I experienced the Brown residency in July as a trope unpacking lesser tropes, including any subjective varieties one might be tempted to hold onto until death do us part. What is a trope anyway? While the dictionary describes it as a word or expression used in a different sense from that which properly belongs to it in order to give life or emphasis to an idea, the etymology of the term is more apropos here. The wanderings of “trope” include the Latin tropus, from Greek tropos turn, way, manner, style; akin to Greek trepein to turn, Latin trepit he turns, and perhaps Sanskrit trapate he is ashamed. While the Brown residency schedule allows no spare moments for indulging in shame, or anything else, it does mark a turn in studying for a doctorate since its purpose is to initiate the dissertation stage. Likewise, a few individual turns and turnabouts may be required of participants in order to release entrenched ways of thinking, or to turn away from whatever stray or unfounded intellectual posturing that might obstruct or stain (shamefully or otherwise) the validity of oneís own process.
Succinctly put, the Brown residency is an accounting, thematically speaking, of where you intend to go with your doctoral studies. To call the residency easy would be inaccurate, something on the scale of saying Schopenhauer loved Hegel, and since Schopenhauer variously described Hegel as “a charlatan, humbug, and windbag,” suffice it to say that the Brown residency both challenges and serves the first steps, however stumbling, towards a dissertation proposal. While usually something humorously supportive might be said for the advice of Saki (H.H. Munro), who knew a trope when it passed his window: “A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation,” inaccuracy or vagueness will not even get you to the cafeteria at the Brown residency. You need to be clear or at least moving towards clarity about where you are going.
The faculty—who were there to help each wandering soul find his or her way to a viable dissertation thesis—did not hesitate to point out how a swampland of an idea might contain, intellectually speaking, quicksand and potential disaster. I would hesitate to call it tough love. The collective erudition of George Smith and Margot Kelley is impressive, and each of them freely shared useful titles, questions, and advice.
Likewise, the intelligent guidance of IDSVA Executive Vice President Amy Curtis corralled any stampeding anxieties about practicalities. Having colleagues to talk with, in seminar and out, was near the top of the assets list. Working in the library and talking with a few residents confirmed that Brown University is indeed a longtime site of quality scholarship. The exhibitions at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design Museum provided a weekend treat, and the closing IDSVA dinner with the more advanced group just arriving to take their orals left a memorable stain of enjoyment as well.