Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I imagine this will have several more parts over the coming four years.

Tonight in class we discussed our proposals for our final papers. The proposals were collated by the professor and sent out in advance of the class so that we had a chance to read and comment on them. I found it quite interesting to read through the ideas, although at first I felt that my proposal didn't quite fit in with the general tone of the rest of the class. I drew on my discussion in this entry in crafting my proposal (this blog just proved itself useful!), and it seemed like I was, for the first time, presenting not just an idea for a paper, but an articulation of my scholarly persona and intellectual project.

The format for class tonight was simple: after some introductory remarks from the professor about several common-to-us-as-a-group critical and rhetorical moves to avoid in our writing, we spent about 15 minutes on each student's proposal, offering feedback and asking questions to help the author develop/clarify/strengthen/support his or her ideas. When it was my turn, I was a little nervous. As I said before, my proposal seemed slightly different in terms of presentation, end goal, and framework, and I was worried that I might not get useful feedback because of those differences. I need not have feared on that count, though, as my classmates (and the professor) were quite helpful and very supportive. What I should have feared (and what I quickly became terrified about as I spoke about my idea for the paper) is the nature of my project. As people asked questions and got me to clarify my goals for the paper, my claim seemed to get bolder and bolder and to take on an increasingly polemical tone. I kept thinking “Trying to get this published would be the end of me before I've ever started!” (I know, I'm counting ridiculous numbers of chickens before they hatch). At the break, though, the professor and I spoke briefly about where I was coming from, and the comments were largely positive and motivational: “As you kept talking and the stakes kept getting higher, I became more and more interested in what you're doing. Maybe there's something to be said for just putting your head down and going forward with this.”

I appreciate the support, but I'm still a bit daunted by what I've set up for myself. I guess it was a different experience articulating just what the stakes of my project are from writing the words on a page. As I made my way home on the bus, I wondered if there might be a smaller, easier way to dip my toe into everything before I dove in the deep end. A classmate's paper, though, dealt with arguably an even more difficult (and potentially explosive and controversial) idea with some grace and elegance. The author didn't shy away from the potential for negative reactions to the argument. She understands her scholarly identity and its potential pitfalls, and she's willing to put her head down and go forward with her work. I'm kind of in awe. Perhaps it's just that she's older than me, but I envy her calm and poise when tackling a thorny issue. I don't necessarily agree with her work (nor would I necessarily read novels in the same way that she does), but I appreciate what she's trying to do and why, and I'm glad I could see the way she handled questions about her project. I hope that as I grow into my scholarly skin (now that I seem to be gaining a sense of what that is) I will become more confident and less terrified, because right now I feel terribly unsure and as if I'm inviting doom upon myself.

1 comment:

  1. Ohhhhh, now I'm excited to find out what this paper is about!

    And are you, by chance, referring to Self-Loathing in the above-mentioned praise? I shudder to think so.

    Scholarly skin - is that the weird growth I noticed on your face yesterday . . . ? (I am so funny!)