Monday, July 21, 2014


"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." (Ernest Hemingway)

"It's reassuring to know these things: right orientation, disposition, atmosphere." (Michael Andrews)

Sometimes we despair. The project does not go as well as we had hoped, or we run into a familiar sort of laziness, or both, and suddenly what needs to be done seems beyond our abilities, or not worth the trouble, or both. And when we consider, then, how it must be for everyone else, that every intellectual project depends, at some point, on overcoming this sort of difficulty, under these sorts of conditions, and is dependent for its completion on this sort of effort, made or not made by human beings as imperfect as ourselves, well, we're likely to lose all hope for the academic enterprise as such. It's at moments like these that simple activities can help. I always find it reassuring that I can do ten push-ups, for example. Or that I can run five kilometers in about half an hour. Or that I can write a 175-word paragraph of prose at will. "Do not worry," I tell myself. "One thing at a time. Easy it does it."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Zizek Owes Us a Rewrite

Adam Kotsko has posted a puzzling defense of Slavoj Zizek on the occasion of his plagiarism. I've been working on a post of my own about it, but Adam's post offers a good place to begin. Let's keep in mind, however, that we are talking about a verbatim transcription, with minor stylistic changes, that covers more than a page of Zizek's The Parallax View (pp. 301-303). The source is clearly Stanley Hornbeck's review of Kevin MacDonald's Culture of Critique. (Credit for discovering the plagiarism goes to Deogolwulf, with an assist from Steve Sailer.) Zizek has acknowledged the error in an email to Critical-Theory, so the facts aren't really at issue, but you can see for yourself using the Diff Checker. In what follows, I assume familiarity with the case.

I agree with Adam that what Zizek says happened is probably what did happen, but I don’t think I understand Adam's analogy to student writing. If a student handed in a paper and you discovered that a page or two had been lifted verbatim from a book review published online, and when you confront him with it he explains that he had a friend write that part of the paper because, well, he didn’t have time to read the book it is about (and it looks like his friend didn’t have time to write the passage either), would you just give him a rewrite? I think he would at the very least have to fail the assignment. And get a very stern warning about cheating.

It’s probably true that many established academics don’t write all the actual prose in their books, but I do think it remains the implicit norm. That is, you can’t defend yourself against criticism of a book you've put your name to by saying, “Oh, but I didn’t write that part of the book.” (This is true even where you have a co-author to share the blame with. You can't just unload it.) Zizek may not have passed off as his own something he and Adam would dignify as an “idea”*, but he has surely passed off Hornbeck’s work of summarizing MacDonald’s work as though he, Zizek, did that work himself. The fact that he disagrees with MacDonald does not make it better, but worse. Zizek is dismissing an author that he in any case implicitly, and in this case explicitly, claims to have read. ("...reading authors like MacDonald, one often cannot decide...") In his explanation of the plagiarism he is forced to admit that he hasn’t read MacDonald’s book at all. So this isn’t just stealing Hornbeck’s reading of MacDonald. It’s failing to observe a minimal standard of intellectual decency.

When I discussed this case with Campbell Jones recently, he pointed out something else. As in almost all other cases of plagiarism I'm aware of, the act of uncritically pasting someone else's writing (even if you think it's your friend's original writing) into your text will reproduce errors in your source that you might otherwise have caught. That's happened in this case in the quote that Hornbeck attributes to Derrida but which is actually John Caputo's reading of Derrida. (I have not been able to confirm that the mistake was introduced by Hornbeck, but from the chapters that MacDonald has available online it seems clear that it's not a mistake he would make. He lists Caputo's book in the bibliography, and a major part of his argument seems to be aimed at deconstruction.) That is, the Derrida quote is a misattribution, and one that, as Campbell pointed out, anyone who knows anything about Derrida should easily have spotted. (Derrida would never say, "The idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct…") I assume that Zizek knows a great deal about Derrida. In the footnotes (where Zizek attributes all non-attributed quotations to MacDonald and so, by implication, attributes the misattribution to MacDonald), Zizek goes on to bring his critique of Derridean thought to a ridiculous "climax". Derrida goes from being a kind of Jewish conspirator (as construed by Hornbeck) to being an al-Qaeda sympathizer—or that's how it looks to me.

This is very unfair to MacDonald, whose work appears to be controversial enough on its own not to need to be read through the lens of what appears to be an pseudonymous white supremacist! This is a bit like getting your Nietzsche through a Nazi like Rosenberg and dismissing it, i.e., Nietzsche's thought, as "barbarism".

