Friday, September 14, 2007

Dissertation in a Nutshell

Below you can read the latest version of my "dissertation paragraph" from the most recent draft of my cover letter. I certainly am a genius, but it sure is difficult to prove it in 300 words or less! Many of you have unwittingly helped me compose major chunks of this, so I thought there might be enough interest to warrant a little sharing:

...my first chapter demonstrates the ways that Poe’s theory of Perversity undermined a popular trust in the principle of rational self-interest by making explicit the processes of ratiocination that can precede unethical human action. In a study of “The Cask of Amontillado,” I connect the impulse to confess with Perverse psychology, rather than with guilt, to show that, for Poe, there existed a substantial gap between thought and action. My chapter on Harriet Jacobs, original for its extensive treatment of Jacobs’ literary style, explores the issue of historical veracity and the dynamics of the literary truth-claim. By stylizing her narrative, interposing a partially fictionalized narrator, and reporting seemingly clear incidents through a lens of mystery, Jacobs discovers her most effective voice of resistance. I argue that “Linda Brent’s” perception of the mysterious in natural objects and experience is thoroughly romantic and that it is this thinking that allows her to integrate and accept her traumatic past without accepting the same in the present. My chapter on Herman Melville focuses on Moby-Dick, and continues to develop the concept of ethical perception—what I call “the ethics of seeing.” By undermining Ishmael’s narrative authority and extending a sympathetic reading to characters like Captain Ahab and Pip, I further refine the idea that an action as “natural” or instinctive as perception may ultimately fall under the power of will. Influenced by the recent work of critics like Jay Grossman and W.C. Harris, I argue that the scope of Melville’s metaphysical vision is the result of a particularly keen sensitivity to changes in culture and law, and that Melville’s seemingly abstract interest in the ancient problem of “the One” and “the Many” (Unity and Plurality) is directly relevant to the American political landscape. My chapter on Hawthorne, which is currently being drafted, offers the narrative structures of The Marble Faun as necessary for examining the nature of dynamic ethical obligation and traces the psychological, spiritual and social consequences of unjust action. Although my project is informed by the cultural and historical criticism that precedes it, I have reintroduced a distinctly romantic sense of timelessness into my study by focusing on interpersonal obligation and individual psychology. Inspired by the methods of the writers I study, I have consciously focused on aspects of the human condition that do not change, even while tracing the dynamism of legal and social institutions.

It's hard to believe that this and is what will determine the rest of my life. Maybe it's not that cosmic, though. In fact, I'm going to buy a lottery ticket on the way to work today: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42... right?

3 comments:

Insignificant Wrangler said...

What is this nonsense about aspects of the human condition that do not change...

Casey said...

Um, like -- the way new fathers don't get to sleep for about 4-6 weeks, for example.

"Brian" said...

which one's the Powerball?