Sunday, October 28, 2007

I may not, in fact, be a fraud.

So I'm co-editing this collection of essays, and all the contributors are, let us say, luminaries in my field. I've had the strangest experience over the last weeks, and it keeps repeating. And repeating. As if the universe is trying to tell me something.

The pattern is as follows: Famous Scholar A sends me his essay (and I use the masculine pronoun because all the Famous Scholars in my field seem to be male). I read it. I don't follow what it's saying--sometimes a portion, sometimes the whole thing. I think "Dammit. I've got myself into a situation to which I am unequal." For a moment. But then I look at the essay, and realize that it ain't me. I see that it contains flaws. Not just typos, mind you, but gaping flaws in logic, in argumentation, in premise. It happens again with Famous Scholar B, and especially with Iconically Famous Scholar C. This, to me, is a strange and liberating realization. Because first of all, it appears that these big shots produce crappy drafts, just like I do. I'm used to seeing their work in its final, polished, revised, and edited form, but now I'm getting the raw feed, and it's, well, raw. It needs polishing, revising, and editing. Yes, yes, we all know this on some level, it makes intellectual sense....but seeing it play out so dramatically is a little inspiring (does that make me a terrible person? to be buoyed up by the imperfections of others?) (whatever.) . My own raw stuff, even revised, even published, retains for me some of the flavor of earlier shortcomings. But it appears that all of us (yes, even the Iconically Famous ones) engaged in this endeavor--this thing where we read something we love, and find something cool and surprising in it and want to share our realization with others, and then write it down--think it out slowly by writing it, and that thinking comes hard.

And here's the kicker: I actually SEE why their arguments aren't working, just like I can with my students. And I provide these really specific comments in response, pointing to moments where lapses in judgement of all sorts are occuring. And they respond with gratitude, and revise according to my comments. I feel somewhere between surreal and studiedly nonchalant about the whole thing. But one cannot argue with the universe.

4 comments:

Lisa B. said...

What an amazing experience! If only there were a way to make such realizations--messages from the universe--last until the next time one feels whipped and fraudulent. You should try to make a little shrine out of their raw drafts, your helpful comments, and their gratitude.

Renaissance Girl said...

I fear that such shrines would have a very briefly miraculous effect. What I keep thinking is: Do you people not realize that I'm a KID?

Flavia said...

How marvellous! And just the time of year when one needs that boost, too. (I forget who was it dubbed October "Exploding Head Month," but damn was s/he ever right.)

Special K said...

I hope somewhere there was a tiny echo of Ha! What an idiot!

You're incredible.