Category Archives: writing

In My Head

Today I started working on my statement of purpose for doctoral programs. And by this I mean I started agonizing over it in my head without actually writing anything. So far so good.

One of the schools I am applying to would like to know what I intend to bring to their campus. Well, for starters I plan to always bring a cute purse and shoes. I will sometimes bring my own coffee. But for the most part I plan on becoming a frequent patron of the lovely coffee shop on campus that I have heard so much about.

Oh I see. I think they want to know what I plan on bringing academically. In that case, I plan on bringing my exuberance and love of learning. I completely intend to use the doctoral program to launch a career where I will enthusiastically dedicate my life to studying and writing about an amazing literary work that basically amounts to a giant camping trip. And I am perfectly happy with that.

There was a time I briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a Colridgean. I was in my early twenties and Coleridge was exotic. I know, I know. This is not a common sentiment. Most of you would probably attribute many adjectives to Coleridge without ever hitting on exotic or any of its synonyms. But I saw him as the literary Audobon.

Ok, let me back up.

In 11th grade my history teacher had a fascination with Audobon. She had posters of his works all over the classroom, and never missed an opportunity to tell us a bit about him. His most famous works were paintings and drawings of birds. He had a keen sense for capturing their nature, however, in his later works, for which he is most famous, his birds were so well displayed on paper because Audobon was an amazing taxidermist. One critic stated that Audobon used his art to infuse life into his subjects. With pencils and paint he managed to resurrect his birds for all to see, and give them more life than they ever actually had.

Now think about Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Literary Audobon. See, it all makes sense.

Returning to the statement of purpose, where I will absolutely not mention any of these ramblings – as whimsical as they may be – I am still not sure where to begin. I think I know what I want to do, but it seems so far fetched I dare not mention it. At least not until they know me a bit better. Admissions people are awfully skittish. So I have placed myself in quite the little corner. Hence all the agonizing. Which now is technically no longer solely in my head since I am blogging about it, and therefore sort of on paper, or at least written out.

This will be a most interesting experiment. In what? I don’t know yet.

Form Informs Content

Form informs content. I always assumed this means that the form in which something is written intones the type of writing; poetry has a specific form, essays conform to a different style, and so forth. That all made sense. But apparently I missed the most important point in all of this; form supersedes content. If a perceived correct form is not practiced, then content becomes irrelevant. And here, form, takes on its most basic meaning. It is not overall structure, or literary awareness, but reduced to the usage of proper punctuation. One mislaid comma, or worse, dash or semi colon, completely derails an argument. It becomes so distracting it no longer matters what is being said as the focus is shifted from the writing to the mechanics of writing. Or, the choices engaged when creating these mechanics.

There is a school of thought that has somehow decided which punctuation marks are appropriate, while the rest are “unnecessary” or “pretentious.” I completely understand the criticism if these punctuation marks are being misused. In which case, please let me know. But to eliminate them from writing altogether simply because they are somehow deemed inferior sounds absolutely ridiculous. In fact, after all the rules have been taken into account, I am left with the comma and the period, with an occasional colon or perhaps question mark. The latter two are generally useless most of the time, and the former are great, but if used too often can produce either short, truncated, choppy sentences, or complete run-ons that never seem to end.

Why can’t I just have every valid form of punctuation at my disposal and then moderated for propriety? If I go overboard, or misuse something, let me know. If I continuously do it, grade me down. And while you are doing it, feel free to comment on the content parallel to the form.

While everyone is in a tizzy counting my commas, I would actually like to know if my argument works, and whether I read the text correctly.

The Abstract

I am terrible at abstracts. There, I have said it. Even when I write something moderately good I cannot create an abstract to fully showcase the work. I try to rebuild the paper in bits and pieces, awkwardly finagling main ideas into phrases. Concepts that took me pages to explain and explore are now cut up and reconfigured. I am terrible at abstracts.

Part of the problem (and honestly I don’t know if this is common practice or not), is that I write my abstracts only after the paper is complete. Maybe if I started writing my abstracts before I had any fully formed ideas it may flow more smoothly. I don’t know. Maybe if I didn’t have anything to chop up to begin with then I wouldn’t feel so bad about the process. That poses a problem too (and again, I am not sure if this is common practice), but when I start writing a paper I never really know where it will go, making it nearly impossible to actually write an abstract. The things I think I will be writing about shift and bend as the paper progresses. If I did write an abstract before the paper, it would most certainly be an abstract of a paper I never wrote.

Tonight I was looking over my Dickens paper for the umpteenth time, mainly because I have to create an abstract for it. And I did. I honestly really like how this paper turned out. But the abstract… meh.

Here is the abstract as it stands. Make what you will of it.

If you happen to like it, well then the paper is just as good. If you hate it, then I promise the actual paper is way better!

Estella, A Fascinating Spectacle: “I Am What You Have Made Me”

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations employs a most strange form of first person narration; even though Pip, the main character, narrates the novel, he does so from the vantage point of adulthood, looking back upon his youth. Thus there is a clear distinction between Pip, the character, and, for the sake of simplification, the wiser and older Pip. Yet they are still the same person. It must be noted that despite Pip’s attempt to retell the story as he had known it at the time, there is always a shadow of the wiser and older Pip overcast upon the narrative. Young Pip’s life story as it is presented to the reader is mediated through a retrospective lens. As Pip recreates himself from memory, so does he recreate all those who once surrounded him, most importantly Estella. Arguably Anamnesis, the Platonic concept of creation and recreation from memory, is a prevalent theme within character formulation throughout the novel, especially between Estella and Pip, addressing two very important questions: is Great Expectations a bildungsroman that traces Pip’s progress as he is formed by the memory of Estella, or is the image of Estella, as recollected by Pip, simultaneously constructed by him?

Pip’s great expectations, and quest for betterment, which stem from his adulation of Estella, function along the lines of personal elevation, congruent with the progress of the Petrarchan lover. While Pip may not necessarily knowingly subscribe to chastity in his pursuit of Estella, arguably the Petrarchan lover does not willingly relinquish physical love, but rather acquiesces to forgo it in light of the impossibility of his love. The main difference relies on foreknowledge; the Petrarchan lover explores his love fully knowing it will remain unrequited, while Pip, despite having glimpses of truth, never gives up hope. Pip’s journey towards betterment is constantly caked in hope of achieving a union with Estella, and in the end, he achieves this, even if only in ambiguous terms. Once a novel has been read the reader usually regards the entire work through the lens of the ending, attempting to conceptualize all of the events in terms of the final outcome, and piecing them together in such ways as to shape the path for what the reader knows will happen.

The first ending which Dickens originally intended is bittersweet, filled with remorse, but also understanding. After Pip devotes a lifetime to Estella only to be rewarded with unrequited love, he understands his erroneous desires of ever gaining her acceptance, and finally lets go. The second ending, and the one with which most are familiar, is definitely too tidy; even scholars in favor of this ending will concede to this point. Estella’s character can either be seen as the cold hearted, calculating enchantress who refuses to return affection to the bitter end, and will always remain aloof and just out of Pip’s grasp. Or she may be regarded as the result of her upbringing, but a dynamic character who grows within the novel, learning from experience, and willing to be redeemed by Pip through forgiveness and acceptance of love. Regardless of which ending is used, the anguish the idea of Estella has brought Pip all of these years leads to this point, and in either ending Estella’s fascinating spectacle comes to an end.