Friday, February 15, 2008

Shadow Stabbing #2: Research in Cold Blood

Here's the second installment of Shadow Stabbing. I've called the episode "Research in Cold Blood" as a reference to Truman Capote's famous work of literary non-fiction, but I notice as I watch it this morning that I don't really make much of the connection. (I'm still a bit nervous in front of the camera and sometimes forget what I was going to say. This week, I actually edited some of the humming and hawing out, as you may notice. Perhaps it would have been easier to re-record it.)

The connections between the research and writing done by academics and the work Truman Capote did when he wrote In Cold Blood might be the subject of another post, actually. According to the movie that this scene is from, Capote's approach should probably be taken as a cautionary tale.

The basic point, however, stands: an academic text is a natural site of controversy. It should be full of "problems" and "issues" and its author should be aware of its potential to provoke. You should not try to avoid writing "one of those problem texts"; on the contrary, you should be trying to write such a text. The mistake is thinking you can write an at once wholly radical and wholly unobjectionable work. I sometimes mention Thomas Carl Wall's Radical Passivity (SUNY, 1999) as an example, though it is in many other respects an admirable book.

I notice I'm actually twisting Baldwin's worry a little bit. Baldwin (I think) was talking about a particular kind of problem within the novel, not the reception of it. Capote replies that, given his topic, he doesn't have much of a choice. The situation he describes simply is a problem. This way of putting it, however, also serves my purpose here. As an academic writer, you will normally be describing situations that are problematic; in fact, in many cases, you will be offering solutions to such problems.

Whatever you are writing about, don't think (and don't hope) that "everyone's just going to be quite pleased" with your topic. Face your rhetorical problems head-on. Engage with them.

As always, whatever you do, keep searching and, of course, keep writing.

1 comment:

Bixi said...

Just watched the video-clip. Perfect timing. Capote-day, an annual detox to deal with possible valentines-day hang-over. Research in cold blood leaves nothing of yesterdays sugar coating.

Todays point was beautifully stated. For some reason this mornings video made me think of a nice piece by Latour: "Why has critique run out of steem: From matters of fact to matters of concern" Critical inquiry, Winter 2004; 30, 2 pg.225) Think Thomas might enjoy this piece for more than one reason. B