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Can you tell me what this book is about?  I read it, and I still can't.

Can you tell me what this book is about? I read it, and I still can't.

My wife successfully defended her Masters thesis today.  It is the culmination of two years of intense work balanced with a full-time job and attending to my not insignificant emotional needs.  I think that she has had 48 seconds of free time since September of 2007.

I am reminded of the rigmarole of my own education experience.  Unlike my wife, I was in an English program, an area of study that possesses an enormous amount of self-congratulatory snobbishness compared to its complete impracticality in every possible situation.  It seemed to pride itself on being as obtuse and difficult to understand as possible.  An example:

One of the terms I had to study in my third year was “discourse.”  A normal person would probably accept a normal definition for it, something like “to consider or examine in speech or writing.”


I read the article about it in my reader, and I didn’t understand any of it.  It seemed as though the author was deliberately avoiding the actual act of writing down a definition.  I confronted my prof with this, asking for a straightforward definition of the word.

Do you know what he said to me?

“We cannot define the word discourse, because in doing so we eliminate its ability to symbolize the interplay of power and language.  To define it would be to destroy its very definition.”


I actually asked him if this was supposed to be some kind of joke.  I asked if when we graduated he would shake our hands and say, “That whole discourse thing was total garbage.  There is no such term.  We just did that to mess with you.”  He just smiled, readjusted his beret, and marked me down as too practical for English studies.

I just couldn’t make myself care.  It isn’t like I didn’t learn anything, but I drew the line at having to consider something as indefinable at the expense of its own existence.  I think that was the moment in which I lost my faith in academia.  I’m willing to accept that there are nuances of the physical world that require extraordinary stretches of imagination and lateral thinking, but the only way you can see them in a book of fringe poetry is to shut your eyes, plug your nose, and stick your head up your own ivory tower butt.

It was a book of poetry written hundreds of year ago by an obscure man of cloth.  Father MacNamara had never seen a copy anywhere but here in the church, and he had never heard mention of the poems or that author outside of the archives.  The Father’s teacher had shown it to him when he was just a boy, in a time that was now obscured by fading memory in his mind, but he still remembered the illuminations.

As he reverently leafed through the book, mindful of the falling dust of powdering silver leaf, MacNamara was cast back to his heady, zealous days in the priesthood.  Everything seemed more immediate then, with the promise of the End Days seemingly just a failed sunrise away.  He distinctly remembered his fervent prayers that he would be a mighty instrument in the hands of God, that he would be the brush in His hands that would paint the world anew in shades of gold.  MacNamara remembered his heart soaring at the whispered words of His will, at the prophecies the Lord passed through his feeble body to uplift the faithful and bring down the wicked.  The last time he had touched this book, he was a boy that burned brightly with the white fire of the Lord.  Now he was an old man that smouldered like a dying coal, its fuel almost spent, smoke trailing away.

But a freshening wind now blew that dying ember to life again.