(For Freud) A Case of Ak

Well it’s the end of another weekend. Sigh. And more relevantly, the end of another day of marking essays. Double sigh.

(An aside: growing up in Swaziland I had a friend, a brilliantly creative Danish-Hong Kongese boy called Hans. His father, who was Danish, got Donald Duck comics sent from Denmark so his son could keep up with the language. I was always jealous of Hans and those Donald Duck comics that made an exciting appearance every week or so. But the point is that the young boy Hans couldn’t always tell the difference – well, how should he? – between written and spoken Danish. So, often in conversation he would say “Ak”, or “suk”, the first being a written expression of what you say in a moment of extreme anxiety, the second being Danish for “sigh”. Hans used to ak and suk a lot and I did love him for it.)

Anyhow. As I was saying, it’s the end of this and that. But why the essay marking gets a double sigh is because what they keep getting wrong is how to use other people’s ideas. It’s the dreaded referencing issue. When you talk to them about it in class they get so distressed because they just don’t get it. They are so terrified of this legal thing called PLAGIARISM that they completely miss the point of learning to work with what someone else has said.

Then it occurred to me: that’s the whole point of academia. I’m talking career now. The pinnacle is not when you get this or that PhD, but when you can write a book without having to reference anymore. When you can discourse so fluently about other people’s ideas that there is no question that you have full authority to say what you’re saying. It’s like this: as soon as a 2nd year student mentions Freud, you demand a reference. It’s so hysterical that they can’t even mention the word “bias” without having to give a dictionary definition. But if it’s Susan Sontag talking Freud, that’s another case entirely. Or Edward Said. Or Jean Baudrillard. Or Terry Eagleton.

They have earned the right to stop referencing.


Postscript. I should mention that Hans’s father is still Danish, and to the best of my knowledge, the boy Hans has grown into a man who is still brilliant and creative. He even plays the saxophone.