Saturday, February 14, 2015

Identity Construction, scholarly voices, and other places to get lost.

I've only been in Paris once, for 40 hours sandwiched between two overnight bus/ferry rides from London, so I am mostly guessing what the heck #parisianchic is supposed to mean. Especially on a day when I have sinks to scrub, laundry to fold, and a hot 6-

from my february instagram feed, where I'm trying to vent my vanity and creativity.

The biggest concern voiced at the defense of my Comprehensive Exams was the fact that everything I write reads like an encyclopedia article. I can, apparently, list and explain concepts adequately, and can find and demonstrate salient points of intersection between them too, but I haven't managed to assert my own voice, my own authority, or my own conviction into anything academic.  I am totally on-board with this assessment of my work, because to presume that I have gathered enough information and perspectives to be conclusive feels dangerously presumptuous to me.  I am a chronic ponderer, and open-minded enough to know that if I assert my opinion, I will inevitably turn out to have failed to take something into account.  I kind of can't fathom writing as though I knew enough to speak with authority.

But then I start to wonder if I will ever arrive at a place where I will feel confident enough in my research and theory to assert myself, and it seems highly unlikely.  So I wonder how in the world anyone ever arrives at a place where they can write like that. On some level they are faking it, the lot of them.  The terrifying reality is that nobody, no matter how confident they seem, actually knows what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is any good.  But the vast majority of writers who aren't me manage to embrace some form of an authoritative or scholarly voice anyway.  Whether they do it out of ignorance or pride or desperation or something better, I cannot figure out.

All the advice out there on strengthening SEO and writing catchy headlines tells you to write with brazen authority.  Use words like "the best" "the secret to" "how to" and "100 ways to" as though it were possible for you to actually conceive of all the possibilities and arrive at a definitive conclusion about them. Scholarly writing apparently requires a similar assertion of knowledge, and it terrifies me.

Sure, my bibliography is more than 3x longer than it needs to be, and I'm at a point where I need to just stop and limit the scope of my research, but to write as though I knew enough to be an expert when I can hardly turn around without confronting a new perspective to consider seems impossible to me.  I am not an inherently confident person.  How much I have yet to learn is never far from my mind. I am insecure, and particularly sensitive to vulnerable failures, and I just don't get enough positive interpersonal feedback in my life to counter the sundry cataclysms of shame that come up and bite me.

So if I'm never going to arrive at a place where I feel I can speak like a qualified expert, how can I situate myself to still feel valuable, capable, or able to contribute something of value? I'm working that out, but I'm also really curious to figure out how other people conceive of themselves and their own authority and reason their way through asserting it.  If everyone is faking it all of the time, then why don't more people stop the bus and want to get off?  Where does confidence come from?  Is it inevitably tied to ignorance or fear? Should it be? Wouldn't that make it a negative trait?  Why do we want so badly to listen to confident voices? What do they instill in us?

Why am I such an introvert, and so terribly terribly slow to develop opinions?

Why does holing away to write this thesis bring out such paranoia in me?

I need a cookie, and an uninterrupted week to write. Neither seems likely.

But I haven't quit yet.

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