"Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric;
out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry."
W. B. Yeats
I am rent in two as my Yale days wane and wane. Plant life busts into bloom in varying degrees as the days pass. School traditions march forward as the weather warms. The other day we had our first real spring storm. I was sitting in the Saybrook common room, reading Dante and listening to another brilliant student play piano, and all of the sudden a deafening crack of thunder silenced the room, rolling in the skies for an eternity. Long flashes of lightning filled the sky purple, and students rushed into the common room soaked through - it seemed everyone had been caught unprepared. We have had some lovely warm days, but this was the first sign that the icy drizzles of our long winter would not return until next year.
I've ordered my cap and gown. I've cleared my course requirements with the registrar. I did not fill out a FAFSA for next year. I've ordered wedding invitations, picked out bridesmaid dresses, started the paperwork to legally change my name, purchased honeymoon tickets that return to a new address. The change that has been inching toward me gently and slowly is now here in a crack and a flash.
The other night I got to share some drinks with a group of dearest friends, and I offered a toast to the disagreements we've had during our time together here. The quarreling life of the academic. Committing oneself to advanced study means being in the constant state of putting an idea out there and inviting everyone you know to try to shoot it down. Often, your friends will succeed. In learning how to do this, you learn how to care a little bit less about being right, and, ideally, how to listen well when people want to take your argument apart. They will always be a little bit right and a little bit wrong, and then it's up to you to correct the mistake or learn how to say it better. It hurts a lot in the beginning, but at the end you realize that one of the greatest gifts of grad school is the opportunity to hear critiques from a whole host of people who are actually interested.
There are not a lot of places where genuine rhetoric ever happens. There are plenty of places of disagreement and arguing, but my time at Yale has been marked by the way quarrels have been productive. They don't tear things apart, they carefully peel away the unnecessary bits in an effort to make things stronger, bigger, broader. I'll say here that the fights have happened in love. I have many friends here who argue out of their love of the Good - they care about truth, they care about ethical and responsible truth-seeking, they care about conscientious scholarship. I have a few friends here whose arguments arise out of not only love of the Good but love of the arguer as well. The gravity of their words originates in a brand of charity that is aimed equally at ideas and the people who have them.
This is where Yeats' classifications of rhetoric and poetry have, for me, been conflated. The quarrels I have with myself have been nurtured here by the people who have cared as much about me - my self - as they have about the correctness of my thought. And they have honored our talks by committing their own selves to the conversations. It is perhaps the highest praise I can give this place, to crown my time here with rhetoric and poetry, and the gracious conflation of my quarrels with others and my quarrels with self.