Monday, April 14, 2014

Out On The Tiles

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Last week I was able to aquire my final stage of social proof. I was feeling pretty confident with where my paper was going and at that point I was on page five. It seemed to me that I was nearing the home stretch. I only had a few more pages to go, and I only needed to go through one more round of social proof. For my "expert" level of social proof, I chose to speak to Dr. Westover, a professor here at BYU. Although he's not a specialist in the topic I am am writing on, he does have a Ph.D. in English, and as a result I found his insights very helpful. I sent him an email and presented my thesis to him and the direction I was going and he responded with several ideas. Here is what he wrote: 
In terms of your thesis, I’m a bit skeptical for all of the usual reasons critics get uncomfortable with “genetic” arguments (biographical or intentional). Cause and effect of this sort (the author had experience A and therefore wrote B) is really hard, if not impossible, to prove. Then there’s the logic of comparison. Now, I don’t deny that authors’ personal struggles may shape their work. But don’t all authors have struggles of one sort or other? And does it really make sense to compare (to take your specific case) the loss of parents with combat trauma except in the most general way? Both of your writers had tasted suffering and loss. Both writers had reasons for addressing in symbolic form (fantasy) the subjects that troubled them. No doubt these statements are true, but they don’t provide you with a special reason to put these two authors together. Couldn’t you just as easily put together, say, Adams and J.R.R. Tolkien? There you have two guys who are closer together historically--a WWII vet and a WWI vet who wanted to work out their war experiences artistically. But then again, couldn’t you even more easily compare Carroll with Tolkien? After all, they were both professors at Oxford who had colleagues that didn’t understand their interest in writing for children. You could draw other parallels between those two as well, but what would be the value in doing so? My point is that these pairings are mostly arbitrary. I could have named C.S. Lewis or Kenneth Grahame or even George Orwell (he wrote a political fairy tale in the form of animal allegory—why not compare him with Adams?) or any number of other people. Do you see what I mean? I’d just like to see stronger reasons for putting these two writers together. The paper will work better if you can narrow the terms of your comparison and thus convince people that you have a strong reason for what you’re doing.

Yikes! He wrote some great stuff, but a lot of the criticisms and problems he presented addressed things I had already included in my paper. There was no way I would be able to go back and re-write my entire paper. What was I to do? Dr. Westover may not be an expert on my topic, but he did offer some expert advice concerning literary criticism, which I would not be able to find in the other groups (peers and enthusiasts). When presented with my thesis, these two groups merely responded with joy that someone would think to compare Adams and Carroll. They showed interest, but they didn't offer any negative aspects of my argument.

As I read his email, I realized that he mentioned being "skeptical." He didn't say my claim was impossible, only difficult to prove. With that in mind, I went back over my paper and looked at my points. Using his feedback, I tried to strenghthen my argument with better reasons for why these two authors are so comparable. Dr. Westover's critique helped to push my draft to point of completion. After two additional rounds of peer reviews, I now feel more confident that my paper acheived the end that I was in search of.

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