Dissertations: not worth all the hassle

Micha Frazer-Carroll 11 May 2016

“This dissertation is going to revolutionise the entirety of human existence. I do not only mean in the field of contemporary arts criticism and academia but also for the average person buying apples from the corner shop. This dissertation will revolutionise your existence too. I daresay, this is what genius must feel like.”

There’s a pressing exhilaration that prowls the pit of the stomach, howling from its hollow in ferocious tones to be freed when first embarking on an essay. It feels like the most important thing in the world with friends, family and any form of fun put on hold, and yet, in the grand scheme of things, such a perspective is probably overblown. In my world, it was placing artistic masterpieces under a medical knife, daring to analyse a tapestry piece in terms of its puncture wounds by will to impose a medical perspective on a medium typically more artistic. As you can see, whilst I may find this absolutely fascinating, sacrificing both sleep and sanity to pursue academic passion, the topic and title is often so obscure that, ultimately, whether we like to admit it or not, dissertations are destined for nothing more but gathering dust on a bookshelf.

The framework of interpretation may have finally been nailed down, but however firmly the ideas seem to be fixed, the frame will just keep faltering at the corners. The mind becomes muddled, most of its logic mixed up in a meagre cocktail lacking sense and conviction, drowning in the dirty mess of its own muddy puddle. We spend hours and hours squinting in the half-light of a lamp, desperate and determined to prove our point. Perhaps such effort is misplaced. However interesting the point may be, more often than not, in all honesty, it is irrelevant to the structure of reality. For me, it was the supposedly ground-breaking revelation that a piece of art may be analysed like a chronic infection or contamination, the analogy to a bedsore being the brick wall at which I was forced to finally turn back.

But then a stray idea will drift to the surface and dare to be dredged up into the light. At this point, the student may well lose the plot. I would passionately dissect the printed dissertation with a pair of scissors, ruthless and reckless in slicing out as many sentences as I dare, before pinning with surgical precision the strips of paper to a blank wall, stitching the argument safely back together. Sometimes I’d skim it over whilst spinning round on a chair or standing up, bending over backwards laid on my bed to read upside down in pursuit of new perspective. However in those fatal last few hours, when the clock is clinging desperately to the crumb of time that remained, the page submits itself to an intense staring exchange, silent and serious, never stepping out of sight.

As the sunlight skimmed across my skin for the first time since it was submitted, after a sleepless night solving with my subconscious the last syntactical niggles, I can say in calm and confident diction that perhaps it wasn’t actually worth all the hassle. The dissertation achieved a very good grade when it was submitted last year and was a very proud moment, however, perhaps locking myself in my room to live off tins and other canned preserves in solitary confinement whilst dodging the clutches of insanity is an experience that should be set aside for the apocalypse when it finally arrives.