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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Postgraduate Diary: How's the Writing?

Friday, April 28, 2006

About six months into my first year of life as a PhD student, and a whispered question starts to be asked amongst my peers: "How is the writing?" Notice the absence of a pronoun in the question, as if the thesis is not my writing but, passively, the thing to be written, the 100 000 word obstacle to overcome. The Book seems to loom as a large shape out there on the third-year horizon, hazily resolved out of the miscellany of notes, scattered and incomplete chapters, an inky mass of jotted paragraphs, without even (as yet) a definite title with which to identify it.

Darwinism was a radical theory that thoroughly subverted Victorian confidence not so much because it exposed man's humble origins, but because it forced the realisation that there was no teleos or ultimate end towards which human activity - art, science, philosophy, law - was directed. In a similar way, original research work must evolve organically from numerous dips into your very specialised "meme-pool," but you are always unsure as to precisely what the outcome of the ideas you are replicating, with a slight twist under the terms of your thesis proposal, are going to be. The question thus provocatively reminds of the crisis that underlies all long-term studies, as it leaves you wondering precisely how the writing is going, since if you do not know the end, how can you judge the success of the route?

In answering the question, then, it is simplest just to deliver the current word count (which will probably be ingrained in your memory if, like me, you rush for that beautiful button every time you have completed a paragraph). This method has its risks, however, for it places highly theoretical theses, each written in the unique style of their authors - in some cases brilliantly succinct, in others elongated and discursive - in a simple league table, and if your word count appears below that of anyone else, your confidence immediately takes a dent and you can't help but feel you are irrecoverably behind on your work, and wish you had started writing, however badly, from day one.

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