Sunday, April 10, 2005

Working Towards a Proposal for my Research topic: 1


It’s always difficult for me to answer questions like this with a single line of handwritten text. Often, I’ve thought about issues deeply enough to arrive at a point of confusion, and explaining the answer to these questions designed to help me develop the topic of my research warrants the use of more words than can be written on a single line.
It’s clear from the answers I’ve written in items # 1 and 2 that I’m interested in myth and the work of Tolkien, that I think this is an important aspect of his work, and that I think it makes him important as an author and scholar. My interest in selling hobbit dolls and the like obviously indicates my awareness that I’ll need to be making some money, or it’s an expression of my desire to make money.
I didn’t understand the marking of the potential projects exercise in item #3. Ahh, Now I see…
C – I’m CURIOUS about it
G – It’s GOOD
OK. I would put a G on item A., about selling hobbit dolls. But that’s only because money is good. The truth is, I would just like to move on to my concern about the topic and move the issue of meeting financial needs to another arena. Now, it’s clear that I both want to write about and teach about Tolkien and myth. And I would apply all three kinds of interest to each of these potential projects.

I’m really curious about designing a course around myth and Tolkien because I want to share some insights that come from my own investigation of this topic. I have found that these insights continue to relate to a larger philosophy of life. I think some of the issues that come up in a study of Tolkien are important for a variety of reasons, and I think it is good for people to learn about them. Many people are curious about the larger questions of life, and it is rewarding to me personally to engage in learning-centered discourses that arise as a result of Tolkien’s work. The philosophical and theological sensibilities expressed in Tolkien’s work are important to me because they can provide a valuable common ground for others to participate in the discussions which invariably arise around them, often concerning personal and public morality, as well as many other objects of concern to those who practice in the humanistic disciplines. It is important to me that I am involved in this activity during my life. It is fulfilling to me. It’s what I want to do. There is probably more G than B type interest associated with this potential project.
Well, that is my short answer for item B, a project to design a course around myth and Tolkien in the Humanities. The last item, C, which is a research project to ‘“say who Tolkien is and why his work is important” – persuasively, explicitly, and enthusiastically in a master’s thesis,’ seems to relate pretty directly to the professional activity in which I was engaged four and a half years ago, when I wrote this item, and in which I am still engaged yet today. At this point, I think the G and B kinds of interest apply more than the curiosity aspect. Not finishing this work in a timely manner has damaged my professional life. I’ve lost probably three years. The other things I did during that time that I had put my thesis work on hold were important, too. But now it is time for me to go back and finish the thesis work and earn the MA degree so I can go on to pursue the professional career that I need to live the kind of life that we all want for me to live. I need to participate in and contribute to the lives of other people, besides my immediate family. I hope that I will be able to make some progress toward the accomplishment of what is necessary in order for me to do that, today. There is probably more B than G type interest linked to this project. But though both projects go hand in hand, I’ll have to complete project C before the product of project B can be relevantly applied. I’m not going to teach a course on myth and Tolkien until I write this master’s thesis. And I’m not going to write this master’s thesis until I write the research paper for this course. And I’m not going to write the research paper for this course until I write the First Report, the Second Report, the Project Proposal and the annotated working bibliography. It’s a shame that things take so much time. But these things can’t just be written. Without the preparation and time consuming thought, research and revision, without careful selective researching and an immense attention to detail, what gets produced is shameful junk. I can’t move on professionally if I’m going to submit crappy junk that only serves as evidence that I have not done the work of a scholar, that I will not demonstrate the skills of a scholar, and that I am not a good candidate for a position as a scholar— all of which I have demonstrated successfully.
See how I’ve had to write all this to address the issues in item # 3? It’s ridiculous!
