Thursday, June 21, 2007

This Is Your Blurb!

Just before you go on the academic job market, everyone tells you that one of the most important things you can do is to figure out a way to distill and encapsulate your entire project into a roughly 2 minute soundbite, otherwise known as a "blurb." This is a difficult, but immensely practical, endeavor. Chances are that you are the only person who is actually interested to hear all the gory details of your fine research point in footnote 245. So, you take all that work you've done, you throw away the bones and you get to the meat of the matter. No frills, no subtleties, no "problematizing" or "calling-into-question" or "investigating-the-limits-of"... just the facts, maam. And then you repeat your blurb over and over again to yourself, then to your friends, then to your potential employers, then to your committee, until it flows from your lips automatically and you hardly notice anymore the ideological hatchet job underlying it. It just becomes second-nature, like belching.

What people are less aware of, in my view, is the need to also develop what I will call the Minor Blurb. Now, as everyong knows, the Major Blurb is the one you use to get a job, to show off to your academic friends, and to introduce yourself at conferences. To use some terminology that I hate, the Major Blurb is the ready-to-hand (sometimes, present-at-hand) tool that aids in the worlding of your world. But, the truth is, your non-academic friends and acquaintances won't understand your Major Blurb. If I were to say to my new neighbors, for example, that I "deconstruct the concepts of truth, forgiveness and memory in order to investigate the aporetic nature of social and political decision-making"... well, all they would probably hear is that I "blah the blahdee blah, blah, blah in order to blahdidee blah blah."

Especially for those of us in philosophy, the quagmire immediately following the question "so what do you do?" is already familiar. If you are lucky enough to get past the next stage ("I am a doctor of philosophy in philosophy.") without any visible bruises or having to explain that, no, that doesn't mean that you can offer counseling to your interrogator or prescribe him/her drugs, then my advice would be to prepare yourself for the next question: "What kind of philosopht do you do?" IMMEDIATELY DISCARD THE MAJOR BLURB! Here, the Minor Blurb is your friend and your shield. Make sure that you have it handy, that you've practiced it to the point that it's all shiny and pretty, and then deliver it quickly, confidently, and without any eye contact that might encourage subsequent questions.

Then, I suggest you follow-up with something like, "so, do you think it's going to rain this afternoon?"


Anonymous said...

The question is what to do with the person from Minor Blurb group who spurns Minor Blurb with a sort of suspicion that Minor Blurb is not all you're up to, thus luring you into some variation of Major Blurb (which does indeed sound like blah blahdee blah) and then doesn't understand why you just can't be more clear about Major Blurb? Am I the only one who runs into this person?

LEIGH said...

A very difficult question, Mel. And yes, I know the type. This is the same person who, in reponse to learning that you teach philosophy, regales you with his or her take on "God is dead" from 25 years ago.

There doesn't seem to be much in-between, I'm afraid. Either your interlocutor is Major Blurban or a Minor one. There is no Major Sublurban (like those people who don't really live in the city, but still act as if they're not in the suburbs.)

The trick, I think, is just to reformulate the Minor Blurb as if you were presenting the Major Blurb, but still maintaining the structure and vocabulary of the Minor Blurb. You preface it with something like this: "Well, most people aren't intelligent enough to get it when I put it this way, but you'll obviously understand when I say blahdiddy blah blah."

petya said...

I have been experiencing very similar problems trying to explain my current job. Technology is very intimidating to a lot of people so you need to be careful not to overwhelm them by getting too technical about what you do. At the same time, because so many people ARE online and are very tech-savy, you need to make sure you don't insult their intelligence.

LEIGH said...

Petya: you may have an even bigger dilemma than academics do! and, for the record, i'm probably one of those people who needs your Minor Blurb but (mistakenly) believes i deserve the Major Blurb. Alas, hubris....