There comes a point in the academic year when every event becomes momentous. A little past the halfway point in any given semester, the classes you attend stop being “that thing you do at 4 pm on Thursdays”, and become the third, next to last, and eventually, last time you do something that has, by that point, become as natural a part of your day to day life as eating breakfast.
It has become much the same with maintaining this blog. As I had never worked on anything like an academic blog before, it started out as quite a strange and new experience, but, looking back over my time on the MA in Irish Writing and Film programme, it has become as natural a part of my routine as attending lectures and writing papers. However, the road from “the scary, strange, and new blog” to “just another part of the MA” was, if not really rocky, marked with some successes and failures. So, now that I have reached the momentous stage of the academic year, it only seems appropriate to spend a little time seeing how I got here. I guess the best place to begin to assess how successful my work on this blog has been is at the beginning:
My primary goal with this blog is to have a testing ground to work through my research ideas as I move towards the ever-ominous dissertation at the end of my MA. Currently, I am interested in considering the formal similarities between Irish literature and African-American literature. As I have begun researching this project in earnest, I have taken an interest specifically in the ways the African American experience has been used as a kind of rhetorical reference point to describe the damage brought about by British colonialism in Ireland. While I have pinpointed manifestations of this trend in the works of James Joyce and Roddy Doyle, I am currently focusing my research on establishing this trope in the works of other authors (ideally playwrights). Ultimately, I hope to also consider responses to this trend in African-American literature and to use this jumping off point to work towards teasing out a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between these two literary traditions.
However, I do not intend to use this blog simply as an instrument to broadcast my progress on my dissertation. Beyond posts related specifically to my dissertation, I plan on challenging myself to apply some of the ideas and theories I will be exploring in my research in less overtly academic (or at least traditionally literary) capacities. I plan to consider trends in pop culture and current events as they relate to my research in Postcolonial theory and Nationalism, with the hope of always keeping theory in a more immediately tangible context.
I might throw some memes in too, you know, for the lulz.
Ignoring the somewhat posturing tone, I will say I did a good job stating some opening goals for my blog. Luckily, my plans for my thesis have become much more concrete with time; though, as my later posts will attest, I have not always done a good job keeping my thesis research center-stage on my blog. In fact, that probably has a lot to do with my being nervous about the blog for the first few months of the programme. Primarily, I just was not sure what constituted an acceptable topic for an academic blog post. As a result, I ended up playing it safe with my first few posts by reflecting on some of the academic seminars I attended at UCC. This gave me a great opportunity to ease into the more casual speculation of an academic blog as I let the presentations I attended spark my imagination and lead me to ruminate on my own interests. For example, my first proper blog post “‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me(?)’: Thoughts on “The Art of Being Together: Shakespeare and Friendship” begins somewhat awkwardly:
Prof. Stanivukovi began the workshop by positing that investigating the meaning and nature of friendship is, in many ways, the primary goal of many of Shakespeare’s plays. He provided ample evidence to support this idea, pointing to the friendships of Romeo and Mercutio, Hamlet and Horatio, and Antonio and Bassonio and observing that many of the conflicts that drive these plays stem from intrusions into these friendships. These intrusions tend to take the form of either a competing romantic relationship or economic concerns.
While helpful enough as a general introduction and a summary, I do think this is a good example of my discomfort when first starting the blogging process. I mentioned that my introductory post was “posturing”. It took me until about halfway through this discussion to break through the barrier of stilted language. However, I do think that when I turn my attention to what Prof. Stanivukovi’s talk made me think about my own work, the post becomes much more interesting and dynamic:
this leaves me ruminating on some of the Modern and Postmodern works that resolve themselves (in as far as such works ever resolve themselves) through successful relationships. Interestingly, this brings to mind three rather far flung works: James Joyce’s Ulysses, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim Two Boys. In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are, in many ways, saved and rejuvenated by their short relationship as Dedalus defends Bloom from the capers of his friends and Bloom helps Stephen safely navigate the perils of the “Nighttown” episode. In fact, it occurs to me that their relationship is not unlike that of Prince Hal and Falstaff in Henry IV parts one and two, as the seemingly lower class and clearly much more worldly Bloom must stand in as a new father figure/mentor to Dedalus. Of course, the fact that the bond between Frodo and Sam was the only thing that made the destruction of the Ring in The Lord of the Rings really possible is fairly obvious even to people whose sole experience with the book is through GIFs and memes taken from the Peter Jackson trilogy.
