This is why we can't have nice things
June 10, 2015 1:29 PM   Subscribe

 
My thesis was number four. I feel skewered.
posted by Oxydude at 1:37 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


This famous thing closely resembles, and therefore responds to, that slightly earlier, less famous thing.

All lectures on Art History, basically
posted by The Whelk at 1:37 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: I found a very small thing in an archive, but I can relate it to a big thing.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:39 PM on June 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


That was saddening. It seems like it would be less funny to someone who is outside academia, but I also can't imagine it being really funny (in the sense of not laughing and crying at the same time) to anyone who doesn't already have tenure. At a school in a state not governed by people currently butchering higher education for scrap.
posted by clockzero at 1:40 PM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I much prefer lolmythesis

but I do really love reading "This author, normally seen as opposed to certain bad things, in fact supported them without realizing it." papers and "this short text, seen rightly, reveals the contradictions of a whole culture." papers.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:42 PM on June 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Toast, but for people with graduate degrees

I also can't imagine it being really funny (in the sense of not laughing and crying at the same time) to anyone who doesn't already have tenure

fucking enthusiastically seconded

posted by RogerB at 1:42 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


A surprising number of these apply to the natural sciences as well:
A problem you thought you could solve defines your field; you can’t imagine the field without the problem.

Those two apparently incompatible versions of a thing are better regarded as parts of the same, larger thing.

Analytical tools developed for, and strongly associated with, a well-defined set of things in fact apply to a much larger set of things.

Please adopt my buzzword.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

However, I would note that in the natural sciences, "quantitative methods have an unexpected use" doesn't fit. Their usefulness is rarely unexpected.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:44 PM on June 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


In history, the joke is that all history papers boil down to one of the following two statements:

1. This thing that we thought was simple was actually really complicated.

2. This thing that we thought was really complicated was actually way more complicated than we thought.
posted by Dreadnought at 1:44 PM on June 10, 2015 [39 favorites]


#5 has far-reaching capability past just Humanities. (and #6 as well)

Truth-claims from our discipline cannot be properly judged without expertise that almost no one in our discipline has.

Aptly summarizes something like String Theory.

(on preview, Johnny caught more than I ... )
posted by k5.user at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Analytical tools developed for, and strongly associated with, a well-defined set of things in fact apply to a much larger set of things.

AKA why every OKCupid profile now includes a fucking Meyers Brig score
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:48 PM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I also can't imagine it being really funny (in the sense of not laughing and crying at the same time) to anyone who doesn't already have tenure

Yeah, I mean, my dissertation was a straight-up #9 and I'm leaving academia for lack of a job. I don't know. My reaction was more "knowing nod" than "wince of pain," but maybe I'm in the minority.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:51 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't feel sad about these at all (and not just because my thesis isn't adequately represented).

Literary critics do this all the time with stories: "man vs. nature", "classical tragedy", "five act structure". All of these things are ideas that make for a story that works and interests humans. But each story is different and interesting in its own way, because the details are different and interesting.

So, it turns out that in the humanities we have a set of basic forms that make for an interesting conclusion. Repetition of the forms doesn't make the content uninteresting.

After all, one could well write:
The natural phenomena that we thought was governed by rule set A is actually governed by rule set B.
"Yeah, your paper is totally trivial Mr Einstein. Newton came up with exactly the same conclusions about gravity years ago -- the fiddly little details were different, of course, but it's the logical format of the synopsis that counts!"
posted by Dreadnought at 1:52 PM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Really these patterns should be given names so they can be properly formalized.
posted by Artw at 1:54 PM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Analytical tools developed for, and strongly associated with, a well-defined set of things in fact apply to a much larger set of things.

AKA why every OKCupid profile now includes a fucking Meyers Brig score


Meyers Brig scores aren't actually for anything.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on June 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


"Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way."

Tom Freston (Entertainment executive)


25% of science theses right there, especially if "two" is replaced by "a few".
posted by lalochezia at 1:56 PM on June 10, 2015


"Why can't we have nice things?" is actually a really big, important question. I didn't get past undergrad, but a lot of my undergraduate studies were on why we can't have nice things, and I learned a lot of important stuff.
posted by NoraReed at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


A Jenny Holzer installation on the whiteboard of a faculty lounge.
posted by gwint at 2:12 PM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Meyers Brig scores aren't actually for anything.

When I was applying for low-wage jobs years ago (grocery stores, movie theaters, etc), every single application included a long Myers-Briggs-type section. I read up on it and apparently employers used them to determine, ahead of time, if an employee was likely to steal or cause a disturbance at the workplace. You could manipulate your answers to sound awesome, but supposedly they would assume you were lying if you didn't admit to some faults; you'd have to "admit" little things like "sometimes I get tired: agree strongly."

I never got a call back from any one of them, so I must have done something wrong. I can only assume my scores made me look like a ticking time bomb, or something. I think it's the closest I've come to something that could be described as "Kafkaesque."

So you can see that after a given date, a new technology meant that all of culture was somehow different, and this is why we can't have nice things.
posted by teponaztli at 2:13 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only people able to understand this work properly cannot communicate that understanding to you.

In many ways, this is the fundamental tragedy of academia -- you spend your life getting really immersed in something and then, unless you are very skilled or very lucky, you can only really talk about it to a small number of other people.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:13 PM on June 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


I feel like it's appropriate that the author of this piece has published several books of poetry; I think it's likely this will appear in the next one.
posted by janey47 at 2:14 PM on June 10, 2015


This is why we can’t have nice things.

For what it's worth, I have an undergraduate and a masters degree in this, and am considering a phd in a social science that is none the less going to require me to take a lot of hard science classes (prereq #1 is this fall! Good times! Do I remember how to study for tests anymore?) that is, uh, basically going to be this. I can't decide if this is depressing or a sign of continued job security.
posted by joycehealy at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


After a given date, a new technology meant that all of culture was somehow different.

