USEREVIEW 126 (Capsule): Discipline n.v.
Discipline n.v. (Palimpsest Press, 2023)
ISBN: 978-1-99029-349-8 | 216 pp | $19.95 CAD / $18.95 USD | BUY Here
Recounting Concetta Principe’s struggle to complete her PhD in interdisciplinary humanities as a middle-aged woman, Discipline n.v. is a lyric memoir whose page-or-less-long sections often resemble prose poetry. At its most essayistic, the book explores the disreputable origins of modern social science and humanities disciplines alongside their development by postmodern theorists (Derrida, Lacan, Blanchot, etc.) and their deep roots in Greek and Judeo-Christian mythology. Other parts of Discipline n.v. read like ‘difficult’ poems, conveying Principe’s anecdotes and anxieties through a dense mesh of repetition, wordplay and literary and philosophical intertexts. Even if you don’t get all the references, these passages reveal Principe’s impressive and terrifying talent for mingling the figurative and literal meanings of loaded terms.
While Principe stresses her degree’s coincidence with the broader decline of humanities departments across North America, Discipline n.v. doesn’t offer much direct analysis of the latter. Instead, Principe conveys her discipline’s perspective through her references and writing style while overtly centring her individual journey. Personal experience stands in for sociocultural truths, an effect that’s enriched by Principe’s outstanding fortitude in addressing failure and embarrassment. Overall, Discipline n.v.’s greatest strength may be its refusal to succumb to the lie of a redemption arc — whether for the individual who suffers, or for the institution that enthralls her.
Alongside her passion for unbridled metaphor, some of the most striking passages in Discipline n.v. feature Principe at her most bitter, cynical and damning. In the section titled ‘Perspective,’ she diagnoses the slow and abject death of the humanities in contemporary postsecondary institutions (p. 161):
The wound of this imperialist beast of humanities smells: now on its side, breathing rapidly, the elephant in the room is ready for the mercy shot before being buried quickly to avoid contamination. Everyone ignores her, which lets her pain prolong. Who wants to be called a murderer of a massive tradition? […] I am right there, beside them, busy with my failures, smelling something. If I can smell it so profoundly, why can’t they? Maybe they have gotten used to the rot.