A ‘Woven’ Blog Portfolio

“Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven” — Walter Benjamin, One Way Street and Other Writings

This quotation is on the front page of my blog, Curran in Cork. While this is in keeping with my penchant for beginning pieces of writing with quotations (see: my “Textualities Reflection“), now that I am musing over the past couple months of posts I realize how appropriate it was for the journey of this blog. At the time, I picked the quotation because I admire Benjamin’s work and it seemed like it would be fitting for the assignment. Now, as I prepare to write my dissertation, I realize how pertinent it turned out to be. I am currently in the “architectural” phase where I am constructing my proposal, thesis statement, and chapter structure. Soon enough I will enter the “musical” phase of composing and drafting my work. But on the front page of Curran in Cork, I wrote that “This blog describes my ‘woven’ process of preparing to write a dissertation.” Rereading my posts, I see the different threads of ideas that have now woven together to become my dissertation topic.

In my first blog post “She must seek [inspiration] abroad,” I wrote that as a student of English and film, I tend to relate events in my daily life back to things that I have read and watched. I used an extended metaphor to describe it as a condition that befalls many who love the arts; a “side affect of being trained to think analytically and critically.” I was hoping that by relating my life, studies, and interests together on the blog, I would be able to come up with a topic:

Thus, an academic blog is the perfect platform for someone who experiences the aforementioned sensation, for it provides me with the opportunity to relate my research to my everyday life through writing and multimedia. This process should help me to informally flesh out my ideas. At the moment, I’m feeling quite unsure about my dissertation topic, which is why it is imperative that I examine my ideas in this blog.

As a result, a major thread that runs through my blog is referencing and linking to texts, theories, images, or videos. Looking back, the posts proved to be a “platform” where I “informally flesh[ed] out my ideas.” Whether it is simply using a gif to express an emotion (like in my most recent post “John and Charles Eziel“) or relating something I have studied to a research seminar (as I did with genre theory and Rebellion), these references have aided me in my self-expression and the development of new ideas.

For example, I used this gif in my most recent blog to compare my stress after learning “Norman!” Mailer had also written a fictional version of John Huston to the tense Seinfeld/Newman dynamic on the television show Seinfeld. 

While I was looking for inspiration for my dissertation topic, I attended Lisa McInerney’s guest reading for the UCC English Society, which inspired my blog “Glorious Reading Week Insight.” In particular, I was struck by McInerney’s description of how she first writes specific characters and does not think about big picture themes or plot. Her advice was a lesson to me that I should not try to think of my macrocosmic idea yet, but “Like McInerney microcosmically develops her characters, I should similarly explore very specific elements from the films that I’m interested in. Then, I once I have solid microcosmic ideas, I can begin to draw out my overall idea.” The language of “specific elements” is quite vague, which seems to be one of the shortfalls of my initial blogs. I was attempting to express that by focusing in on elements that stood out to me (like gender dynamics, masculinity, etc) when watching specific films, I would possibly be able to make connections that could lead to a larger topic.

It should not have been a surprise that the catalyst for discovering my idea was my homework for class. When reading “The Dead” for my Gothic to Modernism module, I had “My Dissertation Epiphany” where I thought of John Huston. Since I had been exploring microcosmic elements in Irish film, it took reading something tangentially related for me to have my “a-ha” moment. Upon reflection, I noticed that I failed to connect my epiphany to my first blog post, since it was through the processing of relating my studies to my research that I generated the idea. I also failed to make an obvious Gabriel Conroy allusion! Luckily, this portfolio has afforded me with the opportunity to bridges those gaps.

However, having my area of focus was only half the battle because I needed to hone in on a particular argument. I did not recognize until I reread my posts that I continued to use the microcosmic technique of focusing on specific elements in specific texts after I had my “epiphany,” and it is that very technique that provided me with the fictional character idea.

