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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: A PhD Week, Wednesday

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In contrast to the previous two days, which have seen me quite productive, today is a slow one. I spend some of the day chugging my way through Charles Taylor's philosophical treatise, Sources of the Self. Like much contemporary theoretical philosophy it's hard going; in order to ensure as logic dictates that every plausible loophole or opposition or flaw its closed, it becomes dense with argument, packed with detailed reference to earlier arguments, both Taylors and his beloved Plato.

When I get bored, or realise I have been turning the pages without actually reading (a strange case of mind-body separation?) I set to work on the computer, typing up my notes from Warner's Phantasmagoria.

At this stage in my thesis, half-way through with around 60,000 words written, any secondary material tends to get inserted into my existing chapters, rather than leading me down new research lines. Whereas I imagine a scientist might spend the first year doing background research, the second year collecting data, and the third year writing-up - with the difficult decision being when to stop reading and when to start experimenting or writing - there has been no such distinction for me. In an English PhD, and with my personal style of thinking, my writing is my research: I develop my thoughts as the ink gets laid on the page, and I do not make a distinction between researching, drafting, and writing - in true evolutionary fashion the finished chapter emerges out of the gradually growing embryo of my notes, so that it is not clear where or when my notes end and my essay begins. The benefit of my approach is that I progress steadily, and I am perhaps more likely to produce some original insights than if I were to read everything already written on my topic and merely produce a synthesis of existing argument; the drawback is that, if I write too much too soon, my work becomes concretised and rigid in the mould of the early stages of my thinking, and is hard to alter if I read something later which modifies it. This is the issue which, albeit in a mild form, I am encountering now. With seven chapters, I find myself cutting and pasting between them, trying to insert quotes or concepts from my latest reading (in this case, Marina Warner) wherever they best fit, then tying the loose edges together. I am sure it will all work in the end, and I am confident that my research is going to be quite novel and develop through a clear argument; but I have several frustrating months ahead of me during which I must tidy up the tens of paragraphs of bold type, which indicate changes or drafts that exist, like monstrous lumps, within the tidy text of an otherwise finished chapter.

Alongside my writing, I also make a mini-bibliography of books referenced by Warner that might be useful to read. Naturally, having wiped my record clean by returning most of my books to the library yesterday, now is a good opportunity to get more reading material out to plug the gap on my shelf - they will look impressive, even if they will never be looked in.

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Posted by Alistair at 11:28 am

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