This is every popular science book boiled down to a tweet.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


My historical period, properly understood, includes yours.

Okay, look, I have long given up on acquiring a PhD and can thus enjoy these for their own sakes. I make this argument about my various favorite historical periods all the time. I also enjoy making the one where the seventies start in 1968 and don't end until the mid-eighties, and therefore your historical period doesn't even exist. Any argument of periodization where we sunder the decades from the actual numbers is a winner with me.

This author, normally seen as opposed to certain bad things, in fact supported them without realizing it.

This one drives me up the fucking wall, as it does all right-minded people.

After a given date, a new technology meant that all of culture was somehow different.

Once a friend was going through the "Foucault! All that matters is rupture!" phase, and I was going through an "all that matters is previously ignored continuities" phase and we just could not get along. Now we've kind of reversed positions and just agreed not to talk about the whole thing.
posted by Frowner at 2:19 PM on June 10, 2015 [14 favorites]


1. This thing that we thought was simple was actually really complicated.
2. This thing that we thought was really complicated was actually way more complicated than we thought.

YES, Dreadnought, this is probably the most important set of principles I have come to realize in my too-many years on this planet. Plus the corollary: You can become very successful just by understanding HOW complicated the thing is, without understanding the thing itself.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:19 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Why can't we have nice things?" is actually a really big, important question.

I agree. Based on what I've learned about the world in my life so far, it seems that the answer has everything to do with who "we" are.
posted by clockzero at 2:25 PM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Really these patterns should be given names so they can be properly formalized.

Some folks in my field (rhetoric & writing) and related fields do. See John Swales or Laura Wilder's work on genre analysis.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:25 PM on June 10, 2015


I would also enjoy this thing as part of Harper's Magazine's 'Readings' section.
posted by box at 2:38 PM on June 10, 2015


Metafilter: Now we've kind of reversed positions and just agreed not to talk about the whole thing.
posted by lalochezia at 2:42 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


You could manipulate your answers to sound awesome, but supposedly they would assume you were lying if you didn't admit to some faults; you'd have to "admit" little things like "sometimes I get tired: agree strongly."

I never got a call back from any one of them, so I must have done something wrong.


Everything I've heard about these tests indicated that you should always answer like the impossible dream employee. And there is only Agree Strongly and Disagree Strongly, nothing in-between. To try to answer like a real person instantly flags you for rejection. Sometimes I get tired: DISAGREE STRONGLY. If I saw a coworker take a single company paperclip home I would let it go because it's no big deal: DISAGREE STRONGLY. We can have nice things: DISAGREE STRONGLY.
posted by jjwiseman at 2:55 PM on June 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Ah, yes. Pre-employment psychoanalysis theater. Your keys to success are industrious, honest and docile.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:06 PM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


My MA thesis in history fits under #11. I left academia and also nodded knowingly.
posted by immlass at 4:29 PM on June 10, 2015


Really these patterns should be given names so they can be properly formalized.

CVTropes
posted by sylvanshine at 4:50 PM on June 10, 2015 [15 favorites]


I actually had a paper collapsed down to someone else's tweet once. That tweet?

California moderates make baby Jesus cry.

Lots of work in the little political science pond I swim in can be tweeted as

--The rules matter
--Context matters
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:55 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


However, I would note that in the natural sciences, "quantitative methods have an unexpected use" doesn't fit. Their usefulness is rarely unexpected.

The reverse happens when every so often a social or natural scientist discovers the humanities.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:31 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm also leaving academia for lack of a job, and I have it on good authority that it's basically because my dissertation doesn't fall under one of these.

Not a humblebrag, more of a bragsob
posted by Beardman at 6:45 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was accepted as a PhD dissertation by Cambridge. Which tweet is that?
posted by thelonius at 7:30 PM on June 10, 2015


"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen." (With 82 characters to spare!)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:41 PM on June 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


throwing away the ladder a little early there!
posted by thelonius at 8:17 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Tractatus is already just a series of tweets, some of which exceed the recommended length.

My dissertation is mostly #7 with a pinch of #8. I'm leaving academia because at some given date during (or slightly before) my graduate education, a new technology meant that all of culture was somehow different.
posted by katya.lysander at 8:53 PM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


1. This thing that we thought was simple was actually really complicated.

2. This thing that we thought was really complicated was actually way more complicated than we thought.


I'm currently shopping around a paper that basically says "this thing that we thought was really complicated is actually pretty simple" and referees are always, "ha ha ha no. That's not how things work. And if it were, then it wouldn't be interesting enough to read about." I like to present it at conferences when I am feeling masochistic.
posted by lollusc at 1:26 AM on June 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was confident initially that my PhD didn't come under any of these headings, until I realised that it was essentially a species of "Our discipline should study its own disciplinary formation; that study proves that our discipline shouldn’t exist." Which may explain why my supervisor became increasingly distant with me over the years.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:03 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


My dissertation is a bunch of these. Does it mean I lack focus? Oh no, too late.

I'm leaving academia because I'm a lot better at working in academia's pits, waving academics good luck and cheering them on.
posted by ipsative at 7:00 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Combine any three of them and pepper with anecdotes: instant Malcolm Gladwell.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:32 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


This author, normally seen as opposed to certain bad things, in fact supported them without realizing it.

I feel like this is the thrust of some of the more disheartening FPPs I've read recently. (I still love you, John Oliver.)
posted by psoas at 10:01 AM on June 11, 2015


What looked like a moment of failure, confusion, or ugliness in this well-known work is better seen as directions for reading the whole.

That sounds kind of interesting, actually. Anyone have any real-world examples?
posted by lore at 10:34 AM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


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