Lest you be deceived, the title of the post is not a description of its author--as humble and retiring a figure as she is. Rather, it's a description of the project I'm currently working on.
And I suppose I'm not sure how I feel about that. It's a very old-fashioned kind of essay, one that points out an odd metaphor that seems to crop up in certain kinds of texts; traces it through those texts; and draws some conclusions about why it works the way it works. It's almost an assignment that I might give my students ("No, you cannot write about what a bitch Lady Macbeth is. But birds, now birds would make an awesome paper. There are totally a lot of birds in Macbeth").
On the one hand, it's nice to be working on something so focused and so self-contained. It's an interesting topic involving some unfamiliar texts, and since nothing has been written on the subject, I have a lot of freedom. On the other hand. . . is this actually an essay that anyone, anywhere, will ever care about?
It's at times like this that I recall a visiting researcher at the rare books library where I worked in college. He turned in dozens upon dozens of call slips, insisting that we wheel out cartloads of books to him at a time. Then he'd flip through them, taking only the barest of notes--and after 20 or 30 minutes return the entire cart and submit another batch of requests.
After a couple of days of silently watching this, one of the full-time employees looked up the guy's research application to see what he was doing with all those books. His project? An analysis of the use of the macron in Greek texts of a certain period.
Now, from my current vantage point, I recognize that this was probably only part of a larger project, and I can at least imagine some interesting and important questions that might have animated what at the time struck those of us behind the desk as hilariously pointless. For years, though, the dude studying the macron was my pet example of scholarship's willful obscurity; I'm pretty sure I trotted out that story more than once when explaining why I didn't think I should go to grad school.
So somewhere behind my mixed feelings about the narrow scope of this particular project is Macron Dude. But I suspect it's more than that. Maybe what it is, above all, is the worry that everything I work on would get me sniggered at by the folks behind the library desk. Yes, I've published things with bigger and often quite aggressive arguments. But maybe their aggression is really a compensation for--and semi-conscious recognition of--their irrelevance.
Which doesn't mean I'm going to stop doing any of it, of course. I'm not modest enough for that.