My position is obvious

So, like Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, I had to write a short “position paper” recently. Mine is for a special issue of a journal dedicated to new research and research opportunities in the sub-field of medieval literature for which I am currently most know. Yeah, you know, the one that is the subject of my book and in which I have a co-edited anthology coming out in two weeks.

Like Jeffrey’s position paper, mine had to be short (although I had 500 more words that he did), and that doesn’t leave you much room to be subtle or to make nuanced, carefully constructed arguments. So I kind of feel about it the way Flavia feels about her SAA abstract, as if it’s a RANDOM STRING OF NOUNS!  Seriously, over in Dame Eleanor Hull’s writing group this week, I had this to say about it:

[It’s] kind of stupid. It’s supposed to be a short “position paper” and the position I took was, “We need more of this thing we’re already doing! Because there’s not enough of it! Even though some of you might think there’s lots of it!” And then I added, “because of this trendy new way of thinking about these things!” Yeah, dumb. Sigh.

But I suppose if my dumb piece gets people’s knickers all in a twist and makes them shake their fist and me and shout, “But we’re already doing that! And how is your trendy way of talking about it any different from what we’ve been doing in any practical way?!” then I guess it fulfills the editors’ call for something that “provokes” — although I’m not sure they meant “provoke” as a synonym for “annoy.”

Anyway, I’m writing this in part because I’m in sympathy with Flavia and Jeffrey right now, but also because, like Flavia, I need to remember that this is often how my students feel about their writing, although probably with even higher levels of anxiety about how “dumb” what they’ve done is. Between Flavia’s post and my own thinking about this “dumb” position paper, I’ve been reminded that I need to be gentler with my students and their writing, but also more open about how it *is* a struggle, especially when you’re writing about something difficult or trying on ideas that are new to you, and that the struggle is part of the process (if you’re doing it right and not coasting), one that I go through as well, even at my stage. I also should remember that it can take me all semester to write 2500 freakin’ words (at least 2500 *good* ones).

5 thoughts on “My position is obvious

  1. At the risk of being repetitive I thought I would post here what I replied to you at Dame E’s blog.

    I just read your blog post about this “dumb” position paper you wrote and this resonates so strongly with me right now. I really want to thank you for writing this. I just wrote a short article (1200 words) for an online journal in a field that is not my discipline, but that my research can speak to. I sent the piece to two friends to read and I have been talking about this piece non-stop to my partner. The primary content of my discussions: is this article stupid. I am afraid of looking stupid. I think everyone who reads this will think I am idiot. I had to write it in more of a journalistic tone and was told not to cite too much. So I am presenting my argument without the usual arsenal of citations and scholarship that I would use to buttress my claims. Anyway, to make the already long story short. I am glad that I am not alone and I needed to read this post and your blog post. Thank you…I feel better:)

    • Another PostDoc – Glad to make you feel better! That’s actually part of why I wrote this post, because I wanted people like you to know that everyone feels this way at one time or another.

  2. Another interesting thing which I offer in sympathy: sometimes when you think you are being too damn obvious (as I was in my position paper) you find out that it isn’t the case at all.

  3. I greatly appreciate your comments here on the importance of illustrating development for students rather than simply showing them a finished product. I always found it strange that, somewhere around middle school, we stop talking to students in direct terms about *how* to read and write (and I do think a great many of the struggles that students and younger writers face in writing has to do with certain struggles in reading that they may not be aware of). Alex Huang was speaking in his Digital Humanities Seminar the other day and mentioned how blogging/digital writing was a good way of demonstrating the slow, developmental nature of writing and I really appreciate this recognition. Thanks for the post!

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