Sunday, 21 January 2007

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Historicism, Slapped on the Wrist, then Around, only to be Reminded, via Pleas, Tears, How much It Is Loved One reason for theory's former ubiquity was that it sped up the researching and writing processes. No longer would a literary scholar have to read 70 novels to write a publishable article; 10 would suffice, so long as one had the applicable theory in hand. Thus was born a vicious cycle: because it didn't take as long to write an article, departments raised the standards of how many articles were required for tenure; and if more articles could be produced, more full-length monographs could, too. Theory's not responsible for this acceleration, but it's certainly complicit in it. The problem for scholars working now—in The Age of Historicism—is that they're working now, in The Age of Historicism. Theory is not what it once was; journals and publishers are demanding articles and books with a depth commensurate to pre-theory articles and books. The problem is, the codified acceleration of graduate and departmental standards have made it almost impossible for young scholars to produce such work. Reading seventy novels, hundreds of short stories, the relevant critical literature—reading that much takes time young scholars don't have. So they continue to produce theory-heavy scholarship which, unsurprisingly, hits the water with nary a splash and vanishes from sight. This problem is an exaggeration of an endemic institutional inequity, normally not worth the energy it takes to complain; however, the longer I work on my dissertation, the more I retrace the steps of my research and realize which tangents I shouldn't have taken, which shortcuts enable me to produce quality work quickly—the more I recognize how steep the dissertation-learning curve is, the more forcefully this particular institutional inefficiency chafes my notions of common sense and fair play. Not that this has anything to do with me personally, or the progress of my dissertation, except that it does. As I struggle to finish, I know that it would be in my best interest to invest myself completely in a single, overriding theory and ride it into the market. What's stopping me? For one, an honest assessment of my own work, one which recognizes my strengths—close-reading based on Himalayas of research—and weaknesses—brazen assertions about the validity of this or that to something or another. Will I ever, I wonder, produce something which meets my own standards? Or will I be coerced by market-forces into creating a substandard monstrosity of a dissertation, which I'll follow with a parade of inadequately researched articles unacceptable at even the most mediocre journals? Will The Other Henry James Review and Even More Postmodern Culture reject me? Could I live with myself if they did?

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