Some people might think blogging is pretty scary – putting up stuff for all the world to criticize, and maybe to use to your disadvantage when you run for President someday (fortunately, there’s no chance of me doing that). However, I realized these past two weeks that writing academic papers scares me more. Then I started wondering why, and ended up writing:
The Utter Bloody Fear of Handing in a Paper
OR: Who Says I’m Qualified to Contribute to Academic Conversation?
Whenever I write a paper for university, I have a period of at least day of paralysing fear, where I’m certain I’m about to fail this paper and never pass another course again. I don’t get this with exams. Exams you can just write the thing and walk away, and if you forget an important thing it doesn’t mean you’re stupid, you were probably just stressed out.
But when writing a paper, you’re expected to poke holes in ideas of people a hundred times smarter than you, and hand it in to someone a hundred times smarter than you. Well – when I’m rational I try to convince myself the prof probably isn’t that much smarter than me, just disciplined enough to finish a doctorate in the subject. But that don’t negate the fact I’m walking into THEIR territory with this paper, and they know this stuff and I’ve just taken a two month course on it.
I mean, honestly, you want me to criticize Karl Marx? Or Foucault, or Hayden White, or whoever the theorist of the course happens to be? I might disagree with them, but I can hardly engage them on their own terms. In fact, I’m usually having trouble grasping exactly what they’re talking about. And since I hate misrepresenting people’s ideas (even on this blog, I’m always afraid to misquote someone), I feel pretty unqualified to comment on someone’s theory when I’ve only read a half-page excerpt of what the guy actually said.
So, thinking about this, I realized I have this trouble in real life conversations too. I don’t like entering a conversation unless I actually have something interesting to contribute (and yes, hopefully this blog isn’t a useless piece of online chatter, but actually thought-provoking once in a while). So people may sometimes think I’m quiet, but actually I’m just trying to avoid repeating bland ideas that have already been said a hundred times before. As well, if the topic of conversation is video games, hip-hop, movies I haven’t seen, or any other topic I don’t know enough about, I really don’t feel expert enough to interrupt the flow and jump in with something, just to remind everyone that hey, I’m standing in the group too. Of course, some of my friends know if you wind me up on a topic I actually feel like I know something about, I can rant about my opinions for hours.
All the same, writing papers is probably a good thing. It teaches you to take a position, and back your opinions up. Sometimes taking a position in these debates is the only way to feel your way around, and find out what the debate really all involves (and sometimes you find out your initial position is wrong, too, of course). You might be surprised, say, by what Karl Marx actually said, even if you still think he’s wrong.
But still, I hate pretending I know enough to actually write on this stuff.
So, I’m handing a couple papers this week. I’m writing this to procrastinate, and also to get my thoughts about this down on paper, which seems to help me think. Hopefully all will go well!