For example, I analyzed the documentary John Huston: An t-Éireannach to see if “because of Huston’s cultural contributions to Ireland” he is viewed as “Irish” or if his experience as a privileged Irish-American makes him “other.” That post in particular focuses on a lot of biographical information as opposed to in-depth analysis, but by trying to force one narrow argument, I was able to explore Huston’s expression of Irishness. This continued with my post “Bradbury’s Own White Whale: John Huston where I first analyzed a fictional representation of Huston, specifically for his performance of Irishness. It was only after analyzing texts like these that was I able to move towards my macrocosmic argument, which I first summarized in this blog during my “#EditWikiLit” reflection:

As it stands now, for my thesis I will be exploring fictional representations of John Huston in the works of Ray Bradbury, Arthur Miller, Peter Viertel, and Arthur Laurents. With the exception of one essay on White Hunter, Black Heart and The Way They Were, there has not been any research on this idea.

It was the discovery of that hole in scholarship during my research for #EditWikiLit, which I discuss some more in my “Literature and IT Review,” that made me more intrigued about the topic. The threads were beginning to be woven together.

This blog was a helpful resource when I needed to prepare for Textualities 2017. One of my slides in my Pecha Kucha was based directly on an analysis I had written of the hunt wedding scene in Green Shadows, White Whale. I wrote that “The hunt wedding sequence demonstrates that Huston’s Ireland is tied to English upper class and Protestant Ascendancy tradition, and that despite his efforts, he does not know authentic Ireland.” I continued to explore this idea in my most recent post, John and Charles Eziel, where I learned that “John” in the episode “The Banshee” of Ray Bradbury’s Theatre has an English accent and the episode is set in his Big House. This demonstrates how this blog has allowed me to develop, connect, and test my ideas. Even more importantly, it has produced work that went directly into my presentation, and will most likely feature in my dissertation. It will continue to be a valuable tool to look back on for ideas as I begin my draft.

One thread I noticed in reviewing my blog was my process of learning how to be an academic in a more rigorous scholastic environment. Commencing my time as an MA student, I felt welcomed into the academic community by the lecturers in a way that I did not feel as an undergraduate. I did not recognize until I reread my posts how much I have been thinking about how academics carry out their academia. In my post about Lisa McInerney I wrote about the phenomenon of “imposter syndrome,” where people do not feel like they are as talented as their peers. McInerney is a professional writer, but I think the lessons I took from her reading can still be applied to academia. I was so impressed by McInerney’s “simple declaration that she liked her own work, which was not vainglorious or obnoxious.” It showed me that there should be a way to express a healthy pride in ones work. I also learned some valuable lessons on academia from David Pattie’s research seminar “At Me Too.” First, his long and distinguished career served as a “fabulous reminder … that academia allows the freedom to pursue multidisciplinary and varying research topics.” Second, he presented a riveting example of how to discuss research during its early stages. He provided solid examples of his idea, discussed how he would engage with previous scholarship, and admitted that he was “not sure that this is the whole story.” I applied the structure of Pattie’s engagement with secondary sources to my Literature and IT Review because it seemed like an exemplary model.

Early in the blog, I also wrote about what I thought an academic community to should be. After attending the “Sibeal Revolutionary Genders Conference,” I wrote that the conference “exhibited what an academic network can be at its absolute best” because people were “supportive” of each other. At the end of the post, I said that I thought that attending the conference would prepare me for Textualities. Rereading my reflection from Textualities, it was beautiful to realize that I ended up with the same supportive academic community that I had admired at Sibeal. I wrote:

The scholarship was so impressive, but the greatest thing that I took away from that day was the feeling of camaraderie among the MA students. I feel lucky to have such a supportive group to go through the MA journey with, and I am sure that we will continue to encourage each other during the summer.

The phrasing that I used in this passage echoes back to the way I discussed the “supportive” Sibeal community. Thus, the thread of exploring the dynamics of academia led to an exciting conclusion, where I felt inspired and encouraged by my peers.

A photo that I used in my Textualities reflection blog. Like the participants from Sibeal, the people in this photo “exhibit what an academic network can be at its absolute best.”

A thread throughout my blog that unfortunately unraveled was my desire to include Anjelica Huston as a female director in my dissertation. I wrote in my epiphany blog post that “I know that I definitely want to work Anjelica into my argument because it’s very important to me that I write about a female director.” This certainty was reasserted after I attended Sibeal, where I wrote:

[Micheline Sheehy Skeffington’s] keynote speech truly reinforced my desire to include a female director in my research. I’ve thought about the lack of female directors that we have studied in the film studies course, which only reflects the reality of the industry. This is why I want to include Anjelica Huston in my dissertation instead of just focusing on her father. I feel that it is very important that academics begin bringing more diverse voices into the canon.

