Thursday, November 19, 2015

November 19 dissertation notes (Week 14): I wrote something, at least.

I ended last week unsure what my next steps should be, so I finally decided that this week, I should just write—“write as if you know what you're talking about.” And it turned out to be a pretty good exercise! I can’t tell you how good it felt to just focus on putting ideas into words for a little while, instead of on an apparently never-ending series of tedious preparatory/revision tasks. There was a certain smoothness and freedom of thought I’ve lacked and missed over much of the past year. I guess I should do this more often, or at least figure out how to make it a steadier part of my routine, even if it can’t be my primary task each week. I keep waiting until I’m “allowed” to proceed with writing as my main focus again; but we all know how much good that’s done.

As to whether I know what I’m talking about—it remains to be seen. Six weeks ago, or whenever it was, I was asked to come up with a new 10-page summary of my project—topic, argument, and outline (like I spent last summer doing). I’ve written something like five pages this week, basically presenting what I’ve mentioned to you guys over the past several weeks. Because that’s what I have. I really do not think it’s going to cut it as a new dissertation topic, for reasons I’ve also mentioned. Even as I enjoyed writing it, I was conscious that I was mainly covering ground Rosemary Ruether had already covered almost 50 years ago. I could write a dissertation that’s something like, “Commending the Christian Life in the Encomia of Gregory of Nazianzus,” and have chapters like “Speaking as a Christian,” “Grieving as a Christian,” and so forth, arguing that he adapts certain Greco-Roman rhetorical norms to put forward distinctively Christian modes of living. But that’s the thing—it’s not really an argument! No one would dispute it. Even if no one has presented it in quite this way, it’s not really contributing anything new.

So I’m looking at this as a helpful writing exercise and little more. I’m going to work on it a bit more tomorrow as I have opportunity, but I’m really looking toward my meeting with my favorite committee member after Thanksgiving, talking through everything with him, and seeing if he has any fresh perspective on this. Then my advisor wants to see the project summary in December. I don’t know what I’m going to be able to tell him. Really, no idea. At this point I could only say, “I pretty much did what you suggested and am convinced it’s a dead end.” But I’m not panicking, yet.

I don’t plan on posting next week (Thanksgiving and all), but hope to have some better news to share the first week of December. Thanks to everyone who’s been following along—it means a great deal to me.

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