Sunday, March 27, 2011

Research And Writing Are Hard!

You already know writing a thesis is hard.

This post is meant to demonstrate solidarity with you as move from first ideas to the hard work of working through large amounts of material at the same time you're still looking for just the sources you'll need.

The picture I took this morning is of the floor just to the right of my chair at my desk.

On April 7th, for an international conference being held at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, I'm scheduled to read a paper called "Andre Umstaende: Erection as Self-Assertion in Heinrich von Kleist's 'Marquise von O..."

The paper isn't done yet.

After five full days of reading and writing during spring break, I worked on it all day this Friday, Friday night, all day yesterday, yesterday evening, and will now turn to it today again as soon as I'm done. I've got a great idea (that was the proposal the organizers of the conference accepted) and I've got a couple of dozen pages of notes and even some paragraphs. I've got 12 important articles about the story (see them lying there?), I've got an important book called "Fragments for a History of the Human Body" and theoretical works by Irigaray, Burke, Schopenhauer, and Herder. And most important, I've got the work by Kleist that I'm reading so closely that I've almost worn it out.

Moving from the original good idea to the development of that idea is just plain hard.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Keep letting us know how your projects are going.

We're in this together.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Couple of Links for Thinking About Over the Break

Folks, I'm sure that many if not most of you are enjoying a bit of downtime from schoolwork this week. (A few have posted new and intriguing items nonetheless.) Therefore, in place of the usual advice and exhortations, I thought I'd just paste in a couple of links to interesting pieces in the Sunday NYT this week. One is an English teacher's argument for teaching students how to tweet and text elegantly, rather than merely churn out bulky term papers (hmmm, thoughts anyone?). The other is a book review of James Gleick's new tome, The Information, which has an interesting take on the explosion of types of information, including Wikipedia, that you are all now dealing with. Happy Spring everyone, here are the links:

The opinion piece on "Teaching to the Text Message":

The book review on Gleick:

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Our friend (and professor of English at UVU) Jan Wellington spent yesterday evening with us. She's a fine writer (about travel during the French Revolution, for instance) and she's a wonderful maker of jewelry.

She brought several of her recent creations to show us. Each has a name. Each is made of beads Jan has collected. She knows the history of the beads -- which range from Czech glass to German silver to Nevada turquoise.

The necklace on the far right, for instance, is made of Tuareg beads (the Tuareg are nomads of the Sahara and make remarkable jewelry, as well as wearing blue robes).

I thought of the beads and of how Jan collects them and then strings them while reading the blog posts today.

Writing a thesis and making in jewelry have a lot in common, I think.

Before you can make anything, you've got to have materials to make it with. That takes collecting. Several of your blogs show the results of some good collecting. You've found good information to work with.

While you're collecting, you're also thinking about how to make sense of the information you've got. You're working out an argument, a narrative thread, a story to tell.

It's not enough, obviously, to have a pile of beads. It takes a good eye, inspiration, patience, stringing and restringing to make a good necklace or bracelet.

Thus the title of the post: patience. As you continue to work, making some progress each week, enjoy what you're doing, trust yourself, be patient as your move forward.

And if you'd like to see more of Jan's work, here's a link:

Sunday, March 6, 2011


After reviewing the latest posts, I am worried, frankly, about a general lack of urgency. Desultory commentary--on an article read, an opportunity opened, an interesting contact made--at the rate of one post per week will string your thesis project along quite nicely for a few years or more. The assignment given last week was not an ultimatum, nor would simply meeting its requirements be the highest form of progress, but the assignment was given because we are becoming anxious about the months flying by. Put another way, to pass this course requires the completion of a capstone thesis proposal: a full work up of annotated sources sufficient to the completion of the project, a working thesis, an explanation of inspirations, methods and goals, and a step-by-step outline of how and when the capstone will be completed. We are now approaching the midpoint of the term and very near to the end of regular, all-student class meetings, after which you will scatter to complete your proposals while keeping regular contact with us. The object, once again, is a fully functional capstone proposal, not any series of assignments or the minimal update of a weekly post.

Some of you are obviously making great progress. Those of you who are not making great progress (or who are not sure what bee got into my bonnet this morning) should read through ALL of the other posts, taking note of those that most clearly approach the goal of a complete capstone proposal as described above. Read our comments on each post. If you can say to yourself, when viewing even the most far advanced project, "Ha! I have done as much as this and more already," then by all means post all the wonderful stuff you have done. Post as often as you have fresh material to post. Aim to finish the proposal early. Aim to prove my concerns totally unfounded. Put me in my place; show me what wonderful things you have done and are doing.