Its becoming more and more real

I have now submitted my dissertation outline and have had my title approved by the powers that be.  I have gone from feeling utterly terrified about writing this dissertation two weeks ago to feeling excited and buzzy about getting on with it.  It has been quite strange and the process of committing my thoughts to paper has really solidified the project for me.  Without there being the very real consequences of missing my deadine for submitting the outline, I would not have come this far in this short space of time with settling on a programme of research.  I would still be reading, thinking and just flirting with ideas.  However, having had to write about my idea and present it to other people, I have now got a pretty well structured idea of what I want to write about and how I want to go about making my case.  To put it bluntly, I am stunned that I have made as much progress as I have.  I wouldn’t have done if it hadn’t been for the fear.

That is the strange thing I find about writing.  Writing stuff down does make it more real.  Talking about things makes them more real too, but I find writing has particularly strong qualities of thought crystallisation.  Its not as simple as it being that writing is about taking something from your head and putting it out there in the world, though that is obviously true.  In having to write about something I find I have to submit to conventions or organisation and ordering which force me to think around the subject and discover those half vocalised/conceptualised rationalisations for why I am even thinking about the topic.  This also has the effect of applying pressure on my to form my thoughts in to a narrative of sorts, where there is a progression (or at least reasonable links) between the ideas I am explaining.  I find myself forced to impose categories and section off/impose boundaries on what, in my head, was an amorphous mass of thoughts, values and interest.

I also have to think more carefully about the language I am using to ensure the reader doesn’t interpret it from outside the context I am intending and to make explicit enough of those implicit assumptions I make when I am turning the ideas around in my mind.  Of course the reader won’t understand why I find this fascinating if the only way I experience it is as a vague thrill of interest or if I can’t get at what it was that prompted me to investigate that particular phenomenon.  I often find that I start thinking about something from the middle of the idea – I have an intuition or I am drawn to something and then I have to work backwards to figure out how I can make the argument for what the value in bothering to investigate that thing is.  That process can be very difficult and is often a case of reading theory, thinking, reading theory, reading literature, thinking while waiting for inspiration to strike – waiting for it to hit me, what the point in it all is.  When this happens, it is euphoric.  When it is not happening it’s terrifying.   Interestingly enough, it is when I pursue a literary text as well as the theoretical ones that I find the best answers.  My work is a lot more creative, there is a spark generated by engaging with a literary text that I don’t get otherwise.  Hard core philosophy is too much and too heavy for me.

So, outline written and I discovered that my dissertation is going to fall quite neatly in to three parts, each corresponding to one paragraph in the outline.  More than this, they fit together and flow quite nicely!!  I had no idea before I wrote it that it was going to come together like that.  I had no conscious idea of the structure of what I was going to write about.  Its as if it just appears out of the ether.  I should add at this point that before I do any formal prose writing that is going to find it’s way to any one else, I nowadays write reams and reams and reams of notes by hand.  I just get the ideas out of my head and on to paper, always in chaotic and disordered fashion.  So I suppose that counts as writing too, though I think of it as just play.  Perhaps that is an inherent part of the crystallisation process?

This brings to mind a half formed science analogy.  I took Chemistry at A level and vaguely remember something about a temperature plateau in reactions involving crystallisation that is a result of the energy required to form the bonds required in a solid struture and organise the molecules of the substance being retained within the substance rather than chucked out as excess energy (in the form of heat).  My point of interest is that there aren’t any other obvious signs that any thing is going on, just the steady temperature (if I remember rightly).  However, within the reaction it is chaotic as molecular bonds are broken and reformed and energy is released, transferred and bound up again within the structure.  The end result (the solid) manifests itself without much outward sign of all this.  All that energy and potential isn’t visible, manipulable or useful until it is transformed in to the creation of a real, solid, structured object that is visible in our world.

That is too much science for a Saturday morning, my brain hurts now.  I was an avid science student once but that feels like a long time ago.  I’ll stick to the writing for now 😉

Dissertation

Yes, I am facing up (facing off?) to the last part of my MA in as bold and no nonsense manner as the title of this blog post suggests.  It is terrifying, being faced with writing a dissertation of 15,000 words.  Part of me wishes I wasn’t working so I could devote myself to it full time.  However I think it is better overall that I am studying part time.  It cannot be an all consuming project and is (necessarily) held in balance with all the other things in my life and all my other values.  Since I got the feedback on my last term paper I have been reminded with the reasons that I started this MA in the first place.  I got good feedback on the last paper, but it wasn’t as good as I was hoping for.  Given all the challenge and stress I put myself through to try and produce a better paper, I was a little disappointed with getting a mark at the bottom end of all my marks so far.  The upshot being that I don’t think I want to write in a way (or tackle the kinds of questions) that will earn me the higher marks.  That is not really why I am doing this MA and I have always been quite happy with the idea that I am not a fantastic scholar.  To be quite honest, I find the quest for scholarly excellence gets a little boring after a while and I get demotivated.  Or maybe I am just not very good at it.  I suppose I could try and be more discplined and more rigorous and work harder to improve my academic output.  I just dont’t really want to.  I was always doing this MA to have the chance to explore what I find interesting.  I have my day job for challenging me to work in the ways other people want me to, for increasing my output in line with the ideals of other people and for putting a value on my worth that is propotional to my socially recognised output.  My studies are primarily for me.

I will admit at this point that it is not that I am without intellectual vanity.  I was thrilled with the other marks I got, especially as there was an upward trend.  This is partly what persuaded me to try and engage with the academic expectations from tutors, to improve my work in line with what they suggested.  That and a sense that I wanted to try challenging myself in a different way, to take advantage of the opportunity to learn and not just settle for saying “I want to do it my way” purely as a rebellion; I don’t like the idea that my response is just a tantrum because I haven’t been told my work is brilliant.  So I think I can say to myself that I tried it and I didn’t really feel the benefit of my struggling to mold my work in to a more acceptable style or format.  I also think that part of the difficulty is that while I am fascinated by philosophy, I don’t actually want to practice philosophy in the traditional sense.  The last course was distinctly philosophical and clearly set within the analytic tradition/methodology.  While I respect and admire the analytic trend in philosophy, it doesn’t fully engage my attention and I do find myself becoming bored or impatient with it after a time.  I am not a philosopher, though I have wanted to be at several points during the course of my studies (both UG and PG).  I am a mediator and a translator – my interest is in making comparisions between different schemes of thought, exploring the implications of chosen interpretations and (by means of the other two) trying to elucidate difficult ideas from more novel perspectives.  Philosophical questions don’t actually interest me that much.

It is incredibly liberating and empowering to be in the process of finding my voice.  It is more important to me to write in my own voice and have that accepted by others than to chase intellectual glory in the service of some thing that feels divorced from my own interests.  Studying part time seems to help keep this in balance.