And this brings me to something that I find very confusing about this case. Zizek has used the description of MacDonald's work in a positive review as the basis of his dismissal of that work. But, precisely because the review is positive, we find Zizek (which is to say, Hornbeck, whose sentences Zizek has plagiarized), actively nodding along with and corroborating various parts of MacDonald's theory. This includes the critical gesture at the deconstruction of immigration policies. Hornbeck and MacDonald appear to be very critical of deconstruction and the Frankfurt school, personified by Derrida and Adorno respectively. As I read these pages, so is Zizek.

So, for example, when Zizek/Hornbeck writes that

For these Jewish intellectuals, anti-Semitism was also a sign of mental illness: They concluded that Christian self-denial and especially sexual repression caused hatred of Jews,

and that

this project has been successful; anyone opposed to the displacement of whites is routinely treated as a mentally unhinged hatemonger, and whenever whites defend their group interests they are described as psychologically inadequate—with, of course, the silent exception of the Jews themselves

I can really only get this to make sense as a way of agreeing with MacDonald about the excesses of post-modernism and/or critical theory. Zizek does not seem to me to be saying that MacDonald is wrongly accusing these intellectuals of "adopting what would became a favorite Soviet tactic against dissidents". Following MacDonald, he (Zizek) is accusing them of adopting those tactics (just as Hornbeck is). Now, as I read on, it seems clear that Zizek had intended the entire plagiarized passage as straight, objective exegesis of what MacDonald says, i.e., without spin.* It's just that Hornbeck didn't write it that way, and Zizek clearly hadn't read it closely enough to see that it couldn't, really, be read that way. It simply doesn't make sense if we don't read it as a sympathetic account of MacDonald's critique of Adorno and Derrida.

(To exaggerate the effect, imagine that Zizek had been describing MacDonald's work as "brilliant" and as "having demonstrated" and as "rightly pointing out" and "astutely noting" etc. but then ultimately dismissing it as "nonsense". Even if it could be done without violating the rules of logic, it would be a very strange rhetorical strategy, making it virtually impossible to interpret.)

Plagiarism is not just a crime against the author of the original text. It's an affront to the reader because it makes a shambles of the essential intertextuality of scholarship and punishes any attempt at close reading with confusion. So, instead of just saying that, since he is ultimately dismissive of MacDonald at the end, he has not stolen any important ideas, I think Zizek owes us at the very least the rewrite that Adam Kotsko (too charitably, like I say) would have demanded of him if he were his student. Specifically, I want to know, in his own words, what Zizek really thinks of (1) MacDonald, (2) Derrida, (3) Caputo, (4) Adorno and, somewhat urgently, what he thinks of (5) "Jewish intellectuals". Given that he has plagiarized a favorable review of the first that mistakes the third for the second and derides them along with the fourth by lumping them together in the thinly veiled racism of the fifth, he cannot, if he wants me to take him seriously, simply "regret the incident". He has to clean up the mess.

*NPR has a reaction from Zizek himself, which confirms what he also says in his email to Critical Theory. "As any reader can quickly establish, the problematic passages are purely informative, a report on another's theory for which I have no affinity whatsoever." He may think Hornbeck's prose is "purely informative" but this reader, like I say, can't very quickly establish that to be the case. Obviously I can't let this stand unrebuked either: "My friend not only agreed, he wrote those words for my use! Plus they are a resume of a book, not any creative development of ideas. So I really don't see a problem here." The friend did not, it turns out, write those words, he stole them. And it can't be true that only words that effect the "creative development of ideas" are protected from theft. Sort of like a rich man stealing two dollars from a beggar's cup and saying, "You call that money? And it wasn't even yours in the first place. Get a life!"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blogs, Books and Papers

I often ask myself why I, who find it so easy to write a blog a post, have such difficulties writing books and scholarly papers. It's important here to keep in mind that the blog post is a relatively new academic genre. (A journalistic blog post, by the way, is a different kind of writing than an academic blog post.) Perhaps my cavalier attitude about blogging comes simply from the lack of any clear, commonly accepted standard. We don't really know what it is yet, so we don't know how to do it well or badly. Recall that the name of the barrier to writing that derives from our unwillingness to do something badly is Vanity. There is a general feeling around blogs that if you don't like what you're reading it's your own damn fault. After all, you're basically reading someone else's diary. Sure, he left it open on the desk for you to see, but still, in a sense, nobody asked you to read it and certainly not to form an opinion about it.

