Digressions into other academic areas

Forgive the intrusion of my other classes into this blog, but I am stumped. I am crowd-sourcing assistance with my two remaining term papers.

I will attempt to be brief and concise (though I’m sure any readers have gathered that’s not really what I’m good at).

Two classes:

Early Romantic Literature

In this class, the texts I’m working with are Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women and/or Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman and/or Mary, A Fiction. Biggest challenge? I’ve read Vindication, but years ago. I’m only half-way through Maria and I haven’t read more than a chapter of Mary. (Before you judge me too harshly as a lazy student… things have been crazy in my personal life. Crazy to an extent I can’t even begin to describe. There’s a whole other blog about it, but as much as I’m trying to keep it out of this blog, it definitely hasn’t stayed out of my academics.)

I am in love with Susan Gubar’s “Feminist Misogyny: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Paradox of “It Takes One to Know One”.” I appreciate Gubar’s analysis of the “feminist misogyny” she sees in Wollstonecraft’s work and in later liberal feminisms, and I particularly appreciate that she offers a framework for recognizing these problems but still maintaining a feminist label for myself. (This is an issue I am grappling with in all areas of my life, not just academics: how to reconcile the inconsistencies and ambiguities of various feminisms and come up with an ethical feminism for myself.)

There are two directions I’m considering for this paper:

On the one hand, I have this thought, which I can’t support yet but which keeps nagging at me, that the inconsistencies in Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing – how both Mary and Maria have such strong homosocial bonds, how their passion is a positive trait in the novels, but how she denigrates “too close” female friendships in Vindication and is almost misogynist in her representation of feminine traits (that’s Susan Gubar’s language, but it resonates with me) – that these inconsistencies are part of the tension we’ve seen in other early Romantic authors (Blake, Coleridge) between Enlightenment thought and Romantic passion. But because Wollstonecraft stands at the beginning of liberal feminism, and the male authors stand surrounded by a mass of contemporaries and predecessors, Wollstonecraft’s inconsistencies and ambiguities are sharper and less able to be contextualized. I don’t even know if that makes sense… I’m just looking at the body of critical responses to Wollstonecraft, and how people (like Gubar) latch onto her inconsistencies, and it keeps nagging at me. Like something is going on there, and maybe it has to do with the position she holds as essentially the founder of liberal feminism.

I suspect that this topic might lead to a gigantic paper, bringing in too many different works. I’m a little daunted by it. But it’s the topic that keeps pulling me back. So my question is, is that an interesting question? Is it something that could be researched and written in a week (since I also have a second term paper also woefully unstarted)?

On the other hand, I am interested in Mary Wollstonecraft’s relationship with Fanny Blood, and how that friendship is reflected and reflected on in her novels and in Vindication – Susan Gubar (and others, including Virginia Woolf) talk about Wollstonecraft as being deeply passionate and also deeply rational, unable to reconcile the two states, and exploring her romantic friendships and affairs from different angles in her novels and critical writing. It’s kind of the same question as above, but narrower in focus, and not comparing to Blake or Coleridge, and not bringing in much historical positioning (still some, of course, but not as much).

The question there is, since so many other people have asked and answered that question, is it still interesting or relevant? I’m not sure what I have to add to the existing body of work, and I’m worried that this would be just a regurgitation of existing engagement with her work. It’s not exactly novel to look at Wollstonecraft’s representations of friendship in her novels and in Vindication, so is it worth doing? It interests me, but I’m worried that it’s choosing too easy a topic.

So, that’s one class. Onward to…

City of The Mind: Imagining London

Here, my texts are Downriver by Iain Sinclair (which is a fucking miserable slog of a book, and if I’d realized how difficult it would be to read I would never have chosen it when I wrote my research proposal, but I did, and now I’m stuck with it) and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I am thanking everything positive in the world for having added Neverwhere into my research proposal. I’ve read a chapter and a half of Downriver and have read Neverwhere multiple times, years ago.

In my research proposal, I suggested looking at representations of the occult in both books, and examining whether these representations of the occult are gendered, and looking at whether that gendering of the occult (if it happens) relates to a gendering of power in general in the texts. And I also talked about time, and the location of London as having “pockets of old time,” which both Sinclair and Gaiman state in their novels.

Obviously, that’s about five different, pretty much unrelated papers and that’s why I got a terrible grade on that research proposal.

I’ve made approximately no progress on refining my topic, and am still floundering miserably.

Time is the topic that I keep coming back to as perhaps being the most interesting. Maybe time and narrative? How time influences the narrative? Time and invisibility? Time and … gender? That’s a stretch. Also, I can’t find any evidence of female characters in Downriver, though like I said, I’m only a chapter and a bit into it. And the chapter I’ve read is the last one… so…

Yep.

I’m stuck, and I’m panicking just a tiny (HUGE) amount, and I’ve got less than two weeks to write both of these papers. Oh, and also a 10 minute presentation on my porn analysis (I’m not super worried about that one).

I need to decide on topics, so that I can speed-read and know what to focus on. That’s not how I like to do academic work, but that’s just a fact of this semester.

Tangentially, thinking about academics in general, it really bothers me to end up in this position. I am paying a lot of money for each of these courses, and I only take courses that interest me. I’m not interested in easy As, and I’d much rather tackle a challenging paper that will expand my awareness of issues that are important to me and my activism than write something quick that I will forget in a month. Producing work for the sake of producing work seems like a phenomenal waste of time and effort. I wish that I could just defer these papers for a few weeks, so that I could get things in my personal life sorted enough that I can focus, and then spend some decent time with all of my primary sources and come up with my own ideas about what’s going on and write some good papers that are relevant to my interests. But I don’t think I can do that, I have no idea how to even begin asking and since nobody has actually died I don’t think a deferral request would go through.

Which leaves me here, drowning in secondary sources and without a single good idea of my own to cling to, and two 10-12 page papers looming.

Help?

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