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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: Ends

Friday, December 19, 2008

And so it began, and so it has been, and so it ends. Not with a bang, but with the mechanical clunking of a printer, sending out three hundred pages of prose, the only matter that - at this point in time - matters in my life. For it has been my life, for the last three years. It has been the first thing I thought about when I woke. Every item of reading, every shred of prose, every lecture, every television programme and every film has, potentially, had something to say about my research. No matter how hard I tried, I could not switch off from an incessant dialogue.

Sometimes I felt like a medieval scribe, the passive medium of the voice of some divine wisom. There was a world out there, to be understood, and a page on which to mark that understanding, and me, caught in the middle, mediating a ceaseless flow of information from the world into words on the page. And the suspicion I have had - and the thing I still fear - is that even now, I do not quite understand what I have done. My agency has not been all there. Those words and ideas somehow always floated away from me, just beyond the clutch of my comprehension and the grasp of my articulation. Do I really know the postmodern condition I have described? Have I really appreciated all those films and fictions I have looked at in my research? Did I really write that paragraph? Can this thread of detection really be concluded? It will be, of course, concluded of sorts, by those academic Poirots I will confront, not in some cosy lounge but in an anonymous seminar room, where I will undergo my viva.

For now, though, as my words are burnt onto pages through the precise heat of lasers and a fine cloud of toner, I wonder about the things I have done (or did not), arguments I have written (or have not), the books I have read (and those I did not). And I think about what might have been, three years ago, when I started off researching medical narratives, and I wonder how it is that it has ended - right here, right now - with a thesis on the demonic metaphors of postmodern cyberfiction. If only I could recreate the strange permutations, the happenstances of books I just found, the ideas that happened to be floating in academia at the time, and the quirky firing of a few neurons in my own grey matter, that somehow led me here. Does all knowledge have to be produced this way, beyond the control and predictive abilities of those who actually make it?

Even as I end, I think of new beginnings, forking trajectories that point out of my thesis like a web of possibilities. These alternative research directions, I know, I will pursue differently. I now how a body of knowledge in my head, whereas before it was waiting, concealed behind dusty covers, on the library shelves. I feel I could write from the off on any number of new topics, and do it with more acumen, more insight and - most importantly of all - I would actually be conscious of what I was doing, rather than simply allowing the thesis to lead me down numerous dead end alleys, as well as exciting, interesting paths. I look at those two inches of paper, lying like a dead weight beside me on the desk as I type this, and I think - I have done something. Three years ago, this thing, this possessive thing, was not in the world. These ideas, did not exist or, if they did, they were hazy, drifting in the air of academia between different people, but now honed and compressed by me into a single, coherent argument. In spite of my feeling that I was never quite in control of my own work, my ego has to come into play now. It is my thesis I am about to trot across and land on someone's desk. I made this. I am become...a writer.

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