Well, obviously, that's not really true. Many blogs these days are written to be read by others and in order to influence their thinking. We bloggers can't say we don't take any pride in our work. We do. We look at our stats. We promote ourselves in other social media. We like being talked about. And yet, even with all those occasions for my (formidable) vanity to express itself and block my writing, I don't seem to have any trouble communicating in this medium. Why not?

I have to two theories, which may both be true. First, a blog post makes entirely differently demands of its readers. It is generally short and self-contained. It may, certainly, be importantly related to some context, but the reader is expected to either recognize that context or just be serenely untroubled by the content of the post. The reader can, often, also engage directly with the post (in the comments) or might write a post on their own blog in response. There's something conversational and, therefore, ephemeral about the act of reading. You're just trying to understand the post well enough to respond within the hour. Or not. There's no presumption that you're going to have to spend a long time reflecting on the post, digesting it.

When writing books and papers, by contrast, I feel that I owe the reader a richly textured, multi-layered literary and intellectual experience. I am myself too often disappointed with books and papers that have too little content or too little form.

The second important difference between blog posts and other kinds of writing is that it is written directly to the reader. There is no editorial oversight. (This is absolutely crucial, in my mind, to the definition of a blog. I was recently approached about contributing to a collective blog but my interest was strongly dampened when I was told that each post would have to be approved before posting.) There are all kinds of good things to say about editorial oversight, but the whole point of blogging is to be able to speak your mind directly, without the task of getting it past someone. (There may always been an "implied editor", however.)

When writing something that has to pass through an editorial process I always feel like I'm placing the editor himmerherself at risk. There's always that kind of criticism of crappy papers that openly wonders "how this garbage got through peer review", etc. So part of what blocks me as a writer is the idea that it's not just my reputation that is at stake. I wonder if that sounds strange.

An Anxiety of Influence

While writing my posts on how to write a humanities paper, I'm working on a paper about a literary hero of mine, which I don't want to jinx by saying too much about before I've got the first draft finished. But I thought, also for my own sake, that I'd try to make explicit a kind of schema of its outline.

In a disastrous speech, the novelist A announced that the notion of N was the key to solving our political problems.

N was first proposed by B as a principle of literary criticism.

In this paper, I will show that the reinterpretation of N as principle of political and cultural analysis is the key to understanding A's oeuvre.

[B's work is generally seen as iconic for his time.]

B used N to critique H, but misses the mark precisely because H was all about N.

We can find an understanding of N in C, who was well aware of B's work.

We can find an understanding of N in D, who was also aware of B.

A was heavily influenced by by C and D.

We can also find a version of N in the writings of E, who was a close associate of B, and whose work was infamously political. (After the disastrous speech, an associate of A compared him to E.)

In A's pre-speech writings, there are clear traces of N.

In A's political writings and other speeches, the concept of N is clearly the organizing principle.

The concept of N remains relevant to an understanding of our current problems as understood by A.

Clearly, N provides a key to understanding A's career.

So I've been fleshing this outline out these past few mornings, and I've now got 5000 words. By the time I'm finished (hopefully this week sometime) I'll be up at around 8000. I have a couple of readers in mind to send it to. It's such an old idea of mine. It feels good to finally put it down on paper. I don't know why I've put it off for so long.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An ABC of (Academic) Reading

A great deal of critical rancour has been wasted through a failure to distinguish between two totally different kinds of writing.


You don't sleep on a hammer or a lawn-mower, you don't drive nails with a mattress. Why should people go on applying the SAME critical standards to writings as different in purpose and effect as a lawn-mower and a sofa cushion? (Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, p. 88)

Perhaps Julia is right to suspect that it’s bad reading, not bad writing, that is the issue. (This post is a reposting of my comment to this post of hers.) An intensely idealistic text will seem obscure when read from a realist perspective. If I read a text that is trying to get me to do something, or to feel something, as though it’s trying to get me to see something, or to think something, I’m going to get confused. But as soon as I see that the text is not indicating a fact (something for me to understand), but an act (someone I should obey), then the text, if otherwise well written, will go from “bad” to “good”. Now, I may still disagree with the text. But “prose like a windowpane” can also occasion disagreement. I may reject the feeling or action suggested, just as I may reject an author’s perception of the world.

