Three(ish) weeks’ worth of updates
Almost a month after my first comprehensive exam readings post, and I’m finally back spewing words about my reading progress.
Of course, it’s taken me a month to realize why it’s so difficult to write consistently while reading and studying for exams. For one, it’s an amorphous, semi-lonely process, wherein I spend days at a time in my own head, conversing about ideas with the writers and characters and scholars of/in the books I’m reading. I am writing alongside these conversations but they are dashed off notes and fragments, marginalia scrawls, question marks and occasionally incoherent half-thoughts, ectoplasmic trailings of a possible dissertation idea.
All this brings me to a recent conversation from Rhet/Comp Research Methodologies, a class I’m auditing (and let me just say, auditing alongside this reading year has been my best decision so far). During a virtual conversation with scholar Brice Nordquist, we collectively asked for nitty-gritty tips on writing and researching during the dissertation process. His suggestion: write alongside the research. Write even if you don’t exactly know what you’re writing, because ultimately it will help in the long run, even if most ends up in the trash.
All of this was especially heartening to hear, in part because I am obviously terrible at writing alongside. Knowing that I’m not alone in finding the combination of writing/researching difficult, that in fact successful scholars also struggle with this, is reassuring.
I often forgot to use writing as a tool to think with, a tool to use alongside the research, not just as a tool to communicate with others. It’s good to work on this now, before the BIG DISS thing happens next year.
As for what I’ve discovered in the last three weeks, I’m going to make a quick hits list to wrap this post up, and then hopefully return next week with more cool anecdotes and ideas from this year of reading widely.
- Marie Corelli’s Wormwood is the wild, absinthe-driven ride I hoped it would be. We get pages upon pages of murder as-it-happens, a visit to a morgue and a description of the bodies, and an all-around weird journey alongside the absinteur, Gaston. My favourite moment, though, is Heloïse’s takedown of Gaston, in which she yells: “The world is still open to you; but on her it is shut for ever. You may sin as she has sinned, without even the plea of an overwhelming passion to excuse you,—and society will not turn its back on you! But it will scorn her for the evil it endures in you and in all men! Such is humanity’s scant justice!” (Broadview edition, 220). A damn fine observation.
- Patrick Brantlinger’s The Reading Lesson traces the effects of anxiety about mass literacy on novels like The Monk and Oliver Twist, among others from the 1790s-1890s. Most notable for me was his discussion of sensation novels, a form that makes reading corporeal. These works provoke anxiety precisely because they make contact with an “increasingly distant, unknown, and uncontrollable readership” (163-4).
- Diane Fuss’s Sense of an Interior just astounded me. There’s almost too much to say, so I’ll just include this line from her coda: “The recurrent interplay of subject and object in the space of writing reminds us that if the writer’s interior is a memorial chamber, it is also a living archive” (214).
- For that methodologies class I’m auditing, we’ve covered American by Paper by Kate Vieira and Brice Nordquist’s Literacy and Mobility: Complexity, Uncertainty, and Agency at the Nexus of High School and College. From a pedagogical perspective I enjoyed Nordquist’s work, especially for the on-the-ground data collection of riding alongside the students whose work he is examining. It puts that idea that we need to meet students where they’re at in stark relief. Vieira’s work is important, but I found myself wishing for more participant voices and more on the necessity of paper for immigrants in an ever-more-digitized world.
- Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words, a collection edited by Susan C. Jarratt and Lynn Worsham, feels just as essential today as it must’ve in 1998. Highlights for me were essays by Eileen E. Schell on the “ethics of care” in the comp classroom, Christy Desmet’s on feminist jurisprudence and equity, and Nedra Reynolds on interruption as a feminist tool (#feministkilljoy). The overall composition of the collection, with response essays after each section of the book, makes me wonder why every text doesn’t practice that kind of reflection.
Till next week!