At Swim Two Boys probably presents the most complex picture of friendship as it dramatizes the establishment of the homosexual relationship as a fully realized bond, deeply related to yet distinct from more Classical ideas of friendship, through the musings of MacMurrough and the burgeoning, if tragically brief relationship between Jim and Doyler. Looking at At Swim Two Boys in the context of Prof. Stanivukovi’s workshop is actually quite exciting, as it places O’Neill’s exploration of the homosexual relationship into a much longer tradition, and helps one to consider some of the wider ramifications of Shakespeare’s own consideration of the lines between affectionate friendship and desire in works like As You Like It.
As is evident here, when I begin to think about all of the ramifications of this presentation and how it relates to other texts and ideas, my imagination is sparked, and I become much more comfortable with the blog. I think this first post is a good example of how I settled into the blog writing format and generally became more comfortable with developing my own ideas though this unique medium.
My second post “‘Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Stuff’: Thoughts on ‘Remembering Past Futures'”, is, in many ways a repeat of the first. Dr. Laird’s talk was fascinating and helped me consider my studies from a new perspective. Looking back over the post, what stands out to me the most is when I begin to apply elements of Dr. Laird’s discussion to my Irish Film module assignments:
I have been particularly challenged by thinking about a potential topic for my Irish Cinema paper. While listening to this talk, however, I began to think of how certain elements of this interest in what might have been, or a literature that actively interrogates the routes of history relates to Peter Lennon’s The Rocky Road to Dublin. Particularly I began to ask myself how the film’s emphasis on music functions as a distinctly cinematic way to contemplate the passage of time, music being an art form based on organizing and structuring the passage of time in distinct beats and measures. All of these questions and musings are only in their vaguest state for me at present, but it is reassuring to begin to have a sense of direction.
This sticks out to me because the paper I turned in for the course ended up having nothing to do with this idea. I quickly tossed it aside even though I do think that it is a worthwhile way to think about Peter Lennon’s film. To me, this is one of the great things about my experience on this MA. Taking coursework, attending these talks, and maintaining this blog, I am given the perfect opportunity to think in creative ways about the ideas that I am exposed to. In particular, this blog gives me the chance to articulate those ideas, even when they don’t go on to become fully-developed papers.
My next post was one of my favorites. “Joyce and Walcott: Colonial Modernity and the Death of Difference” is the first post that was devoted to really developing ideas related to my MA dissertation. In particular, I am proud of how I managed to craft a fairly well developed argument that was still succinct enough to function as a blog post. Furthermore, I was pleased that I managed to make a few brief quotes from T.S. Eliot’s “Ulysses, Order, and Myth” suffice to build a theoretical framework for my discussion without getting to bogged down in secondary sources. Ultimately, my dissertation has moved quite far away from a comparison of James Joyce and Derek Walcott, but I do think this post marks an important stage in my development as an MA student. I interrogated, rather than recycled, the ideas canonical figures such as Eliot and James Campbell to forward ideas that were uniquely my own.
