I just spent the better part of the afternoon in Wilson library, on the lovely West Bank part of campus. I've taken to doing my work on the 3rd floor, stationed in close proximity to and in direct line of sight of the M.A. and Ph.D theses. This has been both disheartening and galvanizing. When I worry that I will never find anything else to say on this subject, that I've belabored my points over and over again, I slide over to those dissertations -- and there's more than I ever imagined -- that are, shall we say, a little on the slim side. Seriously, folks. There are some glorified pamphlets over there, and if those motherfuckers got out, then I can, too.
At the same time, I'll often pull down one of the more impressive of the recent crop (I'm trying to limit myself to people I know; and for the most part, my friends were a little tardy in getting these things together. The class of '96 was not the most...ambitious of scholars. We were/are, however, the best looking. There are some real monkey people on campus these days) and flip through a chapter or two and think to myself: I could produce something like this. I just need to apply myself. If I am going to have some collection of pages tightly bound in black and with my name stamped on the spine sitting on these shelves for the next several years (at least until they run out of space upstairs and the 2006 theses get rotated down into sub-basement storage) then that shit better be worth some future hypothetical loser thumbing through it.
At any rate, the best thing about looking through old theses is the acknowledgment section. I'm sure that there are others like me out there, who read books from the outside in -- acknowledgments and index first, then textmeat second -- right? Because it often reveals quite a lot about the approach or biases or unseen connections that you will find in the text proper. I began doing this not long after coming to graduate school, when I realized that the professors I came into contact with every day were people with reputations/interests/work outside of ENGL 8011: Introduction to Literary Theory. At some point, I developed this ludicrous parochialism in re: professors I knew. For instance: having done work in whiteness studies, I knew how important someone like David Roediger was, so I unconsciously but immediately dismissed any book on white [American] masculinity that didn't list him in the index. I became more aware of the scope of certain fields but at the same time became very territorial. I still look for my advisor's name in the acknowledgements section of books produced by academics I know studied under him. This is the bougie girl's version of "I don't eat everybody's potato salad." In academe, as in life, you got to come correct. In the words of JT Money, you better tell me who you wit'.
Hell, I even do this with fiction. After Oisin and I started hanging, I started scanning recent sf (primarily UK imprints, I'll admit) for expressions of gratitude for his superb editing skills. When I found one (in Salt, I believe, by Adam Roberts), I almost felt like I was getting a shout out.
I'm excited to pen my own acknowledgments page(s). Having skimmed others, I can now say with some certainty that you need to think long and hard about who you allude to obliquely, and who you call out by name. I can tell you right now, if I had finished this thing on time, some punk asses who don't deserve the breath they are breathing right now might have been immortalized in black and white. As it is, the only person I know that I'll include is Orlando.