Posted by: HAT | December 17, 2010

Time to Regroup

This is it!

About to be diploma'ed and hooded

Hi, Gang!

I keep trying to get some time to make a few critical lists: what I’m going to do with this blog, for one, and what projects come next. Everyday life and urgent projects at work, plus my super-slow speed setting these days (evidently what happens when one keeps trying to postpone having hip surgery . . . my walk and everything else keeps getting slower and slower, since I need more time for the intermediate gasps and groans) keeps getting in the way.

But now, I think it’s official: I have to come up with some “what’s next” to do list items.

Because December 15 was it: the University of Louisville’s Doctoral Graduation and Hooding Ceremony. (I uploaded a few pictures to the log.) So that’s it for that project.

When I was younger I was terrifically anti-ceremony. I missed my high school graduation by being out of the country; I missed my college one because it was moving-to-Chicago day. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also developed a greater appreciation for the need to celebrate and mark various milestones. It helps concretize the ends and beginnings, creates boundaries between one “time” and another. Boundaries seem to be the signs we use to distinguish between one thing and another, in the most general way. Using them to add definition to more diffuse processes of change and accomplishment makes a kind of sense. Even though everything substantial that had to do with “getting a Ph.D.” had already been done for weeks, going through the ceremony makes it feel official in a different way.

Besides, it is fun to dress up in a medieval costume.

The Provost of the University, Dr. Shirley Willinghanz, in her address to the group, spent some time on the matter of the costumes. They are the evolutionary traces of the everyday dress of the monks in the monasteries that are at the origins of the modern university. It’s not too fanciful to recognize the robes as functional in drafty medieval halls, the hats and hoods as barriers against the cold; maybe a little more fanciful to imagine the monks by the light of their candles or lamps copying out their texts, “opening up a box that no one had opened for a long time, and finding Aristotle, or Plato” . . . But her point, which was that the costumes ought to act as a reminder to us of the tradition of scholarship, and the way the present always stands in a tradition between the past, from which they receive it, and the future, to which they try to give it, was far from fanciful. “Making the connection” in that sense — succeeding in hearing and to some degree appreciating the past, succeeding in hearing and to some degree engaging the people who will carry on some element of the past, ideally the best of it, or at least the reasonably good and not the altogether worst — making that connection is a challenge and a charge, a vocation, that matters.

I am a sucker for that tradition talk. I loved How the Irish Saved Civilization; I loved the “tradition” lectures in seminary, learning the root meaning of the word as being “handing on” or “handing over,” learning to appreciate that process as dynamic and argumentative and critical and evaluative, not just a matter of rote recitation, and certainly not coming with any kind of guarantee. So I was quietly thrilled to be participating in this act of tradition.

That makes it all the more important, however, to get to work on the “what comes next” list — clarifying it, and getting busy on the tasks. Because the ceremonial boundaries may be what make the participation in the tradition of this kind visible. But the substance of it is all that modern-day equivalent of sitting in the drafty scriptorium with the ink freezing in the inkwell, tidying up the blot in “veritatem,” or dusting off the lid of that box . . . and getting to work on what’s inside.

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