As any academic will know the crucial thing to being successful is to publish. But that isn’t really the whole story – you have to publish something that hasn’t been published before saying something that hasn’t been said before in a way that no one else has thought of saying it … or do you.
Last week was rather strained work wise, time wise, stress wise (you get the gist) so the blog went to the wall as I wailed my way through the week. Why? Because of the discovery of two articles, a book and a PhD thesis that I had hitherto failed to uncover in my multimillion internet/library trawls, all of which seemed to be my thesis in print. So convinced was I that my ‘originality’ had been scuppered I was afraid to read them, it was just too demoralising.
When I finally plucked up the courage and confronted the damn things,
instead of just assuming I was done for I found, to my delight, that they not only confirmed that my assessment of the material I am working with was spot on, but that the manner in which I am approaching the project is in fact a unique one. Much of the material repeated stuff I already knew and had sourced from other material, and the original stuff that these papers presented would help my project rather than hinder it. The despair lifted somewhat.
In the midst of the despair I was reminded of a conversation I had with El Secondo a while back, about lacking originality; she said it is rare for anyone to say anything completely new, the key is in the way you fit all the pieces that already exist together and present it, whether or not that leads to an ‘original’ conclusion. Engaging with other scholarship is crucial to the process. This encouraged me. Literary criticism is a difficult field to be original in, you usually find that some other academic has said what you are trying to say and much more eloquently – so what do you do? You quote them, you reference them and you use their scholarship to enhance your own. The reciprocity is there in your promotion of their original work. It’s not a bad system. It ensures that good work gets the spotlight it deserves and keeps scholarship fresh and alive – I have come to view my thesis as a conversation with other academics in my field, and as such it has become a much more fluid piece that it was.
Hopefully this week will be more on track than off piste …