Bertrand Russell once proposed (in his introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus) that “the essential business of language is to assert and deny facts.” Well, if we grant that, we will be forced to conclude that a lot of writing is in in bad shape, not working well, “going out of business”, whatever. But maybe there’s other, no less “essential”, business to be done. Perhaps even some outright “existential” business: to enjoin and denounce acts. As it happens, I do think academic writing does well to focus on assertion, not injunction, but I think a lot of the invective that has been aimed at “postmodern” writing misses this point. It simply insists on reading a text that was intended in one way as though it was intended in another (the only way the reader seems to be able to imagine a text might ever mean something).

It probably works both ways, with postmodernists often demonstrating a strange intolerance for direct statements of plain fact, as if that kind of business is an unseemly thing for language to ever do! I sometimes think that the conflict between “modernists” and “postmodernists” is rooted in the fact that former think of language as a more or less rigorous system of reference, while the latter think of it as an elaborate system of deference. The modernist thinks that a “meaning” is something you understand or misunderstand, while the postmodernist thinks that it is something you obey or disobey.

It’s not so much two “theories of reality” or epistemologies. It’s two approaches to language. One of them is grounded in epistemology and the other in ethics. One thinks that language refers to the real, the other feels it should defer to the ideal. Of course, the truth is that language does both. And it can do both well or badly, also in writing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Writing a Humanities Paper (3): Style

The distinction between "scientist" and "scholar" has been increasingly blurred, especially in the social sciences (owing no doubt to a certain blurriness around the notion of "science") by the image of a "researcher". Heidegger was to my knowledge the first to point out that "modern" science really meant the disappearance of "the scholar" and the emergence of the "researcher". (See this post.) For the purpose of the comparison I want to make in this post, i.e., of the social sciences to the humanities, I will need to reconstruct this distinction. While it has become common, especially in the administrative sciences to talk about oneself as a "scholar" and one's work as "scholarship", this general sense is not my meaning here. Following Heidegger, I will mean by "scholar" someone whose "learning" is rooted in erudition, while a "scientist" is one who is engaged in developing a "theory of the real".

The scholar, unlike the scientist, has no method and no theory, only a style. While scientists can claim to have done something very specific (method) and seen the world from a particular perspective (theory), scholars working in the traditional humanistic disciplines can only claim to approach their material with a sort of "attitude". We might say that in so far as the scholar has a "theory" and a "method" it is only in the rhetorical senses that I encourage social scientists to adopt when writing. A theory is just a system of expectations; a method is just a source of credibility. Scholars working in the humanities can make specific efforts in their writing to arouse the reader's expectations and to win the reader's trust, but this will not happen by appeal to some shared set of "categories of observation" (concepts) or to some procedure by which to establish the "given in experience" (data). (All "data" is of course relative to method, i.e, data is a "methodological" issue, just as all concepts are "theoretical".) Rather, the scholar must cultivate a distinct, yet somehow recognizably "academic" style.

While such a style does not have to reach the level of high literature, Proust's famous definition* can help us to understand what is at stake:

What we call reality is a certain relationship between sensations and memories which surround us at the same time, the only true relationship, which the writer must recapture so that he may for ever link together in his phrase its two distinct elements. One may list in an interminable description the objects that figured in the place described, but truth will begin only when the writer takes two different objects, establishes their relationship, and encloses them in the necessary rings of his style (art)...

What the scientist calls "reality" is of course something a bit different, or is at least a relation between sensation and memory somewhat differently construed. Memory is brought to bear upon the scientist's experience through the intermediary of theoretically formed concepts, which summarize the result of past observations and experiments. Sensation is allowed only in the form of carefully collected data, derived from the flux of experience by a set of increasingly refined operations that allow them to make observations that are not colored by memories; or at least not colored in a way that is not controlled by the concepts that the theory makes explicit. We might say that where scientists take great pains to establish their objectivity with respect to their object, scholars cultivate a studied subjectivity about their subject. This may be what Norman Mailer meant when he thanked Diana Trilling for reading him—indeed, misreading him—with her "full and specific sympathy".

It's always my aim to be practical. So I can't leave this post at a mere theoretical distinction between "scholarly" and "scientific" writing. How, then, we may ask, do scholars "enclose [things] in the necessary rings of [their] style" if not, like scientists, by framing them with theory and probing them with method? The sense in which style can do double-duty for theory and method should become clear once we realize that the only thing that informs writing of scholars, the only thing that shapes their specifically scholarly sympathies, is their reading. Scholarly inquiry is simply reading enclosed by rings of reading. (This is not true of novelists, mind you. Ideally, their work is about life enclosed by living.) But we can distinguish between different kinds of reading, and we can distinguish between different reading materials.

