I have written my thesis.
Past tense: It is finished.
I have a spare hour before I meet friends for dinner to celebrate finishing my study, so now seems like a good time reflect.
Honest reflection is a mixed task.
I am sitting in the cafe of Wellington Central Library (pictured below). Beside me four young students talk excitedly about essays they’re working on. One is talking increasingly faster and louder about a territorial dispute somewhere I’ve not heard of, others cut in with quotes and ideas. Each sip at drinks and tap on keyboards as they debate. There’s an easy momentum to the conversation, it carries itself. It’s like a tutorial – a good tutorial – one that your body leaves but your mind keeps on thinking of after it ends.
It’s been a year since I’ve attended a tutorial but the end of my thesis marks the end of my study also. I feel a little nostalgic for those rare good tutorial debates.
I’ve often thought about that splitting off of my body and mind while sitting in this cafe. I use to come here after a few hours of writing on Mondays before giving an English lesson to a refugee friend. I’d spend the morning reading words like ‘speculative dialectics’, and the afternoon explaining the meaning of the word ‘mean’. Both are difficult tasks actually, in their own way.
I would come to this cafe to ‘transition’. To flick through the paper, chat with the wait staff, and wait for my head to leave the tangle of academic work and arrive here in the cafe, in the library – in the world.
I’ve never really found the transition very smooth.
I like the long beautiful words that academic writing lets you use. Yet, they sound weird outside of their very limited context – they stick out awkwardly.
I’ll miss them.
In a way, now that I’m finished, I am in that same transition writ large.
How much of my academic learning can I carry with me into not-strictly-academic space? I think it is dishonest to pretend all of it has relevance. It’s much more complex than that.
I spent most of my thesis writing, reading, thinking about a British philosopher called Gillian Rose (above right). I fell in love with her and she taught me a lot about the philosophers she’d fallen in love with – mainly G.W.F. Hegel (above left).
The most wonderful thing Rose taught me was about Hegel’s comedy.
Comedy, for Hegel, arises from the gap between what we are and what we think we are. It comes from the contingency of our identity. We think we are one thing and later we find out we were wrong about ourselves. We are otherwise than we thought.
And that realisation that we are wrong about ourselves can be comedic; you can laugh at it. To laugh at and accept this gap between who you are and who you think you are is to live at peace with the possibility of surprise and change – even change to your very core.
Rose calls this growth – “the growth of the self in knowledge.”
But there are other reactions to finding out you’re different than you thought: anger, frustration, straight up denial. It can be a comedic experience or a bitter one.
Rose led me from bitterness to comedy. It was easy to fall in love with her for that.
I’ve been a student for four years. I no longer am. Though I tried to remember throughout my studies that I’m not just student – I’m a painter, daughter, friend, teacher, waitress, cleaner! – it still feels like a significant change to who I am.
And despite the fear-inducing headlines of awful articles like ‘Why Millennials are Doomed’, I’m choosing not to be bitter about this change. I hope it will be a sort of growth.