research that foregrounds the eventual deployment of deconstruction. In any case, nothing here was published as a complete whole.

Wikipedia notes that "He successfully defended his These d'Etat in 1980, subsequently published in English translation as The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations"--which basically implies that it took him twenty three years to get from his doctorate to becoming a full-fledged "doctor of state." Jean-Luc Nancy didn't deliver his These d'Etat until 1987, eclipsing Derrida on the time-line.

And there's someone else too.. I seem to remember Jacques Ranciere (or was it Lacoue-Labarthes or Jose Gil?) delivering a thesis that was a "publication submitted in lieu of a thesis." Basically, whoever it was had to justify why they were handing in something other than a thesis and the justification itself proved the most interesting. The details are online somewhere but I can't seem to find them. In fact, many of the details of any academic's "internal" work are hard to dig up. Despite the emphasis placed on theses within the academy, all that will eventually matter is one's published scrawls.

Which is why my current thesis consists of exactly that option--a compendium of published works.

Back to the fingers. Go hands, go!

posted. Fri - September 17, 2004 @ 12:54 PM           |