I know one thing: that I know nothing

My MA classes started two weeks ago and while some of the initial trepidation (read: screaming anxiety) has mercifully dissipated, I still feel rather daunted by the whole thing. This week, while reading a Karl Marx essay, followed by a Dorothy Richardson short story, I felt very much as though I had forgotten how to read English – or perhaps that the texts on offer were in Klingon. (I’m still not convinced that Ulysses isn’t in Klingon.)

Adding to that sense of intimidation is the fact that everyone in my seminar group has had some kind of educational exposure to modernist literature, whereas I, the intrepid Creative Writing graduate (why, 18-year-old-me, why) am approaching this brand new, treacle-dense subject on awkward, clumsy feet. So it was a relief to sit down this week next to an English teacher embarking on the same MA, and to hear her express how difficult she’d found the assigned reading. (And then for the seminar tutor to admit it had taken her multiple reads to penetrate the meaning of it.)

Perhaps….whispering, so that the imposter syndrome won’t hear…perhaps I’m not thick after all. Perhaps it really is just difficult.

That’s a small comfort – I still have essays to write and plenty of texts ahead to wrap my already-tired brain around (though having been diagnosed & started on thyroxine this very week I’m hoping the tiredness will abate enough to allow more study!) But it is a comfort nonetheless. As I have been reminded, I am here to learn. The point of an MA isn’t to go in knowing everything already. And although it can be a knock to the confidence when everyone else in class knows X writer, or has read Y text, and I am sitting there clueless, I have to remember that everyone has to start somewhere.

(It’s not all crushingly overwhelming. I’ve already found my love for Virginia Woolf reinforced and have discovered things about William Morris – designer, sci-fi writer, ecosocialist and all-round top bloke – that I didn’t previously know, and which I find fascinating.)

4 thoughts on “I know one thing: that I know nothing

  1. My sister still says she feels like that, despite the phd. I’ve still to get past that stage with undergrad study – I think I’ve taken a gap life. Seems to me that, if you’re not scared and daunted, you’re not getting something.

    I also hope the new meds help – it’s a bugger knowing you’d have a better grip if the body would only play ball a teensy bit more.

  2. I only have a BA, but this resonated with me, giving me flashbacks to my Intro to Literary Criticism course… Ironically, that became the most useful, most transformative course in Literature I have ever taken, and I recommend such to you. While the brain gets turned inside out, when the baking stops it is like a whole new world opens up in reading dense texts… Literature is now much improved and imminently more interesting!

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