Concetta Principe | Issue 27
Excerpt from DISCIPLINE n. v. A Lyric Dictionary
My failure does not start in the third year of my undergrad, first year at U of T, in my second year class on Chaucer. But I will start there since it’s relevant to my degree, my suffering (we all suffer), and the reason my application to the PhD program in English Literature at York University was rejected. It was a shock, rejection always is. I begged The Chair for an explanation. He was a medievalist, someone whose scholarship was on Arthurian Legend, who had probably aced Chaucer, so he was embarrassed for me when he explained my D in Chaucer “didn’t impress the committee.” That impression, in fact, led them to reject my application.
My doctoral degree started with a medieval failure.
My Chaucerian prof at U of T was affiliated with High Anglican Trinity College, the oldest and most prestigious college at the university. She was so High Anglican that she talked that way: chin lifted, trans-continental. Yes, she spoke the imperialist accent. I don’t think she used regular toilet paper. I don’t know if anyone liked her — she was old and of a different order. None of us were equal to her. Her bones were brittle, which is why she loped in with a cane and a broken hip on that first day of class. She was gracious after all: goodness, she had so much grace, much in the way a New England snob does. Almost a masonic, closed and very suspicious of foreigners. I was suspicious, in name and colour. I was the dago born of working class jeans, destined to be a salesclerk at Cotton Ginny.
Apparently, Chaucer said “K-nigh-t” as the Germans did. She loved to say it, all its consonants sticking as they rolled along her teeth and tongue.
I had also read Joyce’s Ulysses that third year of my undergrad, thanking god I’d read Homer’s Odyssey, and loving Joyce’s Penelope. For the first time, I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. K-nigh-t. A tale I would reread too many times to count.
The volatility of my personal relationship at the time, the anxiety of being abandoned, the anxiety of not knowing the future, the terror that I was destined to fail…
I failed my first assignment on Chaucer. In fact, the professor said that day she returned the essays, “if you have failed this assignment, I advise you to quit, now, while you’re ahead.” I couldn’t. Why? Because I only give up if I’m thrown off the boat. I didn’t drop out and was refused boarding to the doctorial ship because of my D, or disease. Or was it D+? A matter of a degree.
With the Disavowal of a King who is about to lose his kingdom, I turned from the ‘letter’ that said ‘no’ to my PhD application in English, and applied for an MA in the Humanities Program where I was accepted. I saw no significant difference between English Lit and Humanities. And unknowingly, I had become affiliated with all the MA MA’s in the world: the double Master.
WHY? — A WORKING THESIS QUESTION
Why would I walk straight into failure? Why wasn’t I smart enough to accept NO and walk away? That’s right. Why would I do something that was going to hurt me? Why wouldn’t I listen to my body? Why wouldn’t I heed my disordered thoughts? Why do any of us do things that hurt us?
Order Discipline N. V. from Palimpsest Press
Concetta Principe is an award winning poet and a scholar. Discipline N. V. just came out with Palimpsest Press (2023). Her next project is a book of poetry with Gordon Hill Press, titled Disorder (2024). Her first poetry collection, Interference, won the Bressani Award for poetry in 2000. She teaches at Trent University.
DISCIPLINE n. v. by Concetta Principe Palimpsest Press, 2023
Discipline n. v. is a lyric memoir that fuses poetry and academic theory, speaking to the metaphorical power of humanities scholarship. Throughout, Concetta Principe articulates the ‘discipline’ involved in earning a PhD while dealing with a mood disorder, opening up about prejudices that serve as barriers to academic success, the apotheosis being tenure. Embracing the Nachträglichkeit of the traumatic experience of being an old(er) female PhD candidate, Discipline n. v. is ultimately a story of lack and its transformative powers: the student becomes an academic as colonial humanities struggles through its extinction.
Praise for Discipline, n. v.
Discipline, n. v. is a gripping, ironic, groundbreaking expose of a woman's quest to be perceptually alive & embodied in the academy.
- Betsy Warland
In Discipline n. v., Concetta Principe (or her author effects, Betty or Lacan or Tiresias) whittles away at keywords for what and who is struck out (on strike) between disciplines of the neoliberal university, and spells out an intimate reminiscence of the university as its violent dehiscence – not least its dissimulation of inclusion, equity and diversity as a commodity form of our own. Chronicling what is indefensible, Principe makes of lyric a lingering space of insight keening, frustrated hunger and dogged refusal.
- Trish Salah
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