Thursday, March 31, 2011

Narrowing my interest, or, HELP me find the right grad program!!!

This is sort of a response to Karl Steel, but this is also something I've been meaning to do for awhile.

I’ve been trying to isolate graduate programs I should apply to for months now and I’m still having a less than optimal success in narrowing down my options. The only schools I know with absolute certainty I will apply to are Cornell and GWU. Others I’m presently investigating are Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis (if only to work with Timothy Morton!), Harvard, and Yale. I know it is imperative I keep an open mind regarding location of the school, the education is more important by far than region, but I have to take into consideration my partner who is a public official in the Democratic political scene and would flounder in some of the very red environments in which many of the Ivys are, unfortunately, located. I can make exceptions if the school is exceptional AND I know I can perform strongly in the program, but I also need to consider schools in more diverse or more “blue” areas.

That being said, I should focus most on finding schools where I will be a good match with the faculty and will be able to select a special committee that will support my research interests. I also want to find a job after I graduate, so I am also looking at schools with a strong job placement record. But before I can figure out where I will fit best with the English faculty, I need to identify my interests within the discourse.

Thus, I will attempt to catalog just what I wish to study and what kind of research I want to conduct as a grad student. The following is a very facile rendering of my interests, just an attempt to try and understand why I want to become a medieval scholar. Clearly this does not resemble anything I would write for a statement of interest, it’s just a casual attempt to help me understand myself a little better.

 I am most interested in materialism, object-ontology and thing theory. I want to explore the relationship between medieval people and the objects around them, not just how objects were used, but to remove the anthropocentric focus and understand what agency and trajectories existed in the (representations of) objects themselves. I want to understand how humans perceived objects from a pre-Enlightment perspective, before the divide between man and object, before objects were foregrounded and philosophy shifted from a primarily ontological study to a primarily epistemological concern. I accept a vibrant materialism and I wish to study the way medieval literature reinforces the idea of the de-centering of the human and an awareness of the vitality of non-human things, how humans interact with other non-human actants within assemblages beyond a simple human/tool relationship.

 I am interested in animals, environments and ecocritical readings. I believe in Timothy Morton’s theory that the concept of Nature only preserves and reinforces the divide between man and the environment, and I find that in medieval literature the divide is hardly as substantial. I believe exploring transitions of how man perceived the natural world and his/her place within it during the middle ages can help our understanding of our present ideas about a (n)ature/(N)ature binary and how best to redact the present anthropocentric world view that prevents us from overcoming the current ecological crisis.

 I am interested in monsters and hybrids, queers and Others, in liminal spaces and non-linear trajectories. I am interested in ebbs and flows, fluid motions and horizontal worlds that oppose teleologies. I am interested in visionary literature when it opens to possibilities of queer relationships and subverts heteronormative hegemonies. I am interested in queer ecology as Timothy Morton has introduced it and I anticipate his continued research and publication as I believe it will support research into subversive non-human sexualities (human-object, human-animal, animal-animal, animal-object, human-plant, etc.) that continue to disrupt the (n)ature/(N)ature divide.

 I am interested in how cinema and other media construct contemporary medievalisms. How might contemporary representations of medieval monsters, non-human beings, spaces, and (n)ature effect our reading of medieval literature/culture? How can digital media be worked into pedagogy to engage students and re-ignite interest in the humanties?

 I am most interested in 12-16th centuries. Not sure yet where I might dilate within such a large span of time, but it may be that for the purposes of my graduate work/dissertation, I won’t need to scale that down. We shall see.

It feels good having written that down.

Perhaps now I can start narrowing down graduate programs. Unfortunately, without great access to scholarly work, I am often limited to looking at faculty CVs and lists of graduate courses to try and figure out which programs resonate best with me and where I might flourish. Thus, if you are reading this, perhaps you can offer advice as to where the person who wrote that jumbled mess above might find the graduate program he needs.


Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Grad school is such an unpredictable thing: you'll get into places you didn't expect, and be denied by others where you thought you were a good fit. I applied to six and was admitted to one, waitlisted at another, rejected at the rest.

BUT the most effective application does make an argument for studying with particular faculty members and at a particular department.

Where else? NYU and Carolyn Dinshaw? (She has been doing lots of ecological work). I'll try to think of where else.

Your actual statement of purpose should also be anchored in some medieval texts, but this is an excellent overview of themes.

Bacchanal in the Library said...

Thank you Jeffrey. I hadn't considered NYU yet, but I will certainly take a look. And I will be sure to discuss specific medieval texts in my statement of purpose, I'm glad to know that is something the committee reviewing my app. materials will be looking for.

For now, I just wanted to write down what trajectories I'm interested in following with the hope that you and others might be able to offer some advice regarding which graduate programs I should apply to. Perhaps I'll discuss texts in another post down the road. My highest priority right now is the writing sample, but as Karl Steel commented on a previous blog entry, he'll have an easier time critiquing the samples/ideas I'm posting to my blog if he knows which universities I'm applying to (and of course, I'll have an easier time writing the paper if I know where I'm sending it). Thus, this post. I figure it can't hurt to ask a few scholars I admire* if they might point me towards programs I should take a second look at (or which schools I shouldn't bother throwing $70+ at if I'm certain not to be a good fit).

*flattery is still valid currency, no?

Karl Steel said...

Been very busy, but COLUMBIA. Definitely apply. Working with Susan Crane would be a good thing (it was great for me) + you'd be in the consortium, which means you'd be able to take classes at NYU, CUNY, and Fordham. While at Columbia, I studied at Fordham, for example, with Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, who's coming back to the city.

I second Dinshaw.

I'm really impressed by what you've put out here. If you do apply to Columbia, remember that it's an English and Comp Lit department, so you're 'anchor[ing] in medieval texts' should at least show an awareness that English wasn't the only language going in the MA.