Tuesday, 28 April 2009

How to Deal with the Others?

photo by: Ali Edwards

Wouldn't it be satisfying* to confuse a thesis examiner with the words of Frank O'Hara (a NY poet who features in my new book)?

I have a feeling that the philosophical reduction of reality to a dealable-with system so distorts life that one's "reward" (a minor one at that) is illness both from inside and from outside.

I should make it clear: I don't have to formally defend my thesis for a fair while (I haven't even submitted) and, truth be told, this week has been particularly positive and productive for me so I am all about picking up that dealable-with system and rubbing it all over my face and gleefully licking my fingers.

But I guess what this is all about is that I have some unhelpful uncertainty and defensiveness about the connection between your research, the research community, and potential audiences. I am certainly well past phase one (in which you attack the pre-existing scholarship as misguided and invalid as a defensive strategy), but I would like to have some healthier ways of thinking about "the others", other scholars, examiners and audiences (real or imagined), as I write. Please share.


*at least momentarily

13 comments:

Ink said...

That's very insightful to recognize the stages! The longer I write scholarly things, the more I feel it as a conversation with other voices. That helps in a variety of ways: I don't feel compelled to discount what others have done in order to make an argument and I don't feel threatened if someone else has talked near or on my specific topic. Now it's more about acknowledging what came before and offering new angles. It's hard to articulate, but I know that while I was writing my dissertation, I almost had a nervous breakdown whenever I'd see someone dancing close to what I wanted to say because then I felt I had to spiral off in a completely new direction. And now I am more welcoming, like, hey, they've said this and well-done there, but has anyone thought of it this way? I don't know if that helps at all, but there are some musings...

Oh, and I LOVE this poem by FH. Just taught it earlier this term! :)

Academic, Hopeful said...

Thanks Ink. You always have such sound advice. I feel I am coming closer to the 'well-done there' approach, far from my undergrad days when I would happily rip an expert apart as though his or her book had been the product of a weekend and not a lifetime.

That FH poem is in my book. Love too. I envy your job. Would love to know what you said about his work.

Ink said...

I realized later that I didn't address other audiences and that's what you were asking. So sorry about the longwinded part I up there. ;)

My only advice re: examiners and so forth is to look interested and thoughtful and nod while they give you their ideas, no matter how hard you have to grit your teeth to do so.

Good Enough Woman said...

I can't help much. I'm still in phase one, I think. But I really am clearly disagreeing with much of the current scholarship about my author. Then again, there are a few people who share part of my point of view, and it's nice to be able to say, "Look! Look! She/he agrees with me!" from time to time. But really, I can't help. So why I did comment? It's weakness. I've always been a hand-raiser. But I can tell you, when it's time for defense, I will be kind of scared I might get someone whose work I have challenged. Does the supervisor have a voice in picking the external examiner? I hope so.

Ink said...

Disagreeing with others is part of our work as scholars, right? So I should clarify that of course that's first because that's where we recognize what remains to be said. Or what should have been said. ;)

What I meant, though, was that I don't feel as though I have to *prove* them wrong, which I think I did feel at one point in order to be taken seriously.

Ink said...

Or maybe I'm still not being taken seriously but I just don't care anymore. Tra la la. ;)

Academic, Hopeful said...

Students are entitled to select both our examiners here. There are a lot of theories going around - eg don't pick people who are too young and competitive etc.

I think what has helped me a bit (and I should read this advice) is starting to think of the literature as helpful context and also try to see the limitations of the findings of others as a function of their research design and the debates that were contemporary for them rather than their poor logic etc. I would still like to be better at understanding how criticism works though as I seem to find it difficult to find that more mature, moderate ground.

Academic, Hopeful said...

No, I think you're onto something Ink. I think as your experience and confidence develop so does your appreciation of just how bloody difficult it is to make a sustained, systematic argument about anything. But of course, we have to critically engage with a set of debates somehow and show where our work sits in the literature.

Sometimes, however, I get a bit knocked around the head by the big theorists and start a whole series of paragraphs on how my work connects to theirs. It almost always leads to a load of rubbish and frustration.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Hey Inky and GW, I was just laughing with my boyfriend about how you two are my best friends in blogland.

Ink said...

Tee hee! Does that makes us BBFFs? Yay!

I just had an idea: how about you two pick ME to be your outside reader? You know I got your back! :)

Ok, on a serious note, I understand what you mean about articulating your position within the existing criticism and theory. It is difficult! There are so many different ways that people approach criticism that I'm not even sure there IS an explanation to "how criticism works" other than it offers a reading of a text. For example, think of two critics writing on the same text--one is 19 pages of theory and 1 page on the original text; the other is 20 pages of close reading with only glancing nods to theorists. Both are considered legitimate...

(It's so great that you're really thinking hard about the World of Literary Criticism! What a fun and intellectually stimulating place to groove! :)

Kate said...

I would echo all the thoughts about it being a conversation.

Perhaps I'm a bit perverse, but I like it when someone asks me the curly, "Well, what about X who sees it a totally different way?" question. I guess I like to think of their parameters as being catalysts for making me more diligent in defining my own. If X thinks abc, then I've got to be really clear in defining my boundaries against theirs, and understand (and respect!) their reasons. But not agree with them.

I like to think of it as a more mature post-grad status.

Can I also be a BFF?!

Academic, Hopeful said...

Thanks Kate and Ink. Tres helpful. And, Kate, you're a BFF anyway - the 'B' aspect is an unspoken extra between us.

Successful Researcher: How to Become One said...

:)