I seldom look at my doctoral dissertation these days, mostly because I no longer consider it representative of my best work or agree with the analyses I made. But I wanted to check a reference for an article I was writing today, and I knew the quickest way would be to find my own bibliography. I was about the plug in the external hard drive where I’d saved it all those years ago when it occurred to me that it would probably be faster simply to get it from the University of Texas Library website. Unable immediately to remember the website address, I simply Googled my name and the title of my dissertation. I was nonplussed to get pages and pages of hits just from my own little paper from 2005. If you don’t find me at UT, there are innumerable other places that have my dissertation readily downloadable in PDF format at the click of a mouse. Even if –God forbid–the University of Texas were annihilated in an alien invasion or meteor collision, you could still read my dissertation.
That’s when it struck me how anything we publish, no matter how insignificant, is going to be there in plain sight in hundreds or thousands of databases and reference sites. It’s simply not possible to cover anything up now. 50 years ago, or even 20, a dissertation might have been printed and bound and consigned to a library archive more or less forever, probably unread. Even if someone did want to read it, he or she would have to go to some trouble with interlibrary loans and special permissions. By contrast, anyone who wants to can instantly access my writing and judge me accordingly. No matter that I did a lot of growing up and mind-changing since 2005. No matter that I’ve since listened to and accepted the criticism of a number of Shostakovich scholars (“An artist’s response to just criticism”? Ha, just my little Shostakovich in-joke). It’s out there for all to see and I can’t take it back.
With this gloomy thought in mind, I turn with unease and exponentially increasing attentiveness to the task of proofreading some of my current writing.