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My Useless Research
May 8, 2012 - 8:28pm

The semester is finally winding down and I am shifting gears from teaching (and the grading) to my research and a busy summer of conferences and digital humanities learning opportunities. This whole hubbub about what research is important and which research is a waste of time (and taxpayer dollars) has really struck a cord with me because of the perceived uselessness of my own insignificant research.

The title of one of my presentations at this year’s Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities (which I will be live blogging) is “The Postcolonial Condition as Menopause: Nalo Hopkinson’s New Moon’s Arms.”  The title has all of the pieces that make most conservatives roll their eyes (at best) and decry the decline of Western Civilization. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover (or title), because I think Hopkinson presents the reader with an interesting and challenging metaphor for thinking about the current moment in the postcolonial history of the Caribbean.

I won’t give away the entire presentation (which I have yet to write, ahem), but here today I want to discuss the larger issue, particularly in literary studies: understanding how we turn our world into art, into narrative, into metaphor, and into simile and imagery through language. Literature has always been about telling ourselves stories about our world, making sense of ourselves and the situation(s) we find ourselves in. A group of students in my peer-driven class this semester were fascinated by our drive to create art in all forms. I was drawn to Hopkinson’s work because it revealed to me insights and perspectives about the world I live in that I hadn’t considered before. The purpose of my publications and presentations is to try and share that insight and make meaning from it.

My dissertation research involved an author who, quite literally, helped change the face of Quebec literature and society. I was interested in how she influenced an “external” audience, through translation, in English. If anything, my research showed just how much of an impact she had on poetry and literature more broadly (and globally). I’m hoping that my involvement in the Editing Modernism in Canada digital project will help introduce my work (and her work) to an even larger audience, as a teaching tool in the classroom in particular. The larger narrative of her career in English is an important one, I think, in understanding the larger process of telling, retelling, and appropriating art across cultures.

My other current research involves an author who refuses any and all ethnic or other labels that he sees as limiting and ultimately artificial. He is a trickster, continually shifting his identity and his writing depending on his mood (and, I would argue, the mood of the present moment). I had the pleasure of interviewing him by email for a book of essays I edited on his work where I think I proceeded to frustrate him with my questions about his writing and his current practice of rewriting his works. I’m also presenting on his works in English at Congress, and while he is becoming increasingly popular in English, it’s interesting to note the changes that happen to his work.

All of this is, as I kept writing, interesting. Is it earth-shattering? No. But I think that it offers not only a mental exercise but an opportunity to learn about ourselves and our current cultural moment(s), as well as the cultural moments of time past. I want to understand (some) of the stories we tell (and retell), the images and metaphors we use and don’t use, the authors we embrace and reject. It’s a small piece, and maybe ultimately insignificantly so, but it’s the piece I can offer. I think it has value. They write (or wrote), I read and reread, I reflect, and I write. It’s good, honest work that I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

 

 

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