In our writing as scholars we are telling our reader what we have read and how we have read it. Since the first is likely to arouse particular expectations in a reader that shares our frame of reference, the "what" of our reading serves a purpose similar to theory in social science. The "how" of our reading, meanwhile, goes along way toward establishing our credibility, so there is a direct analogy to the methods section of a social science paper. Now, it can be useful to distinguish between our primary and our secondary sources, between, for example, works by Kafka and works about Kafka, but it's important to keep in mind that in both cases the readers's expectations of our analysis will be aroused by what we've read, whether by or about Kafka, and the reader's trust will be won by how we have read these works, again regardless of whether they are by or about the author under study.

For every paragraph you write in a humanities paper, then, ask yourself whether it tells the reader primarily (1) what you have read by the author your have studied; or (2) what you have read about the author you have studied; or (3) how you have read the author you have studied; or (4) how you have read the work of your scholarly peers. This will tell you what "ring" of your style you are at this moment, i.e., during the 27 minutes you have devoted to writing this paragraph, trying to enclose your subject in.

I hope that helps. I have a feeling I need to say more about this.

*Update: It occurs to me that this isn't really a definition of "style" but of "reality". I would argue, however, that he's saying precisely that reality is a stylistic construction, and that style is simply a bringing together of sensation and memory.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Writing a Humanities Paper (2): Background

If you're writing a paper about Kafka's influences you are obligated to do so against a background presumption about his originality. In my last post, I made this point by saying that you have to demonstrate your own awareness of a world that is intensely aware of how original an author Kafka was. There are many ways of doing it, and your efforts do not actually have to be confined to any particular parts of the paper, but the simple solution to the writing problem is to imagine a section of the paper in which you acknowledge the common knowledge that frames your papers contribution.

Let me emphasize the word "common". It's not just Kafka scholars who think Kafka was an original writer. (On the contrary, ordinary members of the educated classes are probably more likely to exaggerate Kafka's originality than the scholars who have a vested interest in it. Consider Jonathan Mayhew's efforts to put Lorca appreciation in proper perspective.) Everybody knows Kafka is a great author and it's this knowledge that you have demonstrate that you share. When I talk to social scientists, I tell them they have to know stuff like "The Internet has changed the way we do business" and, more specifically, "Steve Jobs was an asshole". But they have know this in a particularly interesting, detailed way. The same goes for the fame of famous authors. Your expertise overlaps with lay knowledge, but it also makes you a much more interesting expositor of "what everyone knows".

Your paper has to demonstrate this knowledge. To put it terms that will be familiar to readers of this blog, there have to be parts of your paper that demonstrate this competence. As a rough gesture, let's say you should devote six paragraphs to problem, namely, the first paragraph of the introduction and five paragraphs in the first section that follows the introduction. These paragraphs should not be based on "close reading" of the author you have studied, nor should they engage critically with the opinions of your peers. They should merely bring together widely available, representative statements about the author or issue in question.

I normally say that the background section should be "informative", i.e., it should tell the reader something the reader presumably does not know (about the industry, or region, or organization under study) but will find useful to know in the course of the investigation. Something similar applies here. You should adduce facts that the reader does not necessarily know simply because he or she is your peer. In our imagined paper about Mr. X's influence on Kafka, you probably need to be informative about Mr. X. And you should put this in the context of what is generally known about Kafka and his reading habits. This, i.e., the absence of Mr. X from our background presumptions about Kafka's originality, is a good thing to write a section on.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Writing a Humanities Paper (1): Introduction and Conclusion

Suppose you have discovered a hitherto unknown precursor of Franz Kafka. You have come into possession of a personal letter from Kafka to one of his friends, perhaps, in which Kafka raves about the work of this Mr. X. Examining X's oeuvre, you can identify a distinct influence, both in the style of the sentences and the themes dealt with. Such a discovery, I think we can agree, would warrant a paper. As I said yesterday, this month I want to see if I can provide a general structure for such a paper—one that would be as useful as my 40-paragraph outline of a social science paper, but suitable for research in the humanities.

