Vitia turned four years old yesterday.
I started it as I began work on my dissertation prospectus, as an attempt to respond to one mentor’s advice that I write towards my dissertation at least twenty minutes each day, and I wanted to publicly keep myself honest. As I went along, I discovered that some of my best critics and respondents and interlocutors were out there on the Web, and that they actually wanted to respond to what I was trying to pull together — and for free!, and in smart and productive ways.
Vitia is a Latin noun, neuter plural, singular vitium, that means faults, sins, or abuses; so named because of my early grad school experience, wherein it seemed the model of the pinnacle of critical work was to find faults or flaws in a text, to find incoherencies or contradictions, and then to later demonstrate that those perceived faults or flaws were the moments of access into that text as a system. But I became uncomfortable with such a facile and reductive approach to doing Derrida lite, particularly after reading Mina Shaughnessy and the ways she attempts to inhabit the logic of writerly error, and so for me, attempts to focus on textual faults or sins (some faculty members at my current institution still unfortunately refer to the “seven deadly sins” of student writing and the “four horsemen” of evaluation: content, organization, style, and correctness) in student writing became abuses of that writing; became failures to honor it as writing.
I believe, though, that one can read student writing — and all writing — in smart, careful, critical, and generous ways that tread the line between Shaughnessy and Derrida; that perform what Mariolina Salvatori has characterized as the balance between the hermeneutic and deconstructive moves. Consciousness of sins and flaws is not necessarily abuse, but acknowledgment of the unfinished nature of all writing. There is, to borrow Leonard Cohen’s phrase, a crack in everything.
So the dissertation’s done, and I’ve made it through my first year as a professor intact, albeit a little ragged, a little tired. Yesterday also began my summer writing season, where I’d planned to try to fit in two essay-length scholarly projects, but two just became three with notification of approval for a co-authored piece, so I’m going to be busy. Four years done, and looking past this summer to the next four, the next reasonable project would be a first book. Something that addresses certain flaws, inconsistencies, and fissures at the intersection of economics, composition, technology, and class; that offers a set of critical possibilities rather than critical abuses. I’ve had a year to let the dissertation rest, to get some perspective, and I think it’s got enough in it to stand up to being overhauled into a book that I would want to write.
That won’t take four years, certainly. But it’s a start.