Author Archives: stillman

Thesis Survival Mode

This was going to be a post about prom, which is in 2.5 weeks, and which will be a blast (seriously, you have no idea how much fun you’re going to have) but honestly we’re not there yet, and this time last year a blog post about anything but the thesis would have struck me as straight up annoying.  BUT, the thesis will be over and done with in two short weeks, and as nerve-wracking as that might sound, it also means you have something pretty spectacular to look forward to!

In the mean time, there are a few things I want to recommend, assuming the weather holds up.  First, head point-ward.  If you make plans – either with friends or with your superego – to hang out at the point with a beer in an opaque container of some sort, it means that you’ll have a clearly demarcated time before then to get work done.  And after that, you have a guilt-free (and essential) break!  The best thing about living in Hyde

Park is easily the point, and now is the time of year to start congratulating yourself on the neighborhood in which you live (after cursing about it for 7 months).  Even if you can’t get away from work, print out the thesis and bring it to the point with a beer, then mark it up with a pencil.  Just getting out side for a few hours will do wonders for your frame of mind, I promise!

For those of you in a position to head north, I want to plug the Pig.  The Bourgeois Pig is a cafe located inLincoln Park just a few blocks from the Fullerton stop: it has outdoor seating, excellent food, tolerable coffee, and most importantly, they let you sit there FOREVER without even noticing you.  So if what you need is somewhere WITHOUT INTERNET where you can just order a small coffee and be left alone, this is your place, especially if you also happen to need to eat at some point (which is something you should not be forgetting to do).

Hang in there, we’re in the home stretch!

Phil’s Miscellany

How’s it hanging, MAPH?  I’m just popping in to brighten your day with a few nice thoughts and useful observations!

Observation the First: Coffee at the Div School basement is only a dollar a re-fill, or a dollar a small, or a dollar for an americano (with two shots), and UNLIKE ALL THE REST OF THE COFFEE ON CAMPUS, it doesn’t taste like Heinz Baked Beans cooked in a toaster set on 10!

Thought B.  MAPH IS 86% OVER!  (That’s if you count by days starting with the beginning of the first week of the colloquium and end with convocation, which, after you consider the way that labor tends to distribute itself over time in this kind of work, actually makes the most sense.)  So, woo hoo!

FINALLY, I was f***ing BLOWN THE F*** AWAY by how good the thesis presentations were at the panel last night.  You’ve really developed into scholarly thinkers, and I bet if you take a second to compare what you’re intellectually capable of now with what you could do 250 days ago, you’ll feel pretty chuffed!

All the bext,


Works in Progress

Hi current MAPHERS,

Here we are in the middle of week three of Spring quarter, and though it might not feel like it just yet, the end is in sight!  You have been trained, taught, and you know how to slog your way through the most pretentious and name-droppy-est of “conversations.”  In short, you are on the verge of mastering the Humanities!  So let me take a moment to make a pitch for one skill-set you might not have had the chance to toy with yet, but which is, for at least some of you, in-di-spensable to your future work.  That’s right: Presentation!

Most things in life that matter, be they court cases, job talks, or little romantic hiccups, require you to present complex ideas in a way that other people can understand.  As for the working world, and certainly (but by no means solely) academia, we’re talking about the difference between fame and fortune and the opposites of those things.  If you can’t present your ideas to an audience, you have a problem.

Now, the easiest way to remedy this problem is NOT to simply dive into high-stakes public presentation, though this is what happens to most people.  The easiest way is to present your work to a group of supportive peers.  And guess what?  That’s EXACTLY what we’re inviting you to do on May 3rd at 5:30pm!

So send in your work and ask for a place in the Works in Progress Event!  If you make the time now, it will benefit you immeasurably!

Thar she blows!

Avast SeaMAPHs!

You’ve completed more-or-less two thirds of yer MA!  Congratulations to the lot a ya!  The end’s clearly in sight, and as I pass the wheel t’Amelia, I just want to pass on a few encouraging words about what’s left a the voyage ahead.

The worst’s behind ye, me maties, and those that haven’t lost yer wits’ll likely keep ’em, and those that have’ll have the chance to get ’em back!  As the warmer weather here abouts gets us all on deck more of’en, as the end of the thesis comes visible leaward, as the waters grow clear and the harpoons lighten in yer ever strengthen’n arms, the way itself’ll bright’n, I promise ye!

