« The fabula of mathematics | Great divides and genres as impulses »
After a pleasant conversation with one of my advisors, in which I wound up with the novel sensation that I really do have an idea of what my dissertation will be about, I promised to work on describing said dissertation until I (a) can remain convinced in a non-fugitive way that I have a project, and (b) have said something that is pithy and interesting. Ideally I will also (c) be able to say it in different ways suited to different audiences. We called the process of practicing this "writing dissertation haiku." Right now it's more like writing dissertation unsightly prose poem lumps, but I'll get there.
So, what's the plan?
My dissertation project will involve the study of a selection of culturally specific, well-documented interpretive practices (like the previously-discussed fanwanking, and the early twentieth-century fad of writing up versions of the "rules" of detective stories) within the larger project of developing a cognitively plausible narratology; this study will then provide evidence towards an account of the components of the narrative capacity of cognitively modern humans. I plan especially to look at the capacity of readers, writers, and editors for dealing with what I have been calling "narrative attribution problems" -- navigating the different levels of the narrative situation (e.g. interactions of characters, narrator, implied author) and constructing meanings that are sensitive to these different layers of reference.
To put it another way, I intend to study the reading practices of a selection of modern audiences, both "ordinary" and elite, from the point of view of bringing together the kind of work people like Jonathan Rose are doing in developing a history of reading experiences, joint interpretative communities, and reception strategies, with what people like Richard Gerrig, Herb Clark, and Boaz Keysar (among many others) are uncovering with regard to the human capacity for coordinating symbolic activities and engaging in inferencing, both in the course of encountering a discourse for the first time and in considering that discourse in repose.
I propose to take as my starting point some interesting cases in which communities of language users (literature users!) have observed and commented on particular interpretive strategies that are available in that community. Self-theorizing and folk theories (both of the "amateur" and "expert" variety) can provide a nice laboratory in which the component parts of an underlying conceptual structure or strategy are particularly accessible to the theorist.
Of course this all sounds terribly teleological,* which is not so popular in English departments; my colleagues get understandably itchy when we start talking about explaining things. My job is to account for things without making claims for a totalizing narrative, and to convince everyone that of course I don't expect to tie up literature in a tidy little packet, but isn't it a fun game? Let's keep playing.
As a side note, I am currently reading some stuff by William Labov, and am being struck by how very lucid it is. So direct! So clear! So to the point! So worthy of emulation! (So unlike my efforts above!)
*and, unfortunately, stuffy. That's why we call this the part where I work on my elevator pitch. Excuse my dust.(planning)
all about the log | discussion | genre references | language | literature | narrative gaps | planning |
Movable Type 3.2