Hello again maphmatically-minded. For those of you heading back to class today, we have words of encouragement. For those who are perusing this post in order to discern whether UChicago’s MAPH program is the place for you, we have reporting from the front lines. As always, the incomparable Bill Hutchison and I are attempted to provide some perspective for those in the program as well as suggest that a healthy dose of fear is an entirely appropriate response for those considering MAPH. If first quarter was all about academic acclimation and alleviating culture shock, second quarter has been all about being stretched. That is not to say that the second quarter was somehow fundamentally different from the first–in many ways it was more of the same–but merely to say that the second quarter, for many of us, was a process of being asked to do more and be more than we had expected. Not surprisingly, some of us fared better than others under this academic bulking-up–but from the vantage point of hind-sight it does appear that all of us are better for it. What follows is the first post in a multipart series similar in tone and organization to our earlier two-part evaluation of Foundations of Interpretive Theory (Core) class that attempts to get at the heart of what it was and is to work through MAPH’s second quarter.
Workload and Loading Up
The workload was huge, but I was ready for it, even eager for it. I had a ton of reading to do in my classes, ranging from long Victorian novels to long philosophical essays to long books of 19th-century science. Insulating the space between those big tomes have been reams of theory from the last 200 years. At the risk of sounding relentlessly enthusiastic, I can’t say that my reading load, both in terms of quantity and quality, was anything less than stellar. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m a guy who thrives on being just a couple of inches from the end of my rope. With the MAPH support system – and thank goodness for them — when I’m about to lose my grip, I’m never more than one conversation away from being able to hold on ever tighter. And I’m glad for the workload. It’s looking like I’m going to take two graduate seminars during my last quarter, along with finishing my thesis. From what I can tell, I’m looking at 1,500-2,000 pages a week of reading for the seminars alone. And honestly? I’m so jazzed about it.
There is a reason that second quarter is often called “Reading Quarter.” As I’ve alluded to elsewhere, my goal for this quarter was to get the big papers started as quickly as possible so as to not get crunched as the end of the quarter approached. Part of that push was doing as many readings as I could ahead of time–in the first two to four weeks of the quarter so that I could focus all my time on the papers in the middle of the term. This plan went swimmingly for my aesthetics course and my philosophy of language course, but “Heidegger and Christianity” was another story entirely. Heidegger’s earlier writings are easier than the stuff in Being and Time and Philosophical Contributions, but having to read The Phenomenology of Religious Life one week and then Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle the next all while also plowing through massive chunks of Kisiel’s Genesis of Being and Time is still probably the most difficult time I’ve ever had working through a class reading assignment. If the work load wasn’t bad enough, the books for that class alone also cost me more than $200 once all was said and done. All that being said, it was the best class that I have taken at U of C.
Where Bill seems to thrive on being “just a couple inches from the end of his rope,” I’m the guy who tends to get frazzled when deadlines loom large and the pile of required readings threatens to topple over and crush me. Despite all my planning and working ahead, I felt very much harassed by my readings this quarter and when it came down to the last couple weeks I will admit that I didn’t get as much out of those texts as I ought to have.
I’m honestly in awe of Bill’s willingness to take on 1,500 to 2,000 pages of reading a week for his courses this final quarter. I suppose that I can justify my unwillingness to do so by appeal to some justification about the type of reading–dense academic or literary–or some such cop-out, but the truth is I’m just working to hang tight at this point. At this stage in my MAPH career that means getting through the program while coordinating a place to rent or buy when we return to my alma mater and my first year as an honest-to-goodness professor, getting the logistics of the move dialed-in, and taking as much advantage as possible of the academic amenities uniquely available at UofC.
Tomorrow: Part 2: Praise, Prejudice and Thesis Advisers