Fer now, here’s a thing t’keep yer perspective!

Don’t do anything!

Look at it!  Isn’t it horrible?  Isn’t it a disgusting SPACE PRISON!  This “building” (if it can so be called) is an excellent example of the psycho-neurotic architectural style known as Brutalism.  According to Ask Jeeves UK:

Theodore Dalrymple, a British author, physican, and political commentator, has written for City Journal that brutalist structures represent an artifact of European philosophical totalitarianism, a “spiritual, intellectual, and moral deformity.” He called the buildings “cold-hearted”, “inhuman”, “hideous”, and “monstrous”. He stated that the reinforced concrete “does not age gracefully but instead crumbles, stains, and decays”, which makes alternative building styles superior.[5]

Matthew Yglesias, a commentator at Think Progress, has argued that brutalist structures in Bostonsuch as its City Hall “sort of kill pleasant urbanist neighborhoods”.[6]

This fascistic monstrosity was design by one Walter Netsch, the mutilated result of what might once have been a human soul subjected to The Leenlau (boarding) School, MIT, and the US Army Corps of Engineers.  In addition to our beloved Reg, he is know for such stirring works of inhumanity as the (also space-aged) Cadet Chapel for the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Now that you have some sense of how this thing managed to excrementalize itself into existence, may I suggest that you deposit yourself within its carceral bowels post haste.  See it as your iron-clad defense against the sunshine, warm, and joy of the outside world.  Why go for a stroll,  sip your coffee as you take some time to consider all you have already accomplished this year, or leisurely eat a sandwich on a park bench when you could be adding your own small quantity of misery to the already unmanageable hideousness of the Joseph Regenstein Library?  Hmm?

How much is too much?

A recent study at the University of Chicago which tested the effects of reading on rats has shown that yes, it is possible for there to be “too much reading.”  The team of (Electro)Biologists published findings indicating that rats assigned more than 400 pages of contemporary English-language fiction in one week could not be relied upon to answer even simple questions about their reading consistently, while those assigned eighteenth or nineteenth century literature in similar quantities died.  (Rats assigned mediaeval or early modern literature did not seem to alter significantly from the expectations of scholars in the field.)  Perhaps the most startling result however was in the case of rats assigned large amounts of critical theory.  Those assigned Marxist theory divided into hostile groups (or “factions”), those assigned feminist theory ceased participating in the experiments, and those assigned psychoanalytic theory exhibited no alterations in behavior (research on this last group is ongoing).

When questioned about the implications of this study for human beings, the researchers provided a clear series of strategies for managing reading, aimed at individuals enrolled in graduate school in a reading-heavy field such as the Humanities.  Their recommendations are summarized below.

The “odd man out” strategy: If one is enrolled in three reading-heavy classes, they might focus on two of them and take the third a little easier.  This strategy is useful for those classes of which only one aspect is re;event to the student’s primary interests, so that the other aspects of the class may be lost without being missed too much, and an essay may still be produced at the end.

The “cherry picking” strategy: The savvy student may be able to locate the most essential components of the assigned reading to their own work without regard to what class they are for.  The advantage is a consistently high dose of relevant reading, but the disadvantages are numerous.  The student misses out on the advantages of the instructor’s pedagogical vision, they fail to encounter new material that might radically affect their thinking, and they might miss so much of one class that they have no essay to write at the end.

The “speed reading” strategy:  While the most labor intensive of the three, this strategy has the advantage of a particularly low loss rate.  The student employing this strategy simply reads most everything very quickly, only slowing down to actually think about what they are reading when something interesting pops up.  When employed in conjunction with the “odd man out,” this strategy seems to be the most effectively useful to many successful students.  The combination involves speed reading one course while reading the other two more carefully.  Or one might do this while also cherry picking, so that select other texts from the other courses are also speed read.

The most important point made by the report was the following one: if a student attempts to read every word assigned without at least speed reading some of it, they will rarely succeed from week to week.

Calling all lonely hearts…

Hi There!

As Valentine’s Day approaches many of us still find ourselves searching for that special someone.  That’s right, you know what I mean.  Someone to talk with, someone to share ideas with, someone who can criticize you when you need it, but who can also be supportive when the going gets rough.  Most of us need someone like that right about now, and for those who haven’t found him or her, I’ve decided to put together a list of tips and tricks to help you out.  And so, without further ado here’s Phil Stillman’s “How to Find and Retain Your Very Own Thesis Advisor.”