After “Joyce and Walcott” I felt much more comfortable writing for my blog, and this led me to try my hand at writing a little more on popular culture and current events. This was a core goal stated in my introductory post, and I thought it was very important to make my blog a testament to the wider relevance of the kind of research MA students like myself do. (un)Luckily enough, U.S. politics gave me the best talking point for the importance of Humanities research in November. Despite my trepidation about “think pieces” attempting to explain the rise of Donald Trump, I wrote “The 2016 U.S. Election as a Defense of a Humanities Education” out of a certain sense of urgency to defend myself as an English graduate student in a world that, seemingly, was rejecting the values that I was infesting considerable time and energy into. Looking back on the piece in the larger context of my development as an academic and blogger, I think reveals a distinct confidence in tone and disposition.
It occurs to me that my posts about Paul Beatty’s book The Sellout as well as the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One were as much continuations of my discussion of the recent U.S. Election as they were attempts to apply critical reading to contemporary culture. That stated, I do think they gave me a chance to work through ideas related to Postcolonial theory, and problems of racism and oppression outside of the often stifling confines of strictly academic discourse. For example, in “The Sellout: Or a Small Christmas Gift to Me” I discuss a passage from the novel:
after a discussion about representation in automobile commercials, the protagonist thinks to himself, “the only thing you absolutely never see in car commercials isn’t Jewish people, homosexuals, or urban Negroes, it’s traffic” (139). The book never takes the easy way out, simply implying that racism, inequality, and oppression are purely the results of hatred and bigotry (even if they are still present forces) but that they are also the results of the push to achieve some kind of ideal reality, a reality probably most aptly referred to as The American Dream. It is easy to clear a stretch of highway and convince people that with the right car all doors are open, but The Sellout is about the the traffic pile-up on either side of that commercial shot. It is a book about the difference between reality as it is lived, as it is written about and reported, and how it is perceived, because at the end of the book you have to ask yourself, did the protagonist segregate his hometown, or just put up signs acknowledging the segregation that was already there, just outside the view of the commercial camera.
It occurs to me now that when I refer to “the push to achieve some kind of ideal reality . . . aptly referred to as The American Dream” I am actually approaching some of David Lloyd’s understandings of colonialism and racism as intrinsically tied up in the Capitalistic project. Lloyd is becoming a guiding theorist for my thesis work, so it is interesting to see how some of the concepts he has helped me understand and articulate more clearly and specifically are gestured to in this post.
My post on the new Star Wars film, “Rogue One: The First Star War Movie?” was, again, a continuation of some of my concerns from my post about the election. Particularly I read the film as speaking to the tension within American society today:
what is [most] revealing about the film is its probing of the nature and ethics of resistance. In Rogue One we do not see the unified, always in the right, rebellion. Rather, we see disjointed factions that cannot agree on the best way to keep evil at bay. For filmmakers of the stated political persuasion of the film’s writers Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta this obviously reveals a certain fear concerning the American Left’s disorganized and panicked response to the rise of Donald Trump and the kind of conservatism he represents. More importantly, it speaks to America’s heated debate about the “right” way to protest, sparked by concerns over the Confederate Flag flying in the South in the summer of 2015, and carrying right through the year in the form of Black Lives Matter protests, Colin Kaepernick, the prepping of “militias” to combat a “rigged” election, Anti-Trump protesters, and of course the new hallmark of Christmas, anti-Starbucks outrage. Viewers must choose between the tactics of militant extremist Saw Gerrera,
and the more stayed, political approach of the Rebellion proper. The film, in a surprising revision of usual portrayals of protest, seems to favor Saw’s methods, as his kinda sorta adopted daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) leads a violent, guerrilla attack on the Empire against the Rebellion’s orders in the film’s climax. I wouldn’t go as far as to argue that Rogue One is endorsing a violent approach to protesting trivialities like Starbucks’ cups in this move, but I do think the film is encouraging those who might want to “go rogue” (see what I did there) that to successfully resist, they must make those in power uncomfortable in a meaningful way.
