Greg Lawless on the print issue of Colloquium

colloquium printGreg Lawless (MAPH ’03) shares this lovely reflection on his MAPH experience, our own Hilary Strang, and being included in the recently-released print issue of Colloquium magazine.

An excerpt:

Colloquium collects, as disparately as MAPH itself, a bizarre but beautiful array of contents and people, and manifests something of the original stakes—the desire to know, to write something important, to try to figure IT out—that I so rarely experience these days, through no one’s fault but my own. But, well, I experience IT here, that original excitement, reading this great journal, and being a part of it, and being, in the best and fullest way possible, among my peers.

Read more below the cut, and be sure to check out the latest issue of Colloquium released November 7th.

You can read Greg’s poetry in Issue 2 of Colloquium, and you can find information on buying his books on his website. If you are interested in getting your own print copy of Colloquium, email colloquium@uchicago.edu.

It’s always nice to be published somewhere, still always nice, but never as exhilarating as it used to be, back when I was just out of grad school and almost every submission I sent out came back a “No,” or a “No thanks,” or even a “Yeah thanks but not really and don’t bother submitting to us again.”

From 2006 to 2007, my first year or so after my MFA program, I must have sent out 50 or 60 submissions, and I was rejected almost every time—but when I wasn’t, I felt, legitimately, thrilled to be included in whatever journal or zine was desperate enough to have me. I was not just thankful, but elated. Whole weeks, months even, would feel different, vivified, because of an acceptance letter. Of course, I would be a lunatic if I still felt that good every time. It takes a certain kind of innocence to feel that good, and that innocence, thankfully, is gone.

Well, almost, anyway.

For example, I just got a copy of Colloquium: The First Two Years (An Anthology) in the mail, and I am honored and thrilled (these are the right words!) to be included. Colloquium, aside from now being a great online alumni publication, is the weird, theory heavy initiation into the mystery cult of the University of Chicago’s Masters of Humanities Program (or MAPH). Back when I was in MAPH (2003-4), the program was run by Candace Vogler and Jay Schleusener, who seemed to me like they were put on earth to illustrate the vast and nearly incomprehensible difference between your typical greenhorn academic (us, the sad little students) and University of Chicago professors (them). During this two-week Colloquium (which preceded both our year-long masters program in general and our quarter-long course in theory in particular, also taught by Vogler and Schleusener), they lectured about the history of New York, the history of history, Poe, Baudelaire, Foucault maybe? Lacan maybe? and other sh-t that was designed to both shock us out of our old habits of thinking (that is, not really thinking at all) and demonstrate, rather cryptically, those new habits we could only pray to master.

Personally, I mastered nothing. Every once in a while I would feel the itch of discovery, only to sense it dissipate a second later, thinking, meanwhile, that I was doomed to always desire what I couldn’t have—this impasse, strangely, was the subject of Vogler and Schleusner’s twilight lectures, late in our first term, on Lacan, but by then I was too exhausted to appreciate the overlap between my personal frustrations and the larger (and destructively illustrative) frustrations of late-twentieth-century theory.

But in that Colloquium, that nervous and tentative start to my combined three-year caroming as a grad student, I met Hilary Strang, who was the preceptor (a position that functions more or less like a TA for a large lecture course) for about a dozen eclectic (I mean all but randomly affiliated) students who would write theses not only in different subjects, but in many different, very different disciplines altogether. We met to decipher Vogler and Schleusener’s lectures, with moderate success, and Hilary was, as far as I could tell, revered by everyone.

She was the bridge between humanity and brilliance that I needed in order to weather the program and, as a result, go on to finally learn how to write a poem, both at the U of C itself and, later, at my MFA program. She could translate Vogler and Schleusener’s lecture into exigent, fascinating, vitalizing discussions. (Hilary, I’m very happy to note, ultimately went from grad student to Deputy Director of MAPH, which shows that, at least 1% of the time, the right person gets the job.) What I didn’t know at the time, but I know now, and which Hilary writes about in her Foreword to Colloquium: The First Two Years…, is that she was on the verge of abandoning grad school when we met. Being dim, self-centered, and unobservant, I never would have guessed. She didn’t just seem like a good fit for a preceptor, but ideal for it.

Hilary’s Foreword (re)captures not just her story, but ours—the oddball, clunky synergy that, as far as I can tell, still animates the program today. She writes about that time, movingly, as a period of rediscovery, when scholarship and relationships, for her, fused together: “In precept discussions the group talked across each other, at each other and with each other, as if we were a room full of human beings who cared about what we were reading and thought there was some real stake in figuring it out, in living with it, in trying to learn something.” That’s right. I remember that, too, so well, though I hadn’t thought about that strange imperative—IT, trying to get to the bottom of it, and all the crooked romanticism involved in living with that obligation—for so long, until I read the above. And so, many years after the fact, Hilary’s rediscovery (of purpose, community, whatever) prompts my own more modest but important rediscovery of those same things.

Colloquium collects, as disparately as MAPH itself, a bizarre but beautiful array of contents and people, and manifests something of the original stakes—the desire to know, to write something important, to try to figure IT out—that I so rarely experience these days, through no one’s fault but my own. But, well, I experience IT here, that original excitement, reading this great journal, and being a part of it, and being, in the best and fullest way possible, among my peers.

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About Sarah

I am the Program Coordinator for the MA Program in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. I love baby animals and horror movies. Not necessarily together!!!

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