When it was time to write my dissertation I turned back to my undergraduate professor, Claudio Rodríguez. CR was a poetic genius and the tendency of the Spanish critics was to condescend to him, especially his earlier work, so I attempted to prove that he knew what he was doing, that his poetry had a poetics behind it, a theory of language.
His work was not extensive, so I essentially interpreted the hell of it. The dissertation forms the scholar. I had had good ideas before, but this made me an expert on something. I published articles and a book from the dissertation with very little effort. It was not just a good enough dissertation: it was exactly what I wanted to write and I still think that it kicks ass.
The main formative phase of my life, then, occurred between the ages of 8-28. The part I liked most was college. Before then it felt like I was just waiting to go to college. Graduate school was formative but not enjoyable.
The formative person in my academic life was my father. In another post I'll have to talk about his role in making me into an academic.