I think it is worth stating that at this time I was actually considering centering my dissertation on the Nationalistic writing of many of the 1916 rebels. As a result, I was drawn to the way the film presented rebellion; specifically, the film gave me an interesting test case to see how the discourses surrounding protest and rebellion take shape (especially given the real-time responses to the film and to this very post I had a chance to see). I think this set of current events centered posts really gave me a chance to work out my ideas in a context that does not have the some kind of anxieties surrounding it as formal academic inquiry. Furthermore, I think it marks the point at which I became comfortable with maintaining my blog and confident enough to venture out into untested waters.
I think my most recent blog posts show a practiced confidence. I am particularly proud of “I, Too, Sing Ireland” as a very nice intersection of my personal interest in music and my academic interests. Furthermore, I was simply pleased with the quality of my prose:
Langston Hughes’s 1926 poem “I, Too” is pretty famous as far as 1926 poems go. It deals with themes that are familiar to anyone who has read much African-American poetry, most notably the fact that despite scant representation African Americans have contributed significantly to American culture, a culture that, generally, doesn’t want to admit such debts. This is most evident in the poems opening line, “I, too, sing America”, which opens a dialogue with Walt Whitman’s earlier “I hear America Singing”, a poem that would have had a much more canonical status in Hughes’s day. Hughes’s poem essentially says ‘we built this country too, and you should expect to hear more from us soon’.
Hughes’s dilemma is easy to understand. How does one find one’s place in a culture hesitant to admit that place exists, or, to give America the benefit of the doubt and pretend that the intentional exclusion of minorities is less-than-intentional, how does an individual from a minority group express their love of country and contribute culturally to it?
Easy answer: become your country’s first international rock star.
I am very happy with this introduction, which blends my interest in African-American literature, Irish culture and problems of racialization in a way that, I think, still remains quite approachable. In my opinion, this is probably my strongest stand-alone post. While it is not directly in service to my dissertation like “Joyce and Walcott” is, I think it is a good example of what an academic blog post ought to be.
My final few posts are largely the products of finishing out my assignments and beginning to work towards my thesis in earnest. in particular, my work on”Man-Again: Breathing new life into James Clarence Mangan’s Wikipedia Entry for #EditWikiLit” and “Literature and I.T. Review” both gave me a chance to structure my thesis research, which at the early stages of general research reading is very helpful to stay on track. Ultimately, I think the blog gave me a chance to grow into a more confident critic and writer. I developed a lot of the ideas that helped lead me to my dissertation topic, and I am now a confident and competent blogger, which I think will prove extremely helpful as I will need to be able to explain my work as a researcher outside of the confines of academic specialty in the future. I think my work on this blog has given me the skills to do just that.
Jarman, Cody. “Chapter One”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/chapter-one/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “I, Too Sing Ireland”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/i-too-sing-ireland/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “Joyce and Walcott: Colonial Modernity and the Death of Difference”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/joyce-and-walcott-colonial-modernity-and-the-death-of-difference/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “Literature and I.T. Review”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/literature-and-i-t-review/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “Man-Again: Breathing new life into James Clarence Mangan’s Wikipedia Entry for #EditWikiLit”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/man-again-breathing-new-life-into-james-clarence-mangans-wikipedia-entry-for-editwikilit/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “Rogue One: The First Star War Movie?”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/rogue-one-the-first-star-war-movie/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “The Sellout: Or, a Small Christmas Gift to me”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2016/12/14/the-sellout-or-a-small-christmas-gift-to-me/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “The 2016 U.S. Election as a Defense of a Humanities Education”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/the-2016-u-s-election-as-a-defense-of-a-humanities-education/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “‘Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Stuff’: Thoughts on ‘Remembering Future Pasts'”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-stuff-thoughts-on-remembering-past-futures/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.
—. “‘You’ve got a Friend in Me(?)’: Thoughts on ‘The Art of Being Together: Shakespeare and Friendship'”. Anecdote on a Jarman, cjarman.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/youve-got-a-friend-in-me-thoughts-on-the-art-of-being-together-shakespeare-and-friendship/. Accessed on 22 March 2017.