First Monthly State of the Thesis Address

This post is something of a challenge to myself. As you can probably tell, the title has a notable keyword, monthly. I am hoping to make a post (however brief a sketch it might be) documenting my progress on working towards my MA thesis (or dissertation, I’m still not entirely sure what we call it here at UCC) every month until the last source is cited. Mostly, this is to keep me working on it in a disciplined fashion, because I’ll be really embarrassed if I have to admit that I spent a whole month doing nothing but stuffing my face with Jackie Lennox chips and scrolling through the “Heckin’ pictures of DANG doggos” Facebook page.

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Ehem, more to the point.

For this, my first month, I guess I’ll start by outlining where my thesis is, and I think I’ll do so by spending a little time recounting how I got here. I began with a general interest in tracing some point of connection between African-American and Irish authors. My idea was vague and, in its earliest iterations, certainly suffered from being a pretty basic comparison, checklisting the similarities in their experiences as racialized and essentialized others. However, while doing some general reading on my topic, I happened on Elizabeth Cullingford Ireland’s Others, which includes a chapter that, while it does explore some of the more legitimate points of contact between the Irish and African-American experience, cautions against taking the comparison too far.

Cullingford’s warning gave me a new focus, or structuring element for my research. I began not just to consider the overlaps between these two traditions, but, instead, to ponder the effects of the act of comparison, or barring outright comparison, the points of contact found in Irish and African-American literature.

However, at the same time, I began to be interested in loosening my focus on African-American literature in the first place. Rather, I started to contemplate focusing on African diasporic literature instead. This was about the time of Joyce and Walcott: Colonial Modernity and the Death of Difference, which, in many ways, is a brief step towards the kind of inquiry I hope my thesis will be.

Okay, so this is “the story” or at least how I got this far. What follows, is where I am.

I am interested in exploring how Irish and diasporic African authors create comparisons between one other, whether tacit or outright, and the nature of these comparisons. Thus far, I am treating these two comparisons under two broad categories: comparisons that destroy difference and those that embrace it. It is worth stressing that both these categories remain comparisons, not contrasts, they simply handle the inherent differences of the two social groups in very different ways.

Joyce and Walcott, at least currently, would fall under the category of authors whose writing destroy difference. Again, Please see my earlier post for more on that.

Currently, I am still working out who would be my go to examples for those that embrace difference. Roddy Doyle, in both The Commitments and his short story collection The Deportees is currently a strong contender, and I have some thoughts about Amiri Baraka’s plays and Spike Lee’s films that might earn them a place in this discussion.

Ultimately, I am interested in seeing what kinds of alternatives to the either/or discourse of colonialism, racism, and essentialism are opened up by these methods of comparison. Furthermore, I am left wondering what kind of influence these distinctly subaltern and peripheral literary happenings could have had on the development of the ideas of Modernism and Postmodernism as cultural/philosophic/historic/what-have-you periods.

Looking forward to next month, I am hoping to start a reading list (I’ve already made it, but need to actually start reading through it) and commit to making some organized notes and commentary on at least a weekly basis that will help me keep my work structured.

Wish me luck.

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Works Cited

Cullingford, Elizabeth. Ireland’s Others: Gender and Ethnicity in Irish Literature and Popular Culture. Cork University Press, 2001.

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3 thoughts on “First Monthly State of the Thesis Address

  1. What your project has evolved into sounds good, Cody. Good luck on maintaining the discipline (says the guy who just spent a semester trying to maintain a modicum of self-discipline). Heaney and Boland strike me as writers who have embraced difference as well, if I understand correctly what it is you’re going for.

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  2. Well, seeing as you asked for it, good luck! Not that you’ll need it, of course. I thought your project sounded promising when you told me about it and, having read this blog entry, it seems more promising still. I’m looking forward to hearing your presentation about it at the MA conference.

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