I’m editing a PhD thesis for a student who is no longer living. He died within weeks of delivering the thesis to his advisor at the University of Toronto. It’s an eerie and painful thing to tamper with the highly developed and intelligent thinking of a man who likely split his guts open to formulate these thoughts, but who isn’t alive to reap rewards for his hard labour on the academic front.
Eerie and painful to not have him plot out the edit with me from the other end of a telephone. No one to answer my questions regarding his idiosyncratic style. No one to help unfold a roadmap toward greater clarity: the why’s, wherefore’s, and what-the-hells of probing academic arguments.
LEGAL GENEALOGIES OF AAFRICAN CANADIAN SUBJECTIVITY. There was a typo in the title.
The author of this PhD thesis was David Sealy. Here is the range of his knowledges: post-Marxist, post-colonial and post-structuralist theory, urban studies, legal studies, criminological studies…
[Take a breath.]
…popular culture studies, gender studies, race and psychoanalysis, and black diasporic, black Atlantic and black transnational studies.
His family has established a memorial scholarship in his name to assist students working in the field of black studies and social justice.
The Graduate Department of Criminology at the University of Toronto hired me to provide these editing services so his thesis can rest alongside other theses at Library & Archives Canada. One of the first things I did was research this man. I discovered that he was eulogized on CBC Radio’s The Late Show.
“David Sealy’s life was a celebration of ideas, pursued with dogged delight,” they said. “His influence on his fellow scholars and students was immeasurable… and imparted through the spoken word, in the rich tradition of stump speakers and Socratic riffs.”
Stump speaker? It comes from 19th century America when political candidates stood upon a sawed off tree stump to deliver a speech. This person would usually write a single speech to be delivered at most public appearances. The beginning of the speech is usually tweaked to include mentions of local elected officials and campaign staff, with local references sometimes peppered throughout, but most of the speech remains identical from day to day.
Socratic riffs? Sorry, I can’t come up with one of those that quickly. But if David were still alive, I could ask him and he would tell me. The only Socratic quote comes to mind is that old, stale one about what a bloody waste of time it is to live an unexamined life.