The Throes of Dissertating

When I’ve not been traveling, I’ve spent most of my time this summer working on my dissertation. Today, I’ve been thinking about Simone Weil’s essay, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” as I push forward in this difficult task. Specifically, I appreciate the below passages because they speak to two difficulties of writing: acknowledging weakness and developing patience.

The second condition is to take great pains to examine squarely and to contemplate attentively and slowly each school task in which we have failed, seeing how unpleasing and second rate it is, without seeking any excuse or overlooking any mistake or any of our tutor’s corrections, trying to get down to the origin of each fault. There is a great temptation to do the opposite, to give a sideways glance at the corrected exercise if it is bad and to hide it forthwith. Most of us do this nearly always. We have to withstand this temptation. Incidentally, moreover, nothing is more necessary for academic success, because despite all our efforts, we work without making much progress when we refuse to give our attention to the faults we have made and our tutor’s corrections.

In every school exercise, there is a special way of waiting upon truth, setting our hearts upon it, yet not allowing ourselves to go out in search of it. There is a way of giving our attention to the data of a problem in geometry without trying to find the solution or to the words of a Latin or Greek text without trying to arrive at the meaning, a way of waiting, when we are writing, for the right word to come of itself at the end of our pen, while we merely reject all inadequate words.

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