Friday, February 25, 2011

My Research Agenda (Or, "Ooh! Shiny!")

A friend once described my research agenda in two words: "Ooh! Shiny!"

By this, I take it, she meant both a compliment and a warning. The compliment has to do with my ability to take an interest in many, many things. To be dazzled, even, by them, and attracted, and eager to get to work. The warning has to do with how scattered my research and publishing threatens to be.

Instead of working on aspects of a single project, talk by talk and essay by essay, I seem to have spent the past few years working on a set of disconnected, purely contingent tasks: an essay on Muriel Rukeyser, an essay on poetry and the novel, an essay on Latino/a poetry, a talk on Bollywood, etc. Even my courses work this way, shifting focus and text from quarter to quarter, busily seeking with a continual change.

Over at Stupid Motivational Tricks I find an entry--one of many--about what it means to have, or not to have, a research agenda. In response to a blogger who was frustrated by her lack of inspiration, Jonathan writes:
The writer seems to be thinking in terms of individual articles resulting from isolated flashes of inspiration rather than an overarching research agenda. Without such an agenda, individual ideas have no framework to sustain them. This lack of a framework, together with a belief in "inspiration," is a sure-fire recipe for "writer's block."
He goes on to summarize his own research agenda in a single sentence: "My research agenda, for example, is explaining the development of late modernism in contemporary Spanish poetry and fusing together strands from intellectual and literary history through the work of authors who belong to both." He elaborates the various "components and dimensions" of the project, which lead to a variety of individual projects, but they're all linked, or in some way in dialogue with one another.

I think it might be useful for me to brainstorm a list of the things that I've been working on, and see which of them fit together, and how. I don't expect there to be a single agenda there, connecting across genres (poetry and popular fiction) or across topics (love and Jewish American culture, for example), but maybe something will come of it.

At the very least, I suspect I have two research agendas: one on love, which spans a variety of media and genres (poetry, fiction, film, popular song) and one on poetry as such, which includes the Jewish American poetry interest. (I'm not particularly interested in reading or studying Jewish American fiction.)

That's a discovery, this morning. Not sure what to do with it, but if I can begin to articulate what I want to do in either category the way that Jonathan does, I'll be on to something, I think.

Image: "Shiny Things," an original painting by bishopart, via Etsy.

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