The End of an Epoch, the Beginning of... What?

It is 840am, and after staying up all-night in my typical fashion, I have completed my final graduate school paper, and perhaps the last academic paper I will ever write. My Master's degree is complete.

As the gray light of dawn was crawling its way to my window down our narrow alley here in Harlem, I was flipping through the last book of my last graduate school paper, trying to wrestle up a few pertinent quotes to support my argument. The paper was a critique of structuralist linguistics as relates to psychoanalysis and philosophy, which pretty much is the theme of all of the academic work I have done in the last year. The book was Anti-Oedipus, by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, which has been an pivotal inspiration to my academic work for the past three years at least. Needless to say, I know the book well, and as the paper was almost done and not entirely a new subject, I was just coasting through the last stretch.

Maybe it was looking at some of my older margin notes, or maybe it was the gray quality of the dawn light, or maybe it was just a general nostalgia upon reaching such a milestone as the last of the last, but I was recalling when I first picked up the book. Reading through the truly awe-inspiring first section, I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on that curious University of Minnesota typeface. It was in San Francisco, when a couple of friends and myself were on a road trip. I believe I had shoplifted that copy of the book; the one crime I've ever really committed in earnest is shoplifting books. As a college student a $40 philosophy book not required for a course is a pretty hefty detraction from the alcohol budget. Besides, it was from a large chain bookstore, the authors were dead and therefore not losing out on royalties, and I think my opinion on intellectual property have been reviewed before.

So I was sitting on a rock in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, overlooking the gray Pacific Ocean from what I imagine now was several hundred feet but was actually probably fifty or so, the friends were asleep in the tent near the car with Connecticut plates that was full of trash, and I had Anti-Oedipus on my lap under the gray morning sky. I knew nothing about to book except that it was supposed to be "good" and that I liked the title. After reading it for an hour and getting 15 pages in, I remember telling my friend what I thought "they were trying to say," and although I can't remember what it was that I thought I understood, I knew that sometime later I could tell that I still had absolutely no idea what was going on in those crazy sentences about kissing and shit machines and schizophrenics on walks and ancient paranoiac societies.

Here we are, me and the same copy of the book, four years later. The corners are bent, the spine broken, most of the pages written with notes that have been erased, written again, and still illegible/undecipherable. Since then I've read some Beckett and Artaud, looked up the references I didn't know, read a lot more Freud than 3 Essays on Sexuality and a lot more Marx than The Communist Manifesto, and am still mystified by why endnote #5 to Section 4 is completely blank. Now, I think that my dog-eared, crumbled, and eraser-mark ridden brain actually does understand what "they were trying to say." I really do. I've impressed at least one Deleuze scholar with my reading and analysis of it, and considering how many grad students I've seen struggle with this text, I feel that this is something of which I may legitimately be proud.

It's really a fantastic book. I think I've heard just about every criticism of it imaginable; or at least enough so that the criticisms I hear are the same over and again. But I find it remarkable that I can still pick it up now and get that goofy, nerdy feeling of being so intrigued and excited by a specific book that I would steal a copy of it from a store and then hold it in my hands just to enjoy that I was "going to read it".

If only this had happened for me with philosophy in general, maybe I would be signing on for the PhD right now rather than cutting and running with a terminal MA. But then again, my work for the MA has been largely based upon my inspiration from and my love for this book. I've read the authors' other works, read their influences and contemporaries, and written some of what I feel is fairly original work comparing, contrasting, critiquing, and explicating all different aspects of all. And that is what academic philosophy is, I suppose. It's not that I even lost interest after a while.

I think what it was is that I really wanted to convince other people, somebody, anybody, that this book really is as great as I think it is. Most people aren't interested, a bunch have tried and given up, and a few have engaged it. But even with them, in the end its only academic philosophy. They write, they read, they talk, and then they go on and do something else. For some reason, with this book (and granted, with a few others) I thought the authors were really on to something. I thought that this wouldn't just be another book to sit on the shelf. I always thought of this book as a manual; I thought of it as the kind of book that does get destroyed from use, because it is a tool and not just a reference. Not just a status symbol, and not just a conversation piece, I thought that this was a book that was really going to help philosophy do all that stuff that it says it can do for the world.

I don't know if that was a pipe dream, or I just didn't try hard enough, or I didn't find the right people, or what happened. But I do know that now I have a Master's degree in philosophy, a whole bunch of books, and I seem to be over- or under-qualified for just about every job out there. I'm pretty hard-pressed to find a downside of having an MA, (except for my world of debt, that is) but I really just feel like the whole thing has been a waste of time. I've definitely learned a lot, and I can write even better now than when I graduated from college. But as far as me "advancing my life," not in a professional sense, but in terms of things that I want to accomplish, the substance of this reflection is about where I'm at today.

Yes, life-lessons and such. Wonderful, thanks for your perspective. I guess in two more years it won't matter, and I'll be glad I did it. Maybe I'll even hate the real world so much that I'll be running back to the academy for the PhD.

But I can say that after these stressful, misdirected, and sometimes downright frustrating two years I'm still glad I can open this book and get that "read like I stole something" feeling all over again. Thanks, Gilles and Felix. Rest in peace; you've made my world a better place.

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