Defense Scheduled and All That
"Brilliant, brilliant," exclaimed one of my committee members as I handed him his copy of the thing. I pointed out that I hoped he would still be saying that after actually reading it. He must be optimistic, as supposing he concludes that it is tedious and lacking in any merit whatsoever? (Unlikely, but you can never tell about these things. Just because my advisor likes it doesn't mean anyone else will.)
The tradition of the dissertation defense is, I gather, gradually disappearing. It is fine with me that I will not be defending my work tooth and nail against fierce criticism in an amphitheater full of people--we sort of go on the humane principle that a dissertation shouldn't get to the defense stage if it isn't passable, so I anticipate a fairly pleasant talk with the committee about what to do with the thing next. But people who got their PhDs at UC Berkeley and UC Davis tell me that all they had to do was turn their dissertations in. No defense, no conversation, no champagne, no nothing.
While I guess that's better than having an unruly committee member beat you to a figurative pulp over some minor point of interpretation, it sounds pretty dull to me. What, you slave over the dissertation for years and then no one even wants to talk about it, you just fill out some forms? Faugh. The UC Berkeley alum who told me this (she had to defend her MA in an amphitheater in Russia) said she thought all these famous types were just too busy (or thought they were too busy) to collect for a face-to-face meeting. My source from Davis didn't opine on why her department doesn't do defenses. (Note: neither of the above are art historians. I will not divulge their specialties to reporters and papparazzi.)
Meanwhile, life continues along in its usual dynamic and action-packed manner. My students are barraging me with email questions about their papers. I am wrestling with the final form of next semester's syllabi and presentations. There are job applications to prepare. I have a book chapter to write and provide images for. What sort of film can I find to have shown to my American Art students while I'm away in Philadelphia carousing with other Slavic scholars next week? People who have danced with me at some point or other greet me in cafes and want to know when I will return to the dance floor (preferably immediately, they imply, and in their company). And the Spotted Pair speeds across the living room floor as I type, stopping only for a spot of mutual grooming in mid-carpet.
Well, at least I have succeeded in condensing a five-page book outline into a two-page synopsis this evening. This might allow me to feel productive until tomorrow morning or so, when I'll fret because the post office isn't open and I'll have to be content with doing the laundry.