Sunday, November 12, 2006

Curvy Road Ahead: Different Directions in Research

I was reading an article the other day by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne ("Virginity Always Comes Twice: Virginity & Profession, Virginity & Romance" in Maistresse of My Wit: Medieval Women, Modern Scholars) and one of the lines stuck with me: "...in the context of academic life, reading, writing, and effective speech are power and advancement, a fact which itself makes overvaluation of medieval female literacies and eloquence an inherent probability of scholarship on them" (341). At first, I bridled at this comment a bit; after all, I think that scholarship on medieval female literacies and eloquence has been way too long in coming in this field - I don't see the potential for "overvaluing" it. But what I ended up thinking was Wogan-Browne's main point in this statement - that we read what we most value into the subjects/texts we study - resonated with me. It's not a brand new statement or anything, but in her usual way, Wogan-Browne puts it very well (it's a very good article, by the way).

So, I filed that away in my mental rolodex among the other dust bunnies and went along my merry way. But I was thinking about it periodically in relation to my own work. Without giving too much away and being really general, my work focuses on what I would call medieval women's intellectual productions - not *writing* by women per se, but other kinds of intellectual, cultural, and literary productions or engagements. As I've been planning my next semester's classes, I kept wondering why I was having such a difficulty coming up with what, in my opinion, was a truly coherent schedule of readings and trajectory for the course. After all, it's very closely related to the work that I do (which is why I'm so jazzed about teaching it). But then I thought about the one big difference: this course is all about female embodiment and my work isn't.* I keep wanting to put in stuff that strays into other realms - realms where I usually take the texts we're reading. But that would be opening up a huge can of worms in an already jam-packed class (I had to cut the syllabus in half!). It's not that I can't teach it or anything, it's just that I started really noticing my tendencies, like a car that drifts to one side or the other when you take your hands of the wheel.

The past few days, I've also begun turning my mind toward another project - the potential contribution to my colleague's collection. This process has had a difficult, slightly muddled beginning as well. The collection is on a sub-field that I know only in a general way. I'm not even sure of what text I would write on because I ordinarily wouldn't gravitate to any of these works. I'm finding it difficult because I'm asking the same kinds of questions I usually would and it's not fitting into the scheme of the collection - I need to find a different way to ask my questions!! Or at least the kind that most interest me...

I wouldn't call any of these things epiphanies, but I feel like I'm getting a bit of an intellectual work-out, and that's good! I'm having to go back in time a little bit, it seems. Back to grad school where you wrote a term paper on whatever interested you most in the syllabus - hell, I used to be able to do that all the time! One of the best papers I ever wrote was on intertextuality in Charles Chesnutt and Mark Twain. But then, when the dissertation rolls around, you start fine tuning your own theoretical or interpretive approach and then it's hard to get out of that or revise it enough to make sense of an almost totally unrelated project.

When all is said and done, I might not be able to produce an abstract that would work for this collection in the time I have, but I'm appreciating the chance to stretch my wings a bit!

* Not to say that I don't value female embodiment or that I don't think that female embodiment and intellectual productions aren't inextricably linked in many ways in the Middle Ages...

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At 1:55 PM, Anonymous yank said...

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