Join the dots

Note to reader: this is a postgraduate study blog entry.

It made me happy to see that someone… actually, more than one person had visited my website recently and read some of my short stories.  I re-read those stories myself and am glad to say that I still like them and am proud of them.  Hehe… I will learn to be humbler but sometimes, I think you just need to enjoy these moments.  :)

Thinking about the week gone by and the many weeks that I have been back at university now, I feel like it is a game of join the dots, but without the numbers to help.  I do not even have an idea of what the picture will be in the end, but I know that the dots are there for me to discover and to join up as I learn more about each of them.

The energy at class and discussions with classmates have been tremendous, pushing me on to consider a life (or at least near future) in academia.  Yes, I am considering a PhD and for the first time in my life (by the way, I have considered doing a PhD at many points in my life before), I am very excited by it and not in the least worried or scared.  I seem to have unlocked a secret stash of energy and passion for knowledge that I have never been aware of before.

So, what research area am I interested in?   I have only just started in my MA which means my academic knowledge in English Literature is still pretty basic.  As each lesson and week goes by, my research idea gets clearer and I can see its shape shifting and smudging, like a cloud of smoke trying to find the parameters of container.  The shape is still just a shadow, but I am sure that it will be enough to push my research further as I slowly learn to mould it.

Postgraduate study teaches you to think independently and critically.  It makes you realise that what you learn and what is taught (by whomever) can be questioned, but that questioning as an act is not enough.  To criticise, we must learn to support our own ideas with knowledge, with theories and schools of thoughts of those before us, so that we may have considered as many angles as we possibly can.

Take history as an example.  During primary and secondary school, I remember studying history and being taught that everything in my history textbooks are facts.  At that point, I believed that there is a History.  It was unquestionable and we just had to memorise the facts we were given.  Real history however, as with most other schools of knowledge is subjective to its author, to the time it was written in and the situation it was written in.  Malaysian history text books would naturally be pro-Malaysia, centralising the information on Malaysia and perhaps even the intelligence of previous Malay leaders.  This would probably be applicable to all other countries.  In Japan, I had heard that they teach history from the point of cave-men onwards, so that when you have studied up until a secondary level, you probably still would not have learnt about what had happened in the second world war, unless you choose to read history at university.  We might see that as a convenient way of withholding certain information from students, but as with all education, especially national education, it is political.

Whether the text is fictional or not, it can perhaps be said that the best types of authors are ‘neutral’.  Virginia Woolf’s critic on authors is that they should not be gendered and that the best authors are androgynous in their writing.  I still feel that androgyny suggests sexuality, so I choose the word neutral instead.  I think neutral also covers the idea of non-biasness.  Though literary critics generally comment on literary authors only, I think that it is important for us to acknowledge and perhaps insist that all authors (literary or not) need to be non-bias, non-gendered and be objective in their writing.  Authors who are unable to separate themselves from their writings only end up making every text they write ‘biographical’ and trying.  Not only is it lazy, it just means that readers are subjected to authors’ life story over and over again.  Of course, if it is a biography, it should be biased and subjective, but otherwise, please authors, be a bit more creative (for fiction) and a little less egoistic.  For non-fiction, we know that good researchers and academics already spend most of their time trying to justify research methodology and maintain objectivity.

What are books to us 21st century readers anyway?  We recently learnt about ‘thing theory’ (if you’re an insomniac, reading about this might cure it… or make you crazy) and Marx’s commodity theory. I think we can describe the 21st century reader’s relationship with books, with the commodity theory.  It is the idea of separateness that I’m interested in.  Many people today do not think about the authors behind the books.  Much of writing today is mass produced, some with ‘writing teams’ churning out plots whilst the writer labours away on a computer putting the plot line together in a book. Readers do not understand the mechanisms behind the production of books and text any more whilst popular writers are just writing for the masses, with the publishers pushing for target sales.  If a certain type of reader enjoys a certain type of book, you’ll see that get copied in plot and style until the next trendy writing comes along.  It is as if by magic that books appear on shelves now.

Being a writer today isn’t easy either, what with new technology and platforms.  I’m looking for a piece of digital art that I can base my assignment on and I’ve decided to try and find a work by a writer who is also in digital art.  There are many out there, mostly only known in the art world and the works vary.  Only today, I found a new type of writing called ‘media writing’ though I think it is just because people are grasping at words to fit into the kind of writing itself.  Many new buzzwords to learn and to be taken apart by academics, artists and writers everywhere I am sure, but importantly, many more ways for readers to enjoy the written text.  And for that, I think that it is a good thing.

So, let’s hope that my dots will become clearer and more vivid with colours and outlines… perhaps it will one day look like this.