Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Go Back to the Text


To this point in my dissertation process, I have run up against a number of difficulties that are not out of the ordinary for someone tackling a project of this scope for the first time. But there is one battle that I continue to fight over and over again, even though I have been conscious of it since the first draft of my first chapter. I call it "the framing/theory battle."

What happens is this: I find myself spending way too much time and energy framing/theorizing my analysis of whatever primary text I am analyzing to the point that the primary text itself gets lost in the shuffle. I have had the great fortune to work with a committee and with other readers who remind me to "go back to the text."

When I go back to the primary text (and this might look different for all of us depending on our discipline) I always find that things break loose. By that I mean that the primary text always breaks up my mental log jam because it is inevitably the source of the idea I'm trying to work out through a host of other theoretical/historical/philosophical sources.

Going back to the primary text usually involves identifying the most important passages that I'm analyzing, and then writing close readings of those passages. Next, I map out those specific passages in relation to the larger text as a whole. Finally, I go back to whatever I'm writing (usually chapters right now) and pretend like the primary text IS my frame and slowly layer in the theory, history, philosophy, sociology, whatever.

Without fail, I will end up rewriting the actual prose I produce as a result of going back to the text. BUT without going back to the text I find that I wouldn't have produced much prose anyways.

Go back to the text, it's holding everything else up anyway!

2 comments:

  1. You have an uncanny way of always putting your finger on the very problem that I am dealing with/navigating at any one moment. Thanks for the sage advice!

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  2. What great advice Matt! It seems like this is also a good strategy to keep your voice as the primary one in the writing process, instead of letting it get lost among the other critics and theorists. This will save you a lot of trouble down the road when you'll have to untangle your voice from theirs anyways if you turn the diss into a book (as I'm discovering).

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