(Re)searching my soul

Note to reader: This is a postgraduate study blog entry

Freud, Holmes, Stevenson, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Lacan, Ginzburg, Iser, Jekyll, Hyde…. these are all names of important people.  The thing that they currently have in common is that I learnt something about them in the week just gone.  It is amazing how much information four classes can generate.

Though my four modules (Research Methodologies, Creative Digital Technology, Subjectivities in Modern and Contemporary Fictions and Victorian Explorations) seem very different on the outlook, I am able to see some crossovers or commonalities between them.  The first area is that of self identity.

Self is me and I am myself, but most importantly, self refers to consciousness.  Reflecting on one’s self is something that we are very used to doing in the 21st century.  It is common to hear people talk about ‘journeys of self-discovery’ or ‘finding themselves’.  We do not question what it means anymore and we generally expect a sort of resolution to be effected by it.

The Victorians could probably notably be seen to become more self-aware than their predecessors.  The Victorian period is one that has seen a lot of changes and discoveries; the one that seemed to have the biggest impact being the Industrial Revolution which had completely changed the way we live.  People moved from the countryside to cities and traded their craftsmanship for labour to gain simple wages.  This can be seen through the division of labour which made factories possible; where a craftsman who would usually be making an entire piece of furniture himself can be seen to be just making a small part of the furniture on the factory floor; and he would be seen to be joined by others, though they have different skills and are from different backgrounds.

In current times, we see the factory process to be the most efficient method, but it is arguable as to whether it generates the same amount of or even enough satisfaction to the worker/maker as it would have to a skilled craftsman before.  It is perhaps ironic that during the period where humans started to be commoditised is when we started to self-reflect more seriously and discover the importance of identity.

It is precisely these factories of the Victorian period that allows us to enjoy what we take for granted to be technology today.  Trains, aeroplanes and communication tools all came from then.  It is also this fast-paced development that has further promoted the idea of interdisciplinarity.  Though it can be said that interdisciplinarity is as old as mankind (I was going to say time… and perhaps that could be true as well), we are more aware of it now whilst inadvertently trying harder to box ourselves into a discipline but at the same time acknowledging that it cannot be done.

Perhaps for the first time, through technology like the Internet, we are able to see and gauge (to a certain extent) how vast information and knowledge is.  The need to organise is embedded in us, but the organisation itself is futile.  Why am I, for instance studying English Literature, but learning about psychology, philosophy, history, science?  I cannot really comment on one without prior knowledge of another.  In an article that I recently read on Ginzburg, it connects Morelli (art critic), Freud (neurologist) and Holmes (fictional detective) in one graceful sweeping motion. Their methods in this case is the fulcrum.

This method, which looks at details of such mundane proportions that a regular person would not be aware of, can be framed into stages of analysis, comparison and classification.  The art critic would know the details of an artists’ quirks and identify them through the way the smallest features like ears and fingernails are drawn, whilst psychoanalysis tells us that details like someone’s handwriting could tell you the characteristics of the person and Holmes is just a complete anal freak who is able to spot the minutest details and process that knowledge at a superhuman speed at crime scenes to solve a case.

It is a very (coldly) scientific method that does not take into account metaphysical or abstract things.  It is a very precise science of deduction and analysis as Holmes would like to say.

However, scientific as it may be, it relies completely on the practitioner’s experience, memory and knowledge.  It is precisely because the practitioner has seen the same thing before, or is knowledgeable about such a phenomena that he is able to deduce an accurate judgement to it.  It is an extremely human method, which can then be argued to be non-scientific at all!

I find this all very fascinating as the journey of a reader is much of the same.  Every individual’s background and character is different from the other.  When a reader reads, they place much of their own beliefs and past into the text to fill what Iser calls the ‘indeterminacy’ sections. A writer generally writes with gaps to allow space for the reader to participate.  These gaps are the indeterminacies and the less there are, the more trying the text becomes.  It would then just be a book that nags at the reader, if it is not a non-fiction piece.

So, the same way research is a skill that is developed through experience in understanding the intricacies of a specialised area, writing is a skill that is developed through experience in understanding the intricacies of human reaction towards text.  The better a writer understands indeterminacies, the better the writer will be able to manipulate his audience, to enthral and capture them within the text.

As we progress in time, the general human is exposed to more and more things; thus numbing our senses.  This makes it more difficult for people in the business of entertainment in whatever form to hold their audiences’ attention or shock them.  In writing, we can see that Speculative Fiction, though an old form of writing, is becoming more popular and more daring, as it allows for the audiences to have extremely different opinions of the story itself, even though the text that is read is the same.  It stops trying to tell readers what to think, rather it creates a thinking arena for the reader.

Will we reach a point of saturation?  What happens then… do we turn to artificial means for triggering emotions and reactions?  Do you think that you are near this point?  Do look into your own self and perhaps question what it means to be living in the current world.  As it was once said by Prince Albert, “I conceive it to be the duty of every educated person closely to watch and study the time in which he lives…”