On Squibhood and human scientists

June 1, 2010

Midterm for Syntax 2

I am enamored with the idea of squibs. This is not simply because of the name, I swear– though it does conjure rather interesting mental images. But I am enamored with the idea of academic writing that is witty, fun, chatty, smart, grounded in data, and not driven by some presupposed thesis. I love the idea of a scientific essay that comes with a punchline.

What I’ve posted is not exactly a squib. It’s not very good, for one thing– I skipped some data, didn’t quantify or formalize it very well, and got a little too caught up in the style to focus on the science.

It also has an extended conceit, in the manner of lyric poetry. I’ll be the first to admit that syntax homework and poetry should probably not be mixed when we’re getting graded on it.

But what about when we’re not?

What I propose is a new kind of squib: one in which the science is part of a narrative about our personal scientific processes, a story about ourselves. As any good linguist will tell you, we don’t come with an “off-switch.” We don’t ever stop thinking, angsting, flailing, arguing, observing, analyzing. Not when we’re asleep, not when we’re on a hot date, not when we’re out drinking with our buddies. The midterm I’ve posted is fictional, but not excessively so; and why can’t this be a new form, a new way to write, a new way to incorporate our science and our humanity so that it better reflects what we actually do with our time? Our best work doesn’t happen in a library cubicle with noise-canceling headphones, it happens in that hipster cafe with half a beer in front of us, it happens with screaming fights waking up the dozing actors on the next couch over, it happens on impulsive drives to Monterey and it happens in the tattoo parlor and the bedroom and the roof of the science building and the cave under the library. Why not write about that? Why not aim to please as well as edify, to teach and delight our readers?

My attempt was a failed one, this is sure in my mind. But it won’t be the last one, most especially now that I’ve had a few weeks and some feedback to help suss out where I’m trying to go with this. I’d be interested to hear what other linguists (or any kind of scientists) have to say about this, though.

One comment

  1. […] strength. To demonstrate how I felt about this, I accompanied it with a (singularly mediocre) “Midterm about Drinking.” This was my Syntax II midterm, which combined the actual assignment with a fictional narrative […]

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