...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Friday, February 24, 2006

Horizontverschmelzung (Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the German language)

Today Professor Kugler sent me his comments on the paper I wrote a week and a half ago for his seminar. It was titled "Sunday Morning Epistemology: Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Stained-Glass Windows" and I wasn't sure when I turned it in exactly what he'd think; not only was I somewhat rushed in writing it, but I wrote it in a creative style. Kugler had told me that I could treat it as a creative writing project, but when I turned it into the box outside his office and saw this other kid's, all systematic and flowcharts and numbered, I became nervous; what if he thought my paper was fluff, or my style was trivial? This is a man who called Foucault "not an organized or systematic thinker," and I'm pretty sure Foucault has more of a systematic philosophy than I do. Plus, Kugler is fluent in German and I'm not, a fact that didn't stop me from throwing around the German phrases like I actually spoke the language. Three times, I use the phrase "was eigentlich passiert ist." Three times!

So it was with trepidation that I opened the message subject-headed "Paper comments." And then I read what he wrote, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it damn near brought a tear to my eye:

See below my comments on your very fine paper. As you'll see, a grade of "A" with no qualifiers. Thanks for such a good reading experience. This paper is unique among those I’ve read thus far. In all cases I’ve had occasion to provide very specific comments – so much so that I’ve numbered the comments and correlated them with consecutive numeration of the paragraphs in the paper. But your paper, Jessica, is such a seamless whole, and most significantly, the result of such a careful reading and analysis of your two principal thinkers, that I find myself with little to say apart from how much I enjoyed reading it. It is clear that you’ve wrestled with these ideas and the possibilities they present for understanding – and not just in this course, but as a central part of being human – and I suspect your particularly glad for the experience. I also suspect my attraction to this piece of writing, apart from its appealing style, is my own sympathy for the thinkers you appreciate here and the approach you adopt.

"Elated" doesn't really do the feeling justice. That's the highest praise I've ever received from Kugler, who is not only my Religious Studies adviser but a huge intellectual and personal role model for me. It's the only straight A I've ever received from him. Receiving that message made my day; it's certainly the academic highlight of the semester so far, and possibly of the rest of the semester as well.