Step Number One – Figure out What Your Interests Are:  The most important thing you can do to snag a thesis advisor who you want to work with and who will want to work with you is figuring out what it is you want to think about for the next six months.  Monsters?  Affect Theory?  Japanese Philosophy?  Video games about shopping?  The obesity of cats in the contemporary American intimate sphere?  WHO you will work with is an impossible question to answer until you know WHAT it is you want to do.  This does not mean having a super clear idea of what your thesis will look like, it just means knowing what your likes and dislikes (long walks on the beach…)

Numero Dos – Get Some Discipline:  There are about a million and a half ways to do anything in academia, and it is important that you know your own style.  In other words, if you like thinking about groups and populations rather than individuals or specific art objects, but HATE math and science, DO NOT work with a sociologist.  If you want to work on Philosophy and Literature but aren’t into Analytic Philosophy, DO NOT work with a Philosopher.  What you need to know is who is reading who.  Like Derrida?  You probably want to work with someone in English, French, or Comparative Literary Studies, NOT Philosophy.  Hate literature?  Stick to Anthropology or History.  Etc.  Your chosen advisor is likely to lean pretty heavily on the conventions of their field, and their take on what that means might differ from yours, so be savvy!

Finally – Look for Someone Who Does What You Want To Do, and Who Does It How You Want To Do It:  Having gotten your own self sorted, the trick is to find a facilitator and critic of your work.  Your thesis advisor is not a coworker, not even really a teacher, they are a critic of your work.  Therefore, you need someone who you think can tell you what you’re doing wrong, and you don’t want to be criticized for doing what it is you want to do.  Remember: once they sign the form, they decide the grade, no negotiation.  Find someone who can call you out in a way you respect, someone who can make you be a better scholar by catching your mistakes without making you crazy.

At the end of the day, it’s all about you.  Make sure your advisor can facilitate YOU doing what YOU want!



You’re underdressed!

Hey there MAPHarinos!

The time has come.  You must BUY WINTER CLOTHES.  I know that the cold has been a little late coming this year, but that is why now is the time to act!  Go get those greatcoats and earmuffs before it gets cold enough for hipsters to realize that their formfitting American Apparel sweatshirts and retro giant headphones are no longer cutting the mustard.

WHERE you go sort of depends on you.  Do a search for the closest Sally Am, Village Thrift or Unique Thrift, check out the Brown Elephant in Andersonville, head up to Ragstock in Boy’s Town, or all the way to the Junior League Club in Evanston if you got a case a’ the ol’ upper-class aspirations and wanna try on some fancy people clothes, fresh off some fancy people.

WHAT you wear, on the other hand, isn’t so much up to you as it is an effect produced by the limitations of your body in relation to the changing environment.  (I don’t mean what you wear on YOUR other hand, I’m being figurative.)  Think of it as a kind of second-hand Darwinism.  (Again, I don’t mean YOUR second hand, I’m making a pun on “second-hand” clothes (to which this version of Darwinism might be applied) and “second-hand Darwinism” itself, which is another way of saying that, strictly speaking, this is not Darwinism proper.)  WHAT you wear is more of a nature-realizing-itself-through-the-illusion-of-your-particularity sort of thing, and having always seen myself as something of an “owl of Minerva” (given that I have trouble sleeping at night, and a weakness for strong, dark and intelligent type people, especially if they are named Minerva) I figure I’ll just go ahead and TELL you what nature is going to use your body to wear, regardless of WHO you are.  (That was another pun, this type based on both the anti-individualism theme of this post and the owl reference (which, by the way, is a reference to Hegel (“The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk” (which means that we only know things after the fact (it is dusk now, by the way) because Minerva is the goddess of wisdom (for the ancient Greeks)))) the owl reference also linking back to Darwin inso far as I’m talking about clever animals (like the pugs in the photo (which also make a joke of Darwin in obvious ways (they are not naturally selected and are inherently unhealthy (and wearing coats)))).)

You need a coat!  As big and warm as possible!  Layers get DAMN annoying when you are going into an out of hot buildings all day.

You need BOOTS!  It snows HUGE in these parts, and your feet will get wet, then freeze, and die, if you do not buy boots!  Go to an army surplus store if you can, my canadian army boots are still going after two Montreal winters and a year in Chicago.



Cool.  Ok.  That should do it.