Monday, June 16, 2008

Lazy, hazy, crazy.

People I Know in Real Life have been asking what it is that I do all day in SCTIAHTAMU. The short answer is: research. The longer answer is: reading lotsa obscure and mostly poorly-written stuff, the bulk of which I will never read again, quote, or even cite in anything I ever publish. And it's awesome.

As Tenured Radical commented a few posts ago, this kind of intense, leisurely exploration is what summers are for--though my summers haven't, actually, looked much like this for the past few years, when my energies have been focused on finishing up projects that were already close to completion and dealing with a variety of life changes.

The last time I really just wallowed around in an archive was the summer after my dissertation prospectus was approved, when I had a three-month fellowship at INRU's rare books library. With no real idea what I was doing, I just. . . read. Going to the library made me feel productive, so I spent five or six hours a day, five days a week, paging edition after edition of the works I was writing on, doing subject and keyword searches by every issue and historical event that intersected even tangentially with my topics and authors, and taking notes on whatever showed up: broadside ballads, instructional manuals, royal proclamations.

I still have a folder full of notes from that summer, and a small number of them did turn out to be immediately useful for my dissertation. As for the rest? I couldn't tell you the titles or authors of most of the works I read, much less the specifics of their individual contents. But the chapter whose topic coincided most closely with most of what I read that summer is the one chapter that I wrote quickly and confidently, where I felt sure of my argument and my material almost from the beginning. I don't think that's coincidental.

I'm more directed this summer, but once again I've found myself wandering down strange by-roads, enmeshed in debates that I hadn't known existed, and trying to track down every last pamphlet salvo in a particular skirmish--all without letting myself worry whether I truly need to do so or whether I'll ever refer to these notes again. You could call it due diligence. Or you could just call it fun.


In unrelated fun: I'm obsessed with this song, which I've heard two or three times at a local coffee shop (and which, despite my nonexistent Portuguese, I finally succeeded in transcribing enough words from to locate on ye olde internets). Don't say I never did nothing for you.


Emily said...

(Long-time lurker, probably first-time poster. I don't actually remember)

That really is the best part of the research. I have notebooks full of such information from research trips to the Folger -- I used some of the stuff in actual projects (i.e. dissertation and article that needs to get finished), but so much of it really didn't go anywhere except to make me much more aware of the things going on at the time.

It's those moments that remind me why this is the best line of work ever ...

Jack said...

So jealous of your text meandering.

And I love Jorge Ben. Somehow we usually end up listening to him while stuck in LIE traffic on the way to the beach. Almost makes it worth the trip.

J. Otto Pohl said...

This summer I am keeping track of the books I read on my blog. Some of the reviews are more extensive than others. But, at least this way there is a record of what I actually read for all of them.