Monday, February 04, 2008

Culling

For the past month, my work has been extremely directed -- taking paragraphs and moving them around, or rewriting, or (toward the end) shifting around sentences or rewording overgeneralizing words like "history." (It's amazing how many things "history" can mean, actually, if you are lazy and don't pay much attention.) Now, though, I'm operating under the assumption that my committee won't ask me to re-write that entire chapter, and starting to think about Chapter 2. Since, why not go in order? And less flippantly, because I think I need material that I'll develop in Chapter 2 to be able to write Chapters 3 and 4.*

And rereading my dissertation proposal today, I was struck by how MUCH I said I'd do in this chapter: first, provide historical background on a particular issue, focusing on author-researchers A, B, and C; then, discuss texts G and F; then, close with a particularly nifty meta-critical discussion of critics N and P. But the historical background section has the potential to be huge, especially since I am fascinated with author-researcher C and, before looking at the proposal, assumed he'd be on equal footing with G and F. Anyway, I'm looking at a large amount of work fundamentally different from the work of Chapter 1: in that case, I was focusing primarily on a single text, with digressions that always quickly fed back into the discussion of that text. Chapter 3 will, I think, work similarly; Chapter 4 will discuss a few different authors but without as much need for historical background.

Frankly, history frightens me: it seems like it has the potential to become infinitely engulfing, as though I could lose myself in historical context and forget about the rest. And the work I'm facing in the immediate future is the process of culling useful and interesting bits from the history. But I'm impatient; I like totality, and history seems unlikely to provide that sort of satisfaction.


* I'm a bit annoyed at myself for writing that self-congratulatory sentence, but I'll let it stand, since it's true. I feel like simply asserting that your literature dissertation has an overall argument (rather than existing as a number of relatively independent chapters) is self-congratulatory, but perhaps I'm translating my personal goal into a norm?

3 comments:

Sisyphus said...

Hmm, maybe chapter 2 will become two chapters during the process of writing it?

Or you could assume that your readers have a nodding acquaintance with the authors and history you are presenting them, and you will focus in this chapter on 1) only the bare minimum of background to give detail and 2)only those additional details that would be particularly new and interesting to your readers. You know --- instead of trying to present totality, you'd be telling a familiar story in a way calculated to be most new and interesting.

I might not be being entirely clear here.

kermitthefrog said...

No, that makes sense, and I think I'll probably end up taking the second option, since it is a moderately well-known story. Although that still means that to decide which details to include, *I* will need more than a nodding acquaintance with the history. :)

JD said...

I'm not sure that I have anything useful to add, in terms of experience or advice. But I should take your love of totality as an example, because I would happily let myself get mired in history, and your resistance is probably a very good thing.