case of the missing dissertation chapter*

The quarter was winding down and the time approaching when I should submit my newest chapter for review by my committee. One small problem, however, had presented itself: the chapter was nowhere to be found. Another opportunity to exercise my detective skills, I thought.

In past cases, a mischievous feline emerged as likeliest suspect. In others, a clumsy friend. This time, I felt sure a similarly simple solution was at hand. Oh, how wrong I was.

I checked my desk at home from top to bottom, then scoured the house for further clues, making certain to check the hiding spots favored recently by said feline: under the bed, under the sofa, under the chairs, behind the toilet, and in the bathtub. No luck. I then moved the investigation to the campus area, and went over my office with a fine-toothed comb. Nothing to find in either home or campus workspace but empty beverage receptacles, unopened junk mail, and several cat-hair tumbleweeds.

I almost concluded that I had perhaps not written the chapter after all, but then I came to my senses. How could I have made such an oversight? The answer, readers, was that I could not. I would never live that dangerously. So what had become of the dissertation chapter?

After some serious reflection, hard-boiled style (i.e plus whiskey), I determined that the question of the chapter was a more complex matter than one of mere location. As Umberto Eco has famously argued, language can be used to speak of both the non-existent and the destroyed: nulla rosa est. The act of naming something both constitutes and obliterates its existence. And, in a Nietzschean vein, words are but empty shells, whose connection to that which they represent has long since worn off. All language is a lie. Intellect’s most universal effect is deception. And so on.

The chapter, therefore, in being named, both exists and does not. Nomina nuda tenemos. The act of writing the chapter would, in its very dependence on the vehicle of language, be incapable of producing the chapter without simultaneously invalidating its own existence.

In the end it was a simple solution: best not to submit the damned thing at all.

Case Status: Closed

*(or: ? la recherche du chapitre perdu)
(or: nulla liber est)
(or: my 100th post!)


  1. You’re right, SA. It sucks. But it’s not quite as stupid as having a conversation with myself via the comment function.

    So long, sucka! I am off to read my Faulkner now. I feel I deserve it after yesterday’s prolonged intimacy with that insufferable bastard, Proust. *shudder*


  2. HAPPY !))TH POST!!!!!!!!!

    oops, i mean

    HAPPY 100TH POST!!!!!!!!!

    and talking to yourself is a sign of intelligence, right mel? absolutely mel, that’s what i always say.


  3. He was, I think. I haven’t seen that one in a while, maybe I should see it again. And yes, Billy (my secret boyfriend) is pretty darn great. I think I am going to come up with a list of my favorite phrases and neologisms from him. Hm.


  4. Oh, HB, it’s a great game. Mel and Clarabella and I invented it–we are very clever, you see. All you have to do is choose a person (or thing or idea) hated by someone, and tell him or her that said person/thing/idea is his/her “concubine.” For example, Hungbunny, Bob Dylan is your concubine.

    Coming up with this game was truly an inspired moment, I tell you what.


  5. Now, porcupines–we’ll have to ask Mel.

    And Tony: “Neologism” is one of my all time favorite words. If you try saying it, though, people just “huh” you. People!


  6. ahhh the concubine game. sorry i missed out on the exchange. however, to give mel credit, i believe the ‘porcupine’ move is a solid one. as the polar opposite to concubines, of course, such as “dr. phil is my concubine” and “philly the kid is my porcupine;” because, if you’ll remember, one of the goals of the game was to think of the most detestable concubine for the person being addressed. anyway, what an inspired undergrad moment, i agree. kudos to mel for the years and years later addendum to the rules of the game.
    p.s. no one here in the dirty south gets it.


  7. Sigh, the dirty South. At least the magnolias grow properly down there, though.

    And yeah, I am warming to the addition of the porcupine to the rules of the game. What’s a good game if it isn’t dynamic, changing with the times, and so on?


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