Sunday, January 10, 2010

Footnotes and Waffle

Last night I watched scenes from the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I scrolled through the sections that hold less interest for me and moved onto the sections in which Darcy and Lizzie Bennett feature. I am looking for the happy ever after quality, the escapist thrill of the olden day romance, with all its affected old fashioned speech, its strait laced manners.

Lizzie Bennett’s forthright tone and Darcy’s brooding gentleman like qualities comfort me. Like wearing warm socks on a cold night in bed when my feet are too cold to let me sleep, or drinking a sweet cup of milky Earl Grey tea.

Earl Grey tea reminds me of those times many years ago when I was studying for my final year of social work. I hated to study then. I could not concentrate for long. I would prefer to do housework than to sit at my desk reading the assigned text books. Nothing made much sense to me then and even as I might have basically understood the material we were meant to pore over and absorb, I could not see the point of it. I could not recast it in the form of an essay that might answer a particular question or address an set topic without sounding pompous, wishy-washy or just waffling on, as I fear I am doing now.

Waffling on.

Waffle waffle, words on the page. The movement of my fingers as I type, the words that form in my mind as I sit here hunched over the keyboard is pleasurable in itself. No matter what the words. Almost no matter. I am aware at the same time that I wish I were saying something meaningful, something that would take me somewhere, somewhere purposeful, somewhere with oomph.

Is this blogging drowning out my capacity to think?

On Friday a friend told me that they had refused to send her exegesis in for marking as it had no footnotes. No footnotes is not the stuff of PhDs. It would not pass.

I wonder who wrote that rule down and when? Footnotes signify what? That the work has been filtered through the minds of other researchers; that the person writing the thesis has considered other points of view and acknowledges them accordingly?

It seems it is not good enough to write down the contents of one’s thoughts without some reference to other people’s ideas, nor is it satisfactory to so assimilate and process other people’s thoughts that they cannot be clearly demarcated with a footnote at least and preferably not just a reference to the author of the idea, but also to the title of the text book in which the idea appears and best of all the page number.

This proves that you have read it. You cannot write about other people’s ideas without acknowledging them, and yet there is little that any of us write that does not include other people’s ideas.

If there is no such thing anymore as an original, a truly original thought and if every thought derives from somewhere else, and someone else has already considered it, then the business of scholarship presumably is to develop that thought somehow, at best or at worst I suppose it is merely to paraphrase the thought so that it sounds as though you have understood it and can therefore regurgitate it in the interests of your own ideas. Then the thesis becomes a laddering of other people’s ideas all piled one on top of the other.

I have a tendency to bring other people’s ideas together from different places. Some thoughts from psychoanalytic theory mesh with thoughts from autobiographical theory and they look good together. I make them make sense in much the same way as I force my dreams to make sense, more sense than they would have were I able to write down my dreams exactly as I dream.

Dreams are far less tidy and cooperative than narratives. Narrative demands a logical sequence of events, one that leads to another or clear gaps in between where readers can use their imaginations to leap over the gaps and create their own bridges. Dreams make impossible leaps that are only possible in our imaginations and unconscious minds.

It is not enough for me to write what I think. I must marry what I think to what other people think. Other people whose ideas bear some relevance to what I write about.

At the Writer’s House where we explored new forms of writing, Peter Bishop told us to follow the tangents. I am good at following tangents. I do it effortlessly.

In thesis writing it is also necessary to follow tangents at least in the beginning but there comes a point where I must stop following tangents and stay in one place.

I must pull all the threads together and make some coherent sense of what I have discovered both in my own thinking and also in that of those whose writings I have explored. This is the difficult part. It is like stitching a jumper together once all the panels have been knitted separately. The stitches must appear seamless. The stitches must be so carefully done as to give the appearance that the jumper was knitted as a whole, one piece rather than a series of pieces.

This I find difficult. This I resist. I want to keep knitting new panels but my jumper will become a many armed thing if I am not careful and there is no one person other than a monster with more than two arms.
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