Today, I want to propose a three-paragraph introduction and a two-paragraph conclusion, using our imagined paper about Kafka as an example. Like a social science paper, I propose you begin with a paragraph about the "world" in which the discovery you have made is salient, then go on to a paragraph about the current state of scholarship, one that introduces the central analytical concept you will be using. Finally, I would write a paragraph that begins, "I will here show that…" It will provide an overview of your sources, a summary of your analysis, and a synopsis of the implications of your discovery. The key sentences for the paragraphs, for example, could be as follows [some notes for the content of the paragraph in square brackets]:

§1. Franz Kafka is widely regarded as one of the most original writers in the canon. [Remember that there is a very specific tradition behind talk of Kafka's originality, namely, Borges' suggestion that, like other great writers, he "creates his own precursors", which reverses the conventional direction of "influence". Since your discovery suggests a very conventional influence indeed, you must demonstrate awareness of this way of assessing Kafka's "greatness", which, paradoxically, is probably the "conventional" view today. However you do it, make sure that this paragraph describes a world that is intensely aware of Kafka's originality.]

§2. Harold Bloom has argued that originality is the result of a prolonged struggle with the "anxiety of influence". [Strong poets, says Bloom, "overwhelm and subsume" the tradition that came before them. They struggle with the tradition through strategic acts of "misprision", and it is those acts that define them. Bloom's "theory" of misreading offers a rich apparatus for the study of influence. But it's not without critics, and "misreaders" of its own; Bloom himself identifies the Foucauldian "school of resentment". This paragraph would position your reading somewhere in this body of critical scholarship, which should of course be a body of Kafka scholarship. One might begin with Bloom's reading of Kafka, for example. But one should ultimately cite prominent Kafka specialists, whether Foucauldian archaeologists of "the author function" or Bloomian cartographers of misreading.]

§3. I will here show that Mr. X has had a strong influence on Kafka's writing. [Begin with your "method"—what have you read? Obviously the letter to his friend will be important here, perhaps a sentence or two on that. Then go on to cite the key works of Mr. X, the influence of which you have observed. Now, summarize your "analysis", i.e., your interpretation both of the letter and the correspondences between Mr. X and Kafka. Finally, make a bold statement of the "implications" you think this discovery should have for Kafka scholarship. The strongest would be: "In light of this discovery we have to revise our assessment of Kafka's originality and poetic strength."]

What about the conclusion? Well, it could consist of two paragraphs. My standard advice of simply lopping off the "I will here show" to give you the key sentence of the first paragraph of the conclusion (§39) applies also to a humanities paper. And the second paragraph can, likewise, be constructed by cashing out the implications, by re-describing the world of paragraph one or the scholarship of paragraph two. For example:

§39. Mr. X has had a strong and undeniable influence on Kafka's writing. [This paragraph should stick to adducing the strongest evidence for that influence, summarizing the strongest parts of your analysis.]

§40. Kafka is not as original a writer as we generally assume. [Remember that this will be shocking news to Kafka scholars. As you describe this "new world" to them, remember to make it an exciting place, full of new research opportunities. What other beliefs about Kafka now need revising? How should we teach Kafka in the classroom? Do our anthologies need to be rethought? Might this have consequences for Borges' capsule study of Kafka's "precursors"? Etc.]

Well, I hope that can help scholars in the humanities get started drafting their papers. I always recommend writing these five paragraphs in exactly 2.5 hours (27 minutes each, with three-minute breaks), ideally spreading the work over two or three days. That's what I've done with my paper. Tomorrow morning, I'll move on to the body of the paper, writing some paragraphs towards a five-paragraph "background" section. It will be fleshing out the world of §1.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Humanities

I'm grateful to Gareth Hughes*, who has helped me to define a project for the month of July with his comments (as "Garzo") to one of older my posts about the "standard issue" social science paper. As readers of this blog know, I have a pretty detailed proposal for how to structure garden-variety paper in the social sciences, paragraph by paragraph. What about the humanities, Hughes asks? Well, I have actually tried to apply my approach to this problem before. But, unlike the social sciences, I don't have a lot of experience to base my suggestions on, neither in my own case, nor in the case of the authors I work with. I write and coach mainly in a social science tradition.

So that's what I'm going to change this summer, at least for a month. I'm going to work on an old idea of mine (which I'll keep to myself) but try to form the essay into roughly 40 paragraphs, with a tightly structured introduction and conclusion, and well-defined sections that correspond roughly to background, theory, method, analysis and implications. The whole trick will be to find a way of presenting an argument without resorting to those two hallmarks of social scientific writing, "theory" and "method". In general, these two notions must be subsumed under the broader and more mysterious notion of "style".

We'll see how it goes. I'll be working on my paper in the early mornings, and then I'll keep you, ahem, posted on my blog about what I'm learning. I wrote the introduction this morning, and I'll write the conclusion tomorrow. I'll write a post about those five paragraphs (one eighth of the paper) sometime tomorrow.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Garzo as John Wells.