Buccaneer Academia

The reader of these pages should not look for detailed documentation of every word. In treating of the general problems of culture one is constantly obliged to undertake predatory incursions into provinces not sufficiently explored by the raider himself. To fill in all the gaps in my knowledge beforehand was out of the question for me. I had to write now, or not at all. And I wanted to write.

These are the concluding words of the Forward to the 1950 English translation of Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (1938). They jump out at me not only due to their style of writing but to their sentiment. Regardless of any purported translation deficiencies, this combination of colorful imagery, conversational style, and personal voice, all of which continue into the body of book, turn a complex sociological argument into (dare I say it?) playful literature. This is the sort of writing that makes Arthur Loesser's Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History (1954) so delightful. His description of the state of Europe after the Treaty of Westphalia has an undeniable snarkiness to it.

The violence had ceased now, but generations of small, mean living were ahead. Germany was broken: irrevocably split down the middle religiously, and politically shattered into three hundred fragments. Some of these were sizable realms such as the Kingdom of Saxony or the Kingdom of Bavaria, but most were pintsized principalities—"duodecimo states" they were contemptuously called later. Some had curious names that came unscrewed in the middle, such as Schwarzburg-Sonderhausen, Oettingen-Wallerstein, or Schaumburg-Lippe. Each was headed by an absolute sovereign princelet, who owed a theoretical and ceremonial allegiance to a Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, but who in practice did pretty much as he pleased with his domain. Each strutted about, affectionately coddling his ornamental army, his hunting apparatus, and his little orchestra.
Pieter Brugel the Elder "Children's Games" (1560). Also known as "The Yard Duty's Nightmare".

Pieter Brugel the Elder "Children's Games" (1560). Also known as "The Yard Duty's Nightmare".

Going back to Huizinga's example, I also appreciate the way in which he embraces incompletion or openendedness, and highlights the tension between intellectual objectivity and the pragmatism of putting pen to paper. True, it is possible that such sentences may simply be attempts to cover up sloppy or lazy scholarship. Or it could be a simultaneous application of scholarly bravery and humility. Based on the importance of Huizinga's work for later scholars in this area, I would hazard a guess that we are here dealing with the later. The sociologist Norbert Elias also falls into this category for me, with such seminal works as The Civilizing Process (1939) painting in broad and intelligent strokes while avoiding extreme or totalizing statements or conclusions.

  • What writers and styles of writing do you admire? Why?
  • What writers and styles of writing do you dislike? Because it's too pedantic? Too familiar?
  • As I look forward to a life of academic study, I hope that I can find the proper balance between research and writing. How do you negotiate this tension? Goals? Assessments?
  • When do you consider yourself ready and what gets you to that state? Mentors? Peers? Liquid courage?

Sources:

Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations. Hoboken: Wiley, 2000.

Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: The Beacon Press, 1950.

Loesser, Arthur. Men, Women and Pianos. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954.

The Writing of a Master's Thesis: A Series in Nine Photos

Someone discovered Instagram filters! And also wrote his Master's Thesis! Eternal thanks to my wife for reminding me to eat.

The thesis begins in relative cleanliness, nourishing itself on a diet of tea and succulent fruits.

The thesis begins in relative cleanliness, nourishing itself on a diet of tea and succulent fruits.

The chaos of disorder is held at bay by the addition of decorative flowers.

The chaos of disorder is held at bay by the addition of decorative flowers.

Though at first sight suspect, honey-avocado sandwiches give the thesis the energy it needs.

Though at first sight suspect, honey-avocado sandwiches give the thesis the energy it needs.

A battery of orchids, cinnamon-swirl bread, and inspirational quotation pictures buoy the thesis in perseverance. 

A battery of orchids, cinnamon-swirl bread, and inspirational quotation pictures buoy the thesis in perseverance. 

Cue the Joe-Joe's! Maybe the bag of rock-hard dry apricots balance out the jolt of sugary goodness.

Cue the Joe-Joe's! Maybe the bag of rock-hard dry apricots balance out the jolt of sugary goodness.

Peanut butter/banana smoothie... fresh in the blender!

Peanut butter/banana smoothie... fresh in the blender!

When the sun comes out, the thesis would be completely daft not to take advantage of it. It feels perfectly at home with other animals, such as the noble, grass-devouring labrador, with whom the thesis has a symbiotic, don't-bother-me-now relationship. 

When the sun comes out, the thesis would be completely daft not to take advantage of it. It feels perfectly at home with other animals, such as the noble, grass-devouring labrador, with whom the thesis has a symbiotic, don't-bother-me-now relationship. 

At this stage in the life of the thesis, trail mix can either be eaten by the handful, or all the dried cherries can be picked out individually. Just be careful of drinking water with all that dried fruit.

At this stage in the life of the thesis, trail mix can either be eaten by the handful, or all the dried cherries can be picked out individually. Just be careful of drinking water with all that dried fruit.

The printed thesis seems harmless enough. All the books, blenders, cups, plates, and orchids have been packed. Even the table is being sold. Look for your own copy of the thesis wherever unpublished academic resources are sold/loaned/provided online.

The printed thesis seems harmless enough. All the books, blenders, cups, plates, and orchids have been packed. Even the table is being sold. Look for your own copy of the thesis wherever unpublished academic resources are sold/loaned/provided online.