The quotation indicates how my desire to include Anjelica in my research stemmed from a reinforcement from inspirational Irish feminist Micheline Sheehy Skeffington of how far we still have to go in equally recognizing the accomplishments of women, as well my awareness of the lack of female directors in my own studies. I thought by addressing the hole in scholarship on women in my own field, I could be a part of the solution. However, as I have previously discussed, it was another hole in scholarship, that of Huston’s fictional representations, which became my topic.

I maintained my desire to include Anjelica through #EditWikiLit where I added information to her directing career, biographical information, and aesthetic photo changes that symbolized how she is the leader of her generation of Hustons. I am very disappointed that I could not make it work to have her be the focal point of my dissertation. As I think is evidenced in my posts, the fictional character thread was stronger. Yet it was a disappointing part of looking back on my blogs because I do think that the lack of scholarship on female directors (and the lack of female directors in general) is a serious institutional problem. Nonetheless, as I said in my Literature and IT Review, I will use feminist essays, especially from Gaylyn Studlar and David Desser’s anthology on Huston, to analyze his construction of masculinity and how that construction is complicated in the texts. Therefore, I have not completely lost the inspiration I felt from Sibeal. I still hope to write on Anjelica as a director someday.

The research seminars that I blogged about perhaps show the biggest development in my writing during this MA. The first seminar that I attended was engrossing, but I felt a bit too intimated to write a blog post after such a complex and nuanced presentation. As a result, the first research seminar that I blogged about in November was on Dr. Heather Laird’s paper “Reading Rebellion: Women, History, and Commemoration.” Just like during the first seminar I attended, I still felt intimated about summarizing and analyzing Dr. Laird’s paper, so my direct engagement with her paper is minimal and timid. Instead, I connected Dr. Laird’s ideas to a past area of study, genre theory, to make my own argument about why the television show centered on fictional women. I think I felt more comfortable writing about my idea by again connecting to things I have previously read and watched, than by trying to say something about Dr. Laird’s research.

By the time I blogged about another research seminar in March, Pattie’s “‘At me too someone is looking…’ Hidden Coercion in Beckett’s Theatre,” I had attended more seminars, guest lectures, and conferences, so I felt more confident about engaging directly with his paper. For example, I wrote:

First, all of the characters are at the mercy of a unnamed system of power. Second, these unwavering systems work away at the characters. For example, the mouth in Nor I is responding to an unimaginable off-stage space, but the audience is never given any indication of what this space is. The lips, much like Winnie in Happy Days, are an example of how a singular character is forced into a position of negative immanence through stage mechanisms.

Now there is a very likely chance that I misunderstood his argument or part of his argument, but after being exposed to so many excellent presentations this year and strengthening my analytical skills, I felt like I was willing to summarize and apply examples to his idea.

One of the most helpful and reassuring aspects of the blogging experience has been the interactions between the MA students and lecturers. It is always so lovely to receive a thoughtful comment or a “like.” But the comments proved to be the most critical thread when it came to shaping my dissertation. After winter break, I began toying with the idea of analyzing Huston’s many fictional representations. However, I thought that it would be unsuitable for the Irish Writing and Film MA program; discussing fictional representations in American literature, film, and theater of a real Irish-American director did not seem like it would fit. As previously mentioned, I wrote the blog post on Green Shadows, White Whale to test out my idea. When I received Dr. Laird’s comment that she “loved” my blog post and that she particularly liked the connection between his fictional representations and the performance of Irish identity, it was a momentous juncture for me.

I share Dr. Heather Laird’s kind feedback because it gave me the courage to think that I could write on this slightly unconventional topic. I had discounted the idea prior to that moment, even though I desperately wanted to explore it. Thus, having a platform to test out my idea and having a forum where I could receive comments proved to be the most crucial aspect of my thesis development.

