And thus, I emerged from a cloud of research

Today I presented on the research I’ve been doing on King Arthur, nostalgia, and decolonization. It’s a relief to be done with that presentation, and also a relief to feel so far ahead of the game at the moment.

For those of you that don’t know, this project has been in the works for several years. I’ve been fascinated with Arthurian legend for a long time, and indeed I’ve been fascinated with the effect of myth itself on contemporary culture for almost as long. That makes this project the culmination of a lot of thought, and a lot of interests converging.

However, in practice, I feel like this is not the right time for me to be working on it. Granted, there’s not much I can do about that – I have the grant now, if everything happens for a reason, then now is, in fact, the time to work on the project. Before I went on the bike trip, I was feeling particularly positive about my work with Grand Aspirations, and in particular in the media work that I was finally feeling like I had the qualifications to do.

Then, as soon as the bike trip ended, this research became my number one priority. I suppose that’s what happens, when one responsibility pays you and the other doesn’t. With payment comes accountability.

I talked with my professor for a long time today about my doubts of the importance of this research. She put it this way: the study of myth, legend, and narrative is very important in order to understand sweeping cultural trends. Narrative determines the political debates of the time – and so understanding this narrative is important, particularly in the ways in which I’m engaging with it.

I think this is true. Narrative does change public opinion and discourse. But with the rise of the internet, and the rate at which narratives are being produced and consumed in the forms of blogs, public opinion articles, etc., the narrative is changing at a much more rapid pace than I can really keep up with in studying books. Novels, in order to be relevant to political issues and climates, must be produced at an extremely fast rate and rise in popularity just as quickly, if not more so.

Thus, studying what seems to be more and more the static texts of King Arthur, I’m feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed by all of the other, potentially more important or relevant, texts that I could be studying.

Not only that, but I started research last summer that had direct, lasting implications for a particular community of people. I won’t lie: I haven’t finished that research, I haven’t come close to publishing it, and in the never-ending wave of new responsibilities, I feel like I’ve lost focus on it.

A continuation of last summer’s project would have been the ideal summer. However, due to the nature of the collaborative research program and my university’s faculty, I wouldn’t have been able to find a professor to collaborate with in time to complete and turn in my proposal.

And so I’m studying King Arthur.

I won’t be so rash as to write the project off immediately. There is something important in this research. But my priorities feel skewed.

I try to live my life very deliberately. Grasping for purpose is not something I’m used to.

I hope that this summer I’m able to define the relevance of this project not only for my life and career, but for the greater academic and American community.

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2 thoughts on “And thus, I emerged from a cloud of research

  1. I’ll preface this with it just being my impressions and opinion on narrative and research:

    I feel that it will always seem like exploring older narratives is a relatively static, unmoving event compared to what feels like a completely fluid, disappearing narrative of the present. I think this is why we look back in discussing narratives: because present discussion of a narrative contributes to a narrative, but is not necessarily effective at understanding a narrative in its grander context, as crucial a contribution as it might be to a narrative as it grows. I think the perspective of past narratives is essential to navigating the narrative in progress that we help create, because it helps us step back from being purely inside the narrative, even if we cannot step back far enough to grasp the entire beast as it’s born.

    Well, those are my thoughts.

    • Hello Paul –

      I think that writing this post really helped me get some of those uncertainties out. I will be writing a follow-up post shortly, about how I’ve been feeling about the research since then.

      When I started to think about studying past narratives as studying a part of history, in a way, and as shaping certain current narratives and cultural trends, what I was doing made more sense. Since this realization, I’ve been thinking about ways to bring more historical/contextual research into my work. I think that for a while I was getting stuck in actual literary criticism of the pieces I was studying, as well as theories of nostalgia (which, while awesome, are also fairly heady and esoteric).

      I like the way you phrased us as being “purely inside the narrative” of now, and that it’s important to step back to understand it. I’ve seen a few too many scholars get entirely caught up in the narratives of the past, but good studies of popular culture aren’t possible without a sense of history.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting! Gives me a couple of things to think of, as well as some more validation I hadn’t already thought of.

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