St. Thomas of Aquinas spent years writing his Summa Theologica. Hundreds of pages, thousands of logical statements to prove God’s existence and interaction with the world rationally. Today, hard-core theologians (and slightly insane undergraduate students) wade their way through its pages, admiring the dedication one man had to understand foundational Christian theology. Before St. Thomas died, he wanted it burned. “It’s all straw” (paraphrase).
A master’s portfolio certainly isn’t a summa. But in compiling mine, I get the feeling my review board expects it to be a definitive statement of my cumulative knowledge. As if I remember everything inside, and that I believe everything I wrote to be true.
Maybe it’s the dregs of print culture creating these expectations—the belief that printed words are permanent, and I that I am somehow bound to them as long as they exist. However, I didn’t buy into my ideas even as I wrote the papers. Even my professors who have published comment on their surprise when someone brings up an idea they presented 10 to 20 years earlier. The expectation that someone holds an idea for so long does not give room for the possibility of individual growth.
So where do I find myself? I’m proud of what I’ve written. This portfolio demonstrates old analytical habits and new research interests. However, I’ll be glad to be done with this whole experience. I look forward to the final presentation so that it can be over.
Analytical thinking of archival concepts is important. The implementation of those concepts into professional practice is important. But sometimes I stop and think about how ridiculous it all is. One good fire can wipe out a library, museum, or archival repository. We’d be sad, just like we still get upset over the Library of Alexandria.
Why? Because we love the accumulation of knowledge and what it represents.
But why do we need it? To understand how to live better in the present.
At least, that’s what a humanities scholar might say.
But I wonder if the intense protective instincts aren’t another form of Babel. Then I think, let it burn. Let it be destroyed.
My portfolio will get lost in time. There’s no reason to keep it after it serves its function. But I’ll have a copy to sit on my shelf. It’ll be proof that I went to a school and tried for an advanced degree. I’ve invested a lot into it. But really. Really. It’s all nonsense.