Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dissertation Blurb, Take 2

So, in the month and a half since I wrote my dissertation blurb, I've memorized exactly two sentences of it. There was a reason I had to quit the one-act drama team after my sophomore year of high school, and it wasn't because of my horrendously unrequited and probably painfully obvious crush on Roger Blalock, who was a senior and, retrospectively, quite a pot-head.

Unfortunately, mock interviews are coming up on Saturday. These are by far more terrifying than the prospect of interviewing with actual people because a) these people know me and b) THEY'RE HAPPENING THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. I mean, I guess that latter one is only terrifying because I'm woefully underprepared, but the first sentence of this post probably gave that away.

In any case, the point of all this is that I have come up with a new strategy for the dissertation blurb, which is bulletpoints upon which I can verbally enlarge. I was also on the speech team in high school (entirely coincidentally, so was Roger) as the extemper, which means I spent four years repeatedly making up five to seven minutes of bullshit on a given topic using only three out-of-date U.S. News & World Report articles. Outlines are my medium of old.

Key points:

  • How I came to this topic:
    Disconnect btn religious condemnation of incest and casual use as plot point
    Nobody was/is talking about daughters
  • My approach:
    Focus on the Family (but not in a James Dobson way)--personal and intrafamilial relationships to explore identity construction
    Combine close reading w/ historicization, sex/gender, and clinical-psychological theories
  • My texts:
    [These I remember off-hand, but for your edification: Genesis A, OE Life of Euphrosyne, Cursor Mundi, and Chaucer's Clerk's Tale]
  • What I've Discovered:
    Daughters crucial for intrafamilial identity formation: authors use them to interrogate both feminine and masculine subject positions and sexual behaviors
    Incest consumes feminine identity and shapes it as an extension of the father, BUT

    Daughters resist AND reciprocate incest, both of which open up possibilites for self-defintion
  • Why it's important:
    Suggests a more sophisticated medieval concept of "family" where the trope of the all-powerful father is under constant interrogation
    Moves daughters from periphery to center of medieval family life

So, problems, round two: I suspect that this is probably more than I can say in 90 seconds, even without extemporaneous rhetorical fumbles and flourishes. That last section probably needs more work, but it's also the hardest, by far. It's important because it is, in the same way that all knowledge is important. It (very partially) patches a hole in medieval literary scholarship. It challenges assumptions scholars have made about medieval sexuality, family life, and identities. I don't know; I'm working on it.