Item number four is OK the way it is. Getting sober took some effort. I had to actually do what was suggested. Instead of letting advice go in one ear and out the other, which was one of the chief causes of my continuing to fail at the project of sobriety, I had to listen and double listen and make an effort to be clear on what I understood was being suggested, and then, most importantly, I had to take the appropriate action. I often categorize the event of my doing that as a miracle. Now I have to apply the same kind of miraculous dedication to the project in front of me. I don’t think I was ready to do this back in the fall of 2000, when I first took this English 600 course. Now I am ready to ask questions instead of assuming I know something. I’m ready to do the work, take the actions, actually, which are necessary for me to continue on the path to the winner’s circle. I’m answering these questions, addressing these issues, one at a time. Another thing that I pointed out in item number four is that I had to join the community, and by that I meant the recovering community. I just think this is absolutely necessary to achieve sobriety, at least in terms of the level of well-being that I understood was possible as a result of working the program. This also required the exercise of conscious effort, reaching out, often taking risks. I didn’t want to do it, sometimes; I didn’t feel like it. But I know that it’s better being a member of a larger community. You get to commune with others who are dealing with the same issues. You share what you know and others share what they know with you. Learning happens. And I see the relevance of this point to my situation now. I went to a Tolkien conference in Milwaukee last October, and I met and talked with Tom Shippey and Jane Chance and John Garth, Ted Nasmith, Wayne Hammond, Christina Scull, Richard West, John Rateliff, and perhaps most importantly, David Bratman. Verlyn Fleiger was there, too, but I didn’t have an opportunity to speak with her. These are big names in Tolkien scholarship today. I realize the value of communicating with them on a regular basis. I realize that they are willing to help me grow. I am not afraid to ask them for help or suggestions or advice. I am willing to do what they suggest.
Item number 5 is pretty straight forward, but my answer points out that I will need all these things to do it, like “structure, discipline, guidance, inspiration, drive, and even perhaps desperation.” I have made the pursuit of the master’s degree a top priority, even going into a kind of “detox center” for a period of time in order to get going on this project. It seems like all I have been doing since I left Terre Haute is orienting myself to do this. The other comment I make on this item is “now as then,” signifying the similarity of this project to the project of getting sober in terms of dedication and sacrifice. “That was my job then, this is my job now,” sounds a little canned or artificial, but it makes sense, and I am sure that I meant it back then, even if I couldn’t follow through. I won’t offer an analysis of why I couldn’t follow through now. Well, maybe I will say a little something about that. My first impression is that it was just too much for one person to try to do. I was teaching two classes and taking two classes, and I had a lot of other stuff going on, as well. Then I started working for Chuck, and all of a sudden I was running non-stop living a double-life! Eventually, it was so stressful for me that I really began to buckle under the pressure. I want to do this project right, and for me that takes a lot of time and attention, more than anyone can give when they have so much else to do. I wouldn’t be able to do it now if it weren’t for the support of my wife. She’s paying the house payment and the car payments and everything else. The business brings in a little money, but not enough to be of much help to her when I’m not working it.
The academic standards in my discipline… Well, I think I addressed a little bit about what it takes to meet these standards above. Also, I think I’ve already addressed the priority status of the project. The suggested actions: “composing re-researching, planning, drafting, editing, and perfecting a piece of scholarship …” are duly noted. I’m answering these questions one at a time.
In column A, the list of qualities that distinguish Garth’s book from … let’s see…. I think David Day’s book is probably the crappiest one I’ve got here. Maybe not, though. But Garth’s book provides new insights in a thoughtful way. I can tell that he really took the time, five years, to meditate on what he says and his craftwork is really beautiful, in terms of the development of his points and his thought. But I don’t have five years to write this thesis, although I am behaving as if I do… In light of this consideration, I will respectfully and consciously leave off the compiling of qualities of good and bad pieces of scholarship. I’ll sit here reflecting on pieces I’ve read for another couple of hours doing that. Perhaps I can post and add to this list as examples arise.
OK… other side of the page, now.
Here’s the real effort, to describe my topic so that an educated person not in my discipline can understand it. And that’s a relatively small space for me to try to do this. What I would say is that Tolkien created languages, Elvish in particular, but also other languages for other creatures in his Middle-earth. But as a philologist, he was an expert in how languages change over time, because he had traced the development of Anglo-Saxon and Gothic forms into modern English. Tolkien’s assertion was that the stories he wrote grew out of the languages he invented. Scholars who claim that Tolkien created a mythology stress this aspect of his creative process in their theories of myth. So this is a curious link between language and mythology, and it’s this connection that I want to learn more about. Because my previous studies of ideology suggest a similar link between language and the production of meaning. I hope that learning more about Tolkien’s contribution to the scholarship on the relationship between language and mythology will help me to explain a similar theory for understanding ideology.
