Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Dreaded Seminal Text

Early in my PhD research, I learned about a major text by a famous scholar. So I ordered a copy, and I tried to read it. It is both long and highly theoretical, and I didn't understand any of it. So I set it aside, and it became the "dreaded" text about which my supervisor and I would joke.

About a year into my research, I tried to read it again. Still, it was like wading through maple syrup. It felt sticky and unpleasant, and I made very slow progress.

This morning, I got up early with the kids and their sleepover guests in order to prep some food and set up a morning movie. Then, they banished me so that they could feel more grown up without me. So I went to the study, figuring I'd do a little leisure reading in between the summonses (it was still only 6:30am and there were four kids in my house, so I didn't expect to be productive). But, instead of picking up a novel, I picked up the "dreaded" text and started flipping through it, eventually settling into the introduction.

Lo and behold, I understood it. Not every sentence mind you, but I understood the author's argument and his central purpose. I was amazed, not in small measure because of the fact that not only was I understanding the text, but I was understanding it even while getting up every six minutes to fulfill a kid request (another scone, more smoothie, better straw, wet paper towel, please).

When I was about halfway through the intro, the movie ended, and the kids got crazy. Right at that point, the reading got harder. I was just about to set it aside, but I decided to flip through it a bit more, check the index, etc. As I did, I came upon a chapter subheading that seemed relevant to my work. Oh, Boy, was it ever! In fact, it's directly relevant to a chapter draft I wrote a little over a year ago--a chapter draft that is in dire need of more scholarly support.

Huzzah! What a discovery. Now, instead of this being the "dreaded" text, it is the text that I'm eager to tackle because of how useful it could be. It will not be easy; it's a dense 450+ page book with about 180 pages of notes. But at least, now, I feel like I've got a shot at it.


Tree of Knowledge said...

That sounds awesome.

I've got one more chapter of my diss to draft before I can start revising, so I find your posts comforting. Hearing about someone else making progress makes me want to work, or at least feel less overwhelmed. :) Thanks.

Good Enough Woman said...

Hi, Tree! It is nice know to one has company isn't it? I still have 2-3 chapters to draft from scratch before I can go back and flesh things out and tie them together (sounds like some kind of surgery or dark art!). Baby steps, I guess.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

There are several books I've felt I couldn't understand for any number of reasons --wasn't smart enough or it was over my head or it was an "impossible text". While I was writing my diss, I found a podcast on iTunes U that gave a lecture on some books I didn't understand. After listening to that, I totally "got" Kierkegaard. And after that, I felt like a lot of theoretical texts were unlocked for me. I don't know. Sometimes it just takes a new perspective to feel like texts are unlocked. Sometimes it takes hearing great lectures. Whatever it is, it sure is a good feeling. Glad that you are getting some help from that tough text!!

sarah at secret housewife said...

Oh what a lovely discovery!! well done! x

Gaga said...

You had a birthday and got smarter? I am glad it is working.