I feel to properly scrutinize my blog, I need to mention the blogs that I never posted. I still have a few unfinished posts sitting in draft form. I am an American, so it has been a bit of a strange experience to live away from home as the Trump presidency presents fresh shocks each day. Quite frankly, it has affected my academic performance. Many mornings I would wake up and check the news and find it very hard to focus on my school work or feel excited about my dissertation.  What is happening in my home country is an invisible thread that is not shown on this blog, but I felt that I must mention it because I tried to write about it several times to connect it to my studies. Most recently, I drafted a blog, titled “Won’t be Trumped” discussing how my analysis of John Huston performance of self helps me see the president’s performance (although any connection between the two men ends there), most notably in Donald Trump’s first address to Congress, which many in the media — on the left and right — dubbed presidential. I was not the only one to notice this, so I intended to discuss Trevor Noah‘s analysis of Trump’s performance. I know that I never finished these blogs because it is not easy or enjoyable for me to write about this topic. I tried to connect my studies to the news that is shaping my life, but in this instance I failed to do so.

Returning once again to my first blog, I wrote about an experience that I had in high school that taught me a lot about the way people learn and think.

One day, my teacher passed out the New York Times crossword puzzle and instructed the class to work on it for ten to fifteen minutes. By the end of that allotted time, I had filled in all of the answers that I knew, which left a lot of open space. After an hour of class discussion on an unrelated topic, my teacher told us to take another stab at the puzzle. I realized that I did in fact know a few more answers. Our class then watched an hour of a film and following a short discussion, he directed us to make one last attempt at the crossword puzzle. Yet again, we all discovered that we knew more answers than we had previously thought. My teacher told us that this was because even when you’re not actively thinking about something, your brain is still processing information and making connections.

This blog has been like filling out the New York Times crossword puzzle. I would test my ideas — such as when I wrote that “I’ve always been interested in how Irish-Americans express their “Irishness” cinematically” in “My Dissertation Epiphany” or when I suggested in “Bradbury’s Own White Whale” that Huston’s “’character,’ whether authentic or performed, is something that  truly leaves writers fascinated” — and then I close my laptop and move onto another task. Since all these threads coalesced into a clear idea, my mind must have continued to think about them even if I remained unaware of the active process of doing so. The threads that began in my posts wove together into my dissertation topic. I do not think it would have happened the way it did without this blog, so I am grateful for the assignment. It will also be a practical tool to use as examples of my work, which I why I included a post on my reviews for Film Ireland of the Cork Film Festival.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. One Way Street and Other Writings, Penguin UK, 2009.

Curran, Annie. “‘At Me Too’ — A Captivating Lesson in Early Stage Research.” Curran in Cork, 24 March 2017, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/at-me-too-a-capativating-lesson-in-early-stage-research/

…- “Bradbury’s Own White Whale: John Huston.” Curran in Cork, 26 Jan. 2017, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/bradburys-own-white-whale-john-huston/

…-“#Editwikilit — A Family Affair.” Curran in Cork, 24 Feb. 2017, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/editwikilit-a-family-affair/

…-“Film Ireland Reviews of the Cork Film Festival. Curran in Cork, 28 Nov. 2016 https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/film-ireland-reviews-of-the-cork-film-festival/

…-“Glorious Reading Week Insight.” Curran in Cork, 28 Oct. 2016, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/glorious-reading-week-insight/

…- “John Huston: An t-Éireannach?” Curran in Cork, 31 Dec. 2016, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/john-huston-an-t-eireannach/

…- “Literature and IT Review.” Curran in Cork, 24 March 2017 https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/literature-and-it-review/

…- “My Dissertation Epiphany.” Curran in Cork, 7 Nov. 2016, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/my-dissertation-epiphany/

…-“‘Rebellion’: Genre Over Historical Accuracy, 25 Nov. 2016, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/rebellion-genre-over-historical-accuracy/

…- “She must seek [inspiration] abroad.” Curran in Cork, 14 Oct. 2016, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/she-must-seek-inspiration-abroad/

…-“Thoughts on Sibéal Annual Conference.” Curran in Cork, 28 Nov. 2016, https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/thoughts-on-sibeal-annual-conference-2016/

…-“John and Charles Eziel.” Curran in Cork, 30 March 2017

…-“‘You’re Real Good’ — Reflections on Textualities 2017.” Curran in Cork, 18 March, 2017. https://curranincork.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/literature-and-it-review/

“The Media Falls for “Presidential” Trump (Again): The Daily Show.” Youtube, uploaded by The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2 March 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umge6h_ZQN0&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=TheDailyShowwithTrevorNoah

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