Sunday, February 27, 2011

All Ears

I just finished my Sunday morning read of your blogs and am both encouraged and discouraged.

Encouraged by the excellent progress some of you have made with practical issues (Kate, congratulations on the internship; Jessica, congratulations on the peace and justice studies funding). Encouraged by the emerging annotated bibliographies in some cases.

Discouraged where there seems to be little progress.

What makes the difference?

I've been reading a 1965 Croatian novel just translated into English. The image on the cover (taken from some odd thoughts of the main character) is of two ears that seem to be listening. Listening for what?

For our purposes, they might stand for the acute attention required as we sift the universe for the information that will make us experts on our subjects. They might stand for curiosity, without which we'll find nothing. They mean, for me, the intense awareness required as I work on my own projects. When I'm all ears, I hear a lot of good stuff.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Annotate, Annotate, Annotate

My Sunday morning review of the class blogs has treated me to many encouraging signs of progress, including some posts of emerging annotated bibliographies. No matter the type of thesis you are pursuing--artsy, money-making, activist, scientific, metaphysical, all the above--it is always a good idea to document and annotate every aspect of the research along the way to the finished project. With that in mind, I encourage those of you who haven't yet posted the beginnings of your annotated bibliographies to let us in on your progress on that front, and I encourage those of you who have given us a glimpse of what and how you're collecting your supporting information to expand and continue the posts.

Here's a couple of excerpts from good ol' Wikipedia's entries on "annotation" and "annotated bibliography" to remind you of what we're talking about here:

"Annotated bibliographies, give descriptions about how each source is useful to an author in constructing a paper or argument. Creating these comments, usually a few sentences long, establishes a summary for and expresses the relevance of each source prior to writing. . . .

The purpose of annotations is to provide the reader with a summary and an evaluation of the source. In order to write a successful annotation, each summary must be concise. An annotation should display the source's central idea(s) and give the reader a general idea of what the source is about."

I would like all of you particularly to consider the potential role of the source (human, text, cybertext, multimedia, whatever) to your finished project, whether as contribution, signpost, or even an instructive dead-end.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Highlights of the Week

Last night I had the pleasure of reading this week's additions to the thesis blogs. I say pleasure because there were many of them that showed good progress. Just a couple of what felt to me like highlights:

Leah reports that she sent off her application to work this summer at a Georgia aquarium that houses whalesharks. Obviously the kind of work that will lead to a good thesis and, in Leah's case, to a potential dilemma: what if she has to decide between two internships? My comment was that her kind of dilemma is a sure sign of progress.

Drew writes that he has an actual event -- for next Halloween -- to plan. That's a remarkable step from vague potential.

Van has moved in the last couple of posts in his thinking about insanity/film/reification to rethink the three sections of his thesis, dropping one for the time being and adding another that came up while talking with a friend. What the posts show is the productive fluidity that comes to a project as we have lots of information, lots of ideas, lots of possibilities and let them work in us, let them ferment, let them find a good form.

And there were quite a few other posts that showed good progress. There were also a couple that felt like posts for the purpose of posting. Make progress, week by week, and you'll have something you can be really proud of.

By the way, there have been quite a few really good comments. Keep helping each other with good questions and suggestions. I like the feel of this.

A final note about the photo. I'm working, with Lyn Bennett, on a book about the construction of meaning of barbed wire. We just heard from the American Quarterly that they need two more months to evaluate the article we submitted about late-nineteenth-century advertising of the new invention (they've had it since August!). In the meantime, however, we're writing about barbed wire in literature. Lyn found, just this week, a couple of very interesting references to barbed wire in Steinbeck's novel Grapes of Wrath. So while we wait, we keep working, keep writing, keep collecting. The photo is from yesterday morning, an attempt to use the snow and the early morning light to highlight what's really a difficult thing to portray. Spenser and others of you who are good photographers could do this better and more easily; but I'm left to try lots of times and hope to get lucky.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Progress, Progress, Progress

I was on a barge on the Danube River just east of Belgrade late one afternoon when a high-school friend of my friend Zarko Radakovic motored up to the barge on his boat and climbed up the ladder to join us. He was a filmmaker, it turned out, and he had just made a film for M. Markovic, Slobodan Milosevic's wife, a film for her political campaign. Progress, Progress, Progress -- I lit up the film with those words, he said. It was a brilliant film.

Today I've been thinking about what, of all possibilities, would be the most important thing to keep in mind as we work on our theses and books.

Progress is what I came up with.

What progress have I made today? What progress this week.

Progress, of course, comes from work. Hard, concentrated work.

Have I worked on the thesis today. This week? Has the work been hard?

If it has, I've made progress.

And if I make progress, I'll have a good thesis or book.

And with luck, I'm not trying, with my progress, to get a nationalist elected to the Serbian parliament.