This lovely essay was passed along to me by a mentor in my department, possibly to be shared with others through this blog, and I am happy to now pass it along to Grad.Life readers! Entitled "Love in the Ruins: or, Should I Go to Grad School?", the piece explores some very human, beautiful ways in which graduate school could make your life better. The piece stands to offer another side to the most common strain of advice being given out in recent years to potential graduate students in the humanities -- a cacophony of voices that suggests, explicitly, NOT GOING to graduate school unless you are independently wealthy or you are well-connected.
Since being exposed to these types of "advice pieces" -- heard, alas, for me, a day late and thousands of dollars short, might I add -- I have tried to work out the good that being in graduate school for English Literature has done and is doing for me, personally, despite the lack of financial comfort that it promises. (Read here.) And I have also tried to assert some of the good it might do for society at large to have somewhat of a graduate student population still surviving, if not thriving, as part of our culture. (Read here.)
This new essay, by Peter Coviello, will appear in the book Should I Go to Grad School?, and from the looks of this essay, the book seems to hold off on foreclosing on the notion entirely. Coviello regards language-making at the center of a humanities graduate education, and he speaks beautifully about the ways graduate school enables an individual to not only express his/her enthusiasm and delight for the world but also to expand upon those feelings in generative and constructive ways. He writes, "The languages you begin to speak with more and more assurance and agility, and to make more completely your own: these, sometimes, are ardor’s vehicle. They can give coherence to the complex delight you feel in relation to certain objects, as well as a versatile, usable form, by which that delight can, in turn, be sustained, elaborated, enlarged."
It's true that graduate education has given me a way not only to view the world -- as Coviello says, "in the grain of a spectacular, inexhaustible complexity" -- but also to give form to that world. Over the years, when I've been feeling down or regretful or doubtful about the paths I've chosen, I have tried to think about what graduate school has given me (new ways of grappling with what I always thought was beautiful, or unjust, or bewildering, in the world?), rather than what it has taken away (time for making money? time and money for living in a cool apartment in the city? money to afford fancy stuff?). I mean, like Coviello says, this is not to say that if I hadn't gone to graduate school that I would be living some kind of shallow, unfulfilling life. But I went to graduate school because I needed to satisfy something inside of me -- I was, indeed, looking for something. It may sound cliche, but the short story of it all is that, in truth, deep down, I know I wouldn't be the same person today if I didn't take the path I took, and I guess, in a very simple way, that is as good a reason as any to not have regrets.
And, as Coviello points out, the community created around you during a graduate school education is a valuable part of the experience, too. He writes, "these are languages you are learning to inhabit in concert with others." I found that what one might cherish with a sustained, lifewide devotion was not only objects – books, passages, arguments, etc. – but the scenes that kindled around them, scenes forged in the heat and friction of contestation and knit together by, precisely, language, the languages we were just then learning to inhabit."
In the end, the essay gave me something to smile about, and made me remember that maybe everything is happening just the way it should, just the way it is supposed to, and the long concentrated stretches of time spent thinking and writing and exchanging and sharpening and backtracking and deepening and sharing are ultimately times well spent. I hope you enjoy the piece; let me know what you think!
Until next time, Liza :)