I wish I could give some extraordinarily compelling excuse for my extended absence over the past few months: alien abduction, Freaky Friday-esque body-switching, or an improbable scenario in which I somehow discover that Jules Verne was right all along and the earth is indeed hollow and inhabited by dinosaurs, and I end up shacking up with Brendan Fraser and making it all the way to China through the Earth’s crust. But sadly the excuse is, as ever, an extraordinary banal one: a new job, the kind of cold that’s so persistent that after a few weeks it brings along a few of its friends and turns your sinuses into its own personal party bus, all combined with the usual leg-dragging laziness.
I didn’t actually realise what a momentous day it was. It was a dreary Friday, there was rain on the way, and I’d gotten up at six am to do a few hours of reading for those increasingly worrying essays whose deadlines had begun to loom with disturbing menace.
Red-eyed, yawning, and shivering from the cold, I’d made my way to campus and dragged my sleep-deprived body up countless flights of stairs to reach a small, stuffy little classroom in a back building. I pulled out pen and notepad, as I always do (I’m endearingly old-fashioned in this respect, until essay-writing season comes round, and I begin spewing out incredibly unladylike volleys of swear words as I search desperately for a three-word summary of Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories that I scribbled in an almost-illegible hand ten weeks before).
I’ve been a lit major for nigh on six years now, and so I thought it only fair that I use this week’s Top Ten Tuesday ‘Back to School’ theme to share some of the wisdom I’ve managed to gain. So I’ve decided to share ten texts I think every new lit major should try and read at some point in their university careers. Don’t be alarmed if these texts at first seem unnecessarily confusing, pointless, and/or completely and utterly useless. That’s more or less precisely how they’re supposed to be.
I feel myself to be a bit of a self-taught expert when it comes to English Literature dissertations. I’m now into the last few days of my Masters dissertation, and having spent the last few months navigating a veritable emotional rollercoaster, I thought it only right that I share some of the things I’ve learnt over the past few months (if only because drafting blog posts is an entirely welcome relief from reading literary theory for five straight hours at a time). So, with that in mind, I present you with:
How to Write an English Literature Dissertation, in 21 Easy Steps
Step 1: Pick a book or an author you like a lot. After all, you’re going to be reading it over and over! For an extra challenge, choose something particularly obscure and complicated so that you can look progressive and experimental. Also there’s less chance that the markers have read the book and can therefore contradict your ideas.
Studying can be hard. There’s no denying that. Studying at university can be even harder. But even though I’m currently buried so deep under accumulated unread books relating to my dissertation that I’m in real danger of being declared a fire hazard to the rest of my building, I still love being a student. And in particular, I love being a student of literature. So this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish seemed like the perfect opportunity to remind myself just why I decided I wanted to spend the next four years of my life developing a deep and meaningful relationship with university librarians, and love-hate relationships with long-dead literary theorists.
If you’re a lit major like me – or, indeed, if you’ve ever studied just about any subject in the humanities and/or the sciences – you’ll probably remember a moment some years back when you realised that you had two brains.
And no, I don’t mean literally, in a kind of futuristic space-agey way (let’s face it, one brain is often hard enough to keep track of, and you probably don’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘bad hair day’ until you’ve got two craniums to deal with). But if you’ve ever been involved in an area of prolonged study that requires you to think critically, to analyse, to dig for deeper meaning, then you’ve probably found that this kind of thinking begins to leak into your everyday life.
Suddenly every image, word, and sound is hiding something under its surface. A movie, a television advertisement, a newspaper article – it’s never just that. It’s a text just waiting to be deciphered, and you begin to approach every such text with the question, ‘what is this film / advert / cloying but frustratingly catchy pop song trying to make me think?’. And, perhaps more importantly, ‘am I going to let them make me think that?’.
Towards the end of last year a strange feeling came over me. With two weeks before my final university assignments were due, in the madness of that final rush to the finish line, in the midst of research, re-writes, and late-night drafting sessions – I felt the strangest desire to re-read Jane Eyre.
At the time, I thought it was odd. Given the amount of reading I had to do for class, it seemed bizarre to me that I would want to add yet another book to my immense reading pile; although, granted, Jane Eyre was somewhat lighter and more enjoyable than my class-related reading, namely Freud For Kiddies (published by the Department for the Elucidation of Freudian Theories of Psychosexual Development, at the University of YouveGottaBeKiddingMe Press, MA, 2011) and The Complete and Absolutely In No Way Abridged, Explicated, or Rationalised Works of Jacques Lacan (University of KillMeNow Press, forthcoming).*
What’s that hint of warmth in the air? Is it really time to shed the scarves and socks already? Yes, sadly my favourite season of the year is drawing to an end. And although I occasionally like the breezy warmth and the petal-strewn gardens of spring, this year I’ll be spending most of my time inside, studying for my classes and bemoaning the fact that all too soon, we’ll have to apply sunscreen before going outside to check the mailbox. Thanks, Australia.