Wednesday, June 06, 2007


One of the difficulties of being at a smaller or comprehensive college or university is that you're usually nearly alone in your field. Yes, there are other, say, lit people, but it's not like we're all fully expert in 900 years plus of literature in English from the British Isles, the Americas, and post-colonial places such as India or Jamaica. There are commonalities between the ways one might approach Derek Walcott's work and Alexander Pope's work, but there are also substantial differences.

In most R1 places, there's a group of people working on post-colonial lit, and another group of 18th century folks, and so on, so there are lots of people who know the cultural and historical stuff you're interested in, who know different theoretical approaches, and so forth. Even so, my dissertation group involved an Americanist working on novels, a Brit Lit person working on early 20th century stuff, and me working on early modern drama. That was good because we could read critically, but also insist that the writers not assume we'd know everything, so as writers we learned important ways to tell a wider audience what we had to say. Still, everyone was in the same department, so we all spoke the same critical language to some extent.

A group of us folks from around the university formed a small reading group to give and get feedback on our writing. We're a bit more diverse area-wise than my grad school gang, and that diversity makes for some interesting reading and discussion.

Today we worked through a paper by one of our members. Let's just say it wasn't lit or anything like lit at all. It was fascinating.

Reading it made me hyper-conscious of how strong generic conventions in our different fields are. There were places in this paper where I'd put things in foot or endnotes, but this field tends not to use notes that way. Sometimes the paper used the passive voice in ways that sound artificial and strained to me, but evidently this is so strongly conventional, still, that it's necessary. (There were a few places where the writer decided to change voice to the active, too!)

In writing about early modern lit, we tend to use fairly long and discursive notes to show that we've read the background stuff, while keeping it from overwhelming our main argument. In this field, background stuff has to stand out more, which feels just strange to me.

Very cool to see a fairly mature writer's work in progress, I have to say, especially in a field where the writing as writing stands out for me (since I know diddly about the field itself).

No comments:

Post a Comment