A few weeks ago I completed a rough draft of what I presently consider to be the writing sample I will use when I apply to graduate school. Summarizing about 1000 years of visual history, I argue that while Chaucer's translation of Boethius deposits classical interpretations of visual language in the 14th century, Troilus and Criseyde uses comparable language to the Boece to deconstruct outdated visual language to reflect the ambivalence in the optical theories of his time. I pretty much argue that there is a constructed language which equates seeing with knowledge and understanding (more specifically, divine and philosophical knowledge and understanding,) but Troilus and Criseyde relies on that reading just to expose its limited scope while simultaneously offering new ways of reading visual language.
Unfortunately, I don't like the essay. It is the first piece of critical writing that I've done since I graduated with my B.A. 4 years ago. I received my Master of Library and Information Science degree 2 years ago, but I don't consider that field to involve any measure of critical or analytical thinking. It's like a 2 year job training program, and I actually despise library work now that I am qualified to do it. Thus, the writing sample on visual language and Chaucer feels to me more like a re-training exercise I completed to teach myself how to read and write again and less like an insightful bit of close reading that reflects my talent and my scholastic goals in medieval literature studies.
Instead, as I've been reading Mallory and Monmouth, I've noticed a connectedness between Merlin and stone, which is something I would like to work out more fully and perhaps develop into a new writing sample. I've been reading much theory and method lately, and I am excited and enthused by the applications of posthumanism to medieval literature. Misanthrope that I am, animal studies and object oriented philosophy are exactly the methods I want to work with; as someone with only a B.A., I feel I need to rely on pre-existing methods to validate my close readings, and I couldn't be more relieved to return to the field and find opinions I've always held to now be of academic merit and fully explicated by recognized scholars. Hell, there's even a conference, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in the Early Modern and Medieval Periods, being held at GWU this spring! This is the type of work I want to be doing, and I want a writing sample that reflects this.
So I shall continue reading Merlin as the bridge between human and object in Monmouth and Mallory, and perhaps put together a bit of writing that, whether or not it will serve as a writing sample, at least keeps me practicing and working to construct a voice in the field.