You Probably Think this Essay Is About You

by Deanna K. Kreisel (Doctor Waffle Blog)

A few years ago a brief blog post made the rounds on social media: the blogger had uploaded a photo of a single page of an academic book with the lead-in “This May Be the Best ‘Acknowledgments’ Section of All Time.” The page itself read:

I blame all of you. Writing this book has been an exercise in sustained suffering. The casual reader may, perhaps, exempt herself from excessive guilt, but for those of you who have played the larger role in prolonging my agonies with your encouragement and support, well … you know who you are, and you owe me.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha.

At first I found the performance mildly amusing, as presumably did all the people who retweeted it and posted it on Facebook. But after the quick flash of cynical recognition faded, it just depressed me. Yes it’s a good joke—of that particular genre of academic humor that pretends to be wryly self-deprecating but is really wryly self-congratulatory. (See, for example, the wonderful moment in 30 Rock when Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon comfort themselves after doing something particularly dastardly: “[Jack] We might not be the best people…. [Liz] But we’re not the worst! [In unison] Graduate students are the worst.”) Of course there’s nothing wrong with being self-congratulatory in an Acknowledgments section; that’s one of its core functions—the business of actually thanking people aside. What really depressed me about this one was the thought that its author, in the service of a joke, had thrown away his one opportunity to publicly express gratitude to the people who had supported and encouraged him throughout the arduous process of writing an academic monograph. Why would anyone do that? Read more »