“Method and Content in Interdisciplinary Criticism”

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by Abby Weisberger 14C 

Scholarship is often a solitary practice.  Talking to others engaged in the pursuit, however, not only stimulates thought but also provides emotional support and reminds us that we are part of a community.  That’s why I find it fitting that many of my fellow bloggers have brought up the social aspect of research at the Fox Center. It’s true: we undergrads really have become close, and sharing office space is nothing but fun. During spring break, while in the throes of writing the last chapter of my thesis, I found myself going in to the Fox Center. When I arrived, two out of three of my office mates were already there (though a little dressed down). It was crunch time for all of us. Even though we should have been outside in 70-degree weather, it didn’t feel so lonely.

But there’s a little pressure involved in being fellows. We’re just dipping our toes into the waters of academia and learning how to comport ourselves professionally. Where “academic speak” comes out most distinctly is in the weekly Fellows’ lunches. The substantive areas that the talks cover are generally new and fascinating to me.  Confronting the superior experience and knowledge of the post-doctoral and dissertation fellows and tenured faculty, combined with their sheer range of disciplines, can be daunting. It can force one to question one’s own approach and the worthiness of one’s project.  How does one find one’s bearings amid a group of more advanced and knowledgeable scholars? What should one derive from the experience?

Personally I’ve found it useful to abstract the method of investigation from the content of the talks.  This has allowed me to enjoy being exposed to new subjects while still being conscious of my own work.  For example, I might have enjoyed a fellow’s multimodal use of art, photographs, and online material presenting the subject of modern-day robots and kept it in mind when planning my own presentation. On the other hand, I might have found the robots interesting but realized that such a strategy would not serve my own purposes.

It sounds paradoxical to say that one should keep an open mind but be critical. People tend to perk up when they find out they have something in common with you – whether it be a philosopher they’ve studied or a film they’ve seen – but the differences should also keep you paying attention. Some things fit and others don’t; the activity of deciding what does and what doesn’t keeps us all intellectually engaged.

 

 

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