anal (v.) abbreviated form of anal-retentive: describes a person whose excessive attention to detail can become an annoyance to others, and can be carried to such extremes as to become a detriment to the anal-retentive person or their writing assignment.
analytic exposition (n.): an essay that seeks to first analyze a text’s argument and then explicate that argument so as to explain it to a reader.
exposition dump (n.): literary term denoting the point in a narrative when information necessary to a reader’s understanding of that story is communicated in an obviously artificial way, often as an extended monologue from a single character or as an unnaturally detailed conversation between two or more characters (e.g. everything that Hermione tells Harry and Ron that she read in a book).
Anal-ytic exposition dump (n.): a ridiculously detailed account explaining the process and argumentation of an analytic exposition delivered in an obviously artificial set of blog posts in order to communicate the information necessary for the reader to understand the challenge and rewards of explicating a difficult text.
Welcome one and all to the most ambitious and doomed-to-failure-from-the-start project that I have yet launched from the soapbox which is Maphmatically Yours. My intention for the next four or so days of blogging is to pull the curtain back on the process of writing one of these “analytic expositions” that I’ve been blathering on about for the better part of a month and a half.
The reasons for doing this are twofold. First, I think it is something endlessly fascinating about watching someone else work—especially when you can criticize them without negative consequences. This accounts for the glut of middle-level managers in the corporate world, the way that small children cannot help but be underfoot as any project is in full swing, and the popularity of televised sports. For my fellow MAPH students, these posts might suggest alternate approaches to the process of academic writing from my example or offer the chance for me to learn from my readers. For those not yet in the program—or in graduate level scholarship of any kind—I would hope that the process would provide a real-world example of what rigorous thinking and writing looks like. Second, going through this process in public and having to articulate and defend my choices promises to force me to examine those choices and my preferred method with a certain level of brutal, enforced honesty.
Now, there are also certain dangers to embarking on this project at this time knowing who my audience is and my responsibility to them. If I make a great argument for my reading of the text and convince someone still in the process of writing their paper to follow my lead, I could cause someone else to follow me on my rabbit trail. Worse still, because I am writing these posts before the assignment is due and because this blog is no longer difficult to find, I might create a situation in which a fellow MAPH student is tempted to skip to the end of the process uncritically and perhaps commit intellectual plaguirism. Yet, no worthwhile project comes free from dangers both to oneself and one’s friends. Be self-critical as you read these posts and write your own papers. I don’t want to be a contributing factor to the downfall of anyone’s academic career because these posts represented low-hanging fruit, but if I can be a contributing factor to someone’s success because these posts helped them craft a better exposition—I think the risk is one worth taking.
So, with—I hope—a few words of warning still ringing in your ears. Here is the tentative schedule for this and the next few day’s blog posts:
Tuesday – Asking the right questions and clarifying the shape of possible answers.
Wednesday – Analysis of both the global and local beliefs, claims, and stakes
Thursday – Analysis of the argument’s justification
Friday – Drafting an initial exposition of the text
Saturday – Finalizing, polishing, and second-guessing an exposition.
Obviously, this schedule will be open to revision as the week progresses, but I hope to have a finished copy ready by Saturday afternoon at the latest as I also have preliminary work to be done on my paper for my Aesthetics of Hume and Kant course over the weekend.
Importance of asking the right questions
So without further ado, for those following along at home, here is the original paper in its entirety (click the link below for a .pdf) and the assigned Lacan passage for this paper split up into its component structures.
(1) But the important point is that this form situates the agency known as the ego,
(2) prior to its social determination,
(3) in a fictional direction that will forever remain irreducible for any single individual
(4) or, rather, that will only asymptotically approach the subject’s becoming,
(5) no matter how successful the dialectical syntheses by which he must resolve,
(6) as I,
(7) his discordance with his own reality.
Contrary to what an analytic philosopher would tell you, I was taught that the questions that one comes to a text with are at least as important as what the text actually says. For that reason it is supremely important that one’s questions are both “in tune” with what the author had intended the passage to answer and that they are “good” questions—that is, questions that open up the text and allow us to unpack it while doing the least amount of violence to it.
A first reading of Lacan’s text makes me want to know the answer to three questions before I can even begin to explore further.
1) What is “this form” that “situates the agency known as the ego?” Specifically, why does Lacan employ such a vague placeholder (this form) in this statement that appears to be a sort of summation of an argument or the final form of a claim? What would the danger have been in using another, more specific term?
2) What exactly are the two parts of this “dialectical synthesis and in what direction are they interacting?” It seems fairly obvious that one part is the subject who stands in relationship to its reflection (the ego) and the other is the idealized reflection of the mirror (the imago). Yet, in the last sentence it appears to be the “ego” that asymptotically approaches “reality” and this suggests that it is the ego that leans forward to resolve the distance between itself the real world. However, that reading is problematic because, in the rest of Lacan’s argument it is the ego that is real (broken, fractured, immature) and the imago that is the idealized (whole, unified, competent). The question becomes: who is the ‘him’ referring to in the last clause (“his discordance with his own reality”)?
3) What is the relationship between the two clauses in the center of the assigned text? It would seem that number 4 is meant to be parallel to number 3 but to more precisely explain number 3. But, if that is the case, how am I to understand “irreducible” as being parallel with “asymptotically approaching?”
So, these three questions are the making of one fitful night and this introductory post. By tomorrow’s post I hope to have some preliminary answers and turn my attention to analyzing the global and local beliefs, claims, and stakes.