I had cause to read a colleague's article proposal and talked to him about it recently. The article was about a short story by an author who also wrote a fairly famous novel. The author wrote an introduction to the short story collection in which this particular short story is printed.
My colleague's proposal looks at what the author has to say about the story, and then makes an argument about how the story works. Yeah, vague, sorry.
What was really cool was that there were all these things I knew just enough about to ask good questions (well, I think they were good, and my colleague said he did, too).
For one thing, I think I trust what authors say about their work less than some folks do. It's not that I don't think authors might have interesting insights, but I don't automatically think authors have full insight even into their own writings. (Nope, I especially don't trust Spenser!) We had an interesting discussion about the way my colleague was framing his argument, and I think it's going to be really interesting.
In a way, knowing relatively little about the period means I need to ask questions about historical and cultural contexts that (I hope) helped my colleague see some potential connections.
One of the amusing things about the cultural/historical thing was that in my cultural questioning, knowing relatively little as I do, I had to call on my pathetic high school English class knowledge, which meant, of course, that the one example I had was of an author who pretty much strikes me as intensely misogynistic and nasty, and very canonical. (And, this Mr. Canon was one of the authors I hated reading in high school, when I pretty much hated reading everything assigned.)
But I actually think that ended up being really interesting because my colleague's work is on a far less canonical author, one who maybe stands in real contrast to Mr. Canon. Or maybe reacts to Mr. Canon, or influences him?
Responding to a colleague's work is fun in a way that responding to a students work rarely is because you can just go to town with ideas, and know that it's not my responsibility to grade the end result. And, of course, my colleague's work is more intellectually challenging and mature.