Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Banality of Creativity

Yesterday, I went to the first day of classes at Geidai, my new institutional home. My role there is strangely liminal - as a 'researcher,' I have none of the responsibilities of a faculty member, but also none of the authority.  I attended the first meeting of my sponsor's graduate seminar, and will probably sit in on it again, because getting used to the flow of ideas in Japanese is one of my main goals here. I do worry about being mistaken, implicitly or explicitly, for a student, and I'm thinking I can remedy that in a way I enjoy - by indulging in new clothes with a patina of authority.

But some of the graduate students - a lot of whom are just first-year Master's students - already seem to be looking up to me as at least a source of advice, if not exactly expertise. I enjoy it, but of course I don't entirely believe my own hype, either.  It was less than five months ago that I was putting the finishing touches on the final deposit of my dissertation, and it would be self-serving to pretend I've really figured out either the intellectual or professional dimensions of academia. 

In fact, I just went through a pretty surprising first, putting the final copy edits on a journal article that will be coming out, it seems, pretty soon.  What surprised me was, like most things that are surprising, something that in retrospect seems obvious - at the end of months (years!) of careful research, reading and soul-searching about the Profound Message of an essay like this, there comes a long stretch of much less scintillating work of fine editing, things like getting your citations to match the journal's style sheet.  There are plenty of banalities here, things that bring the grand gesture down - for instance, my article begins with an epigraph from Moby Dick, but my copy editor politely reminded me that I needed to give the book an entry in my Works Cited.  Ditto for an offhand reference to Richardson's Pamela, and a passage where I compare the BPMs of a few hit rap songs (yes, I hope you're intrigued).

On the one hand, this is sort of deflating, if not quite humbling. By God, these are big ideas, why should I be bothered with such petty details? I wonder if Marx ever had to fix his italics.

On the other hand, though, it's productively gratifying to see how much work other people are putting into polishing my small contribution. All of these fixes, after all, are coming from editorial staff who are actually getting paid to find all the little details. For all my bigger problems with the academic publishing industry, to have it serving you, at least to some extent, really reminds you that what you've produced has enough value to be made precisely correct.

The dissertation process, which I'm remembering now as I go back through and start revising and reconsidering my project thus far, has a lot of the same elements - details of formatting are almost legendary.  But the journal process is even more intense, and I'm assured that putting a book together is even more of an exercise in fingernail-pulling. It's a bit of a wakeup call, and I lay at least some blame on ten years worth of undergrad and graduate instructors who never gave even lip service to this level of precision.  But of course, these are small potatoes, and I'm sure jumping all these hurdles will be totally worth it when I see my work in prestigious print.  Still - grad school probably didn't prepare you for this, kids.

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