Wow! That’s great! I did it in a little space! At least I think an educated person not in my discipline could understand that.
Ok, about the reality check, I think I was accurate on all points in this section, especially when I marked a low likelihood of maintaining mental and physical health under the stress of this project. That’s certainly one of the chief reasons why this project had been delayed for so long. I’m stronger now. I have the support I need, the time and freedom from other obligations. I’m focused, now. I’m on the path. I am not sure how to address the last part of the reality check because the other students and team activities aren’t part of my current project, as far as I can tell, anyway. I wonder what the consequences of this are.
When I speculated on the external utility of this project, for some reason I was thinking about the unity of consciousness. I don’t know how such a phenomenon might exist, actually. But at the time, this idea must have been of central importance to my understanding of the kind of contribution I wanted to make to the life of the mind (there it is) or everyone concerned with such issues. Joseph Campbell, evidently used the phrase ‘experience of unity with the godhead’ in such a way as to affirm the validity of my perspective, which was evidently centered around the notion that on some level of consciousness, everyone, or perhaps even everyone and everything, is connected in terms of their energy or metaphysically, somehow. And that my efforts to discover and work with the relations between ideology and mythology or these things and language and meaning, or whatever it might be, might somehow lead to an enlightened approach to or understanding of reality in an ultimate sense. This idea seems kind of crazy to me now. I just want to get a job, you know. But this is the kind of inspiration I had about mythology and ideology, and I’m sure that my thinking is aimed in this direction. Now I’m expressing it in terms of ‘the roots of man’s consciousness,’ although that terminology comes from Olga Markova’s essay on the reception of Tolkien’s works in Russia in the recently published collection of scholarly articles in Tolkien Studies. My thinking seems to be that everyone who reads Tolkien’s books will benefit from the project I propose, though there is a lack of an intelligible reason why this should be so. Do I imagine that I will personally be somehow empowered with a master’s level fiat to access the universal consciousness or that I will be able to charge our collective awareness with a love of Tolkien? Maybe it’s something crazy like that.
The truth is that I don’t think that the piece of scholarship produced by this project will be of interest to very many people at all. Most Tolkien fans will be repulsed by its focus on theory, I suspect. And those who have any real experience dealing with modern theoretical issues will probably find lots of errors in what I come up with in that area. But both audiences may like it after all. The academic community of Tolkien scholarship is who I will be talking to. They eat this shit up. It’s like food to them. If David Bratman says it’s ok, then I will be exactly where I want to be. But I have nightmarish visions of him looking over my paper, shaking his head back and forth, wrinkling his nose to the side and saying, “no, no, no.”
In my earlier assessment of success, I seem to focus on the approval of a larger literary community. “Rave reviews,” I may have dreamed of, but my aspirations are far removed from that today. It may be that if I had been able to write my thesis two years ago, it would have been published. A lot of junk has been published about Tolkien and mythology. I wanted to talk about Tolkien’s philosophical and theological sensibilities and lots of books and articles about this topic have appeared in the last four years. Most of them have not been good. Several of them have been downright junk. I know of one heartfelt account that was written by a young "Christian" girl in her teens. There is still a market for such writing on this topic, but for me the notice or approval of the general public is of little concern, now. All I want to do is to follow the suggestions and assignments in the course, take the actions that are suggested and complete the tasks in the proper manner. If I do my best, and follow the course, I have faith that the end product will be ok. I need to produce this work in order to continue my career in academia. It is the top priority in my life now, and it will be until it is completed.
I have made a decision to do this. I am totally committed. I’m done thinking about it. I’ve written and re-written what I want to do. I know what it is now and I’m going to do it.
Earlier, I said that I needed to discover how to make this more digestible. I think that the work of making these ideas going into this project digestible has already been done, and I have only to paraphrase and quote existing scholarship. But the ideas coming out of this project need to be digestible and understandable and understandable, also. An important part of this course comes in the later part when I will be asked to do all sorts of things with metaphor and structure. I will do those things, and I am sure that the paper will be the better for it. Now when I ponder this question about what I need to discover, I just have to stop and really think about it.
I need to talk to the people who will be reading the drafts of my thesis.


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