MAPH Week 6: Protect me from what I want


BMW V12 LMR #15

Jenny Holzer is one of my heroes.  Despite being almost as old as my dad–and don’t think I’m not catching up with you, father–her conceptual art feels as true ripping out from my throat as it will from the mouths of my children.  Holzer’s first public works appeared in 1977-79 as anonymous broadsheets printed in black italicized block caps on white paper and wheat-pasted to buildings, walls and fences in and around Manhattan.  As such, although I’ve never heard her work spoken of as such, Holzer’s prints must represent some of the earliest “street art” as the genre is understood today.  Among these Trusims, are two that run through my head on a daily basis.  The first is “MUCH WAS DECIDED BEFORE YOU WERE BORN” which I ruminate upon both as a reminder that much if not all success I have had was due in large part to the wise decisions of those that came before me and as a reminder that my choices already have obligations to the, as yet, unborn.  The second is “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT“.

This week has been busy with ten posts between Monday and today and all you are probably tired of hearing me blather on–so I will keep this short.  Among the many institutions that I applied to for grad school the University of Chicago and Yale tied as my first choice dream schools.  These schools promised the widest possible employment opportunities once I had my sheep-skin and the richest educational seed beds that I could be immersed in.  Obviously, being in U of Chicago’s MAPH program means that the advantage of the sheep-skin is somewhat devalued as it will only represent an MA rather than a Ph.D.  However, the place itself is still as rich and nourishing as I had hoped it would be.

Or is it?

Certainly I rub shoulders with some amazing professors–intellectual giants who have revolutionized their areas of study.  Certainly I have the opportunity to learn from some amazing guest speakers–Jean-Luc Marion and Slavoj Zizek just this month.  As much as I am frustrated by certain pedagogical hiccups in the program, I know that I am learning and growing as a scholar.  These are some of the things that the U of C promised and has delivered.  However, the university that can attract and retain superstar professors is a place with many irons in the fire.  The institution that provides space for some of the premier minds of this or any generation can’t help but put you in your place.  The school that puts such an emphasis on rigorous thought and critical engagement is and must be a cold and calculating one.  A couple of very wise people–far wiser than myself–put the premise this way: the very things that make U of C great are the things that make it hell to live with.

Yet, like foxhole friends, the brutality of life in this pressure cooker forces us first inward–to consider our reserves–and then outward–to turn toward one another and lend strength.  I am consistently surprised at how much more wise and witty and caring everyone in the MAPH is than I am myself.  If any of us make it through, it will be in large part because of who all of us are.


2 comments on “MAPH Week 6: Protect me from what I want

  1. You are wise, witty, and caring yourself, dear friend. I’m glad to see you’re feeling a little better after what was a rough week for all of us. MAPH is making us all stronger scholars, that is for sure. I do hope we can all take the opportunity to let it shape us into better community members too.

  2. “To lend strength,” yes, but to borrow it as well. There’s an article in a recent edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education about Occupy Wall Street, and, risking the ire of those who would decry institutions such as UChicago as part of the problem (suddenly reminded of an old science joke that has been newly recast for me as a Lacan joke — if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate), it reminded me that what one does to survive and thrive in a protest bears strong similarities to MAPH. One listens to all the voices, reteaches one’s self to value the marginalized, to simultaneously (though not at the same time and in the same way) break down and fortify the ego, and to carry forward, ever onward, either carrying those who need it or being willing to be carried.

    I have a little mantra, a script, that I use for survival, and find myself using ever more often of late—there is a time in the future in which there is a me-that-I-am looking back on this moment. I want to get to him and find out what he thinks, how he survived, and what he’s doing. Because for 35 years, that guy always ends up doing something slightly more fascinating than I.

    I look forward to knowing you for a long while.

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