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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Scholarly Base: Making an Inventory

Making an inventory of your scholarly base is something to do between projects or at major junctures of your scholarly career. Your base is everything that makes it possible to produce scholarship. The sum total of your expertise and cultural capital, your unused ideas or archival material left over from previous projects, your talent for researching and writing, your access to time, materials, and to the expertise of others, your experience traveling to foreign lands, etc... The inventory will be a 5-10-page document in which you list everything you can think of on the positive side of the ledger that constitutes this base.

What can you do with this information? In the first place, it can be motivational, if you realize that your base is quite solid, then you have the wherewithal to write. Congratulations! On the other hand, it may point to reasons why you haven't been writing. What part of the base is missing? Sometimes, for example, I realize I just need to read more, or develop a better network of colleagues in other universities. You might decide your base is pretty much inadequate. The good news is that simply reading a lot is the best way to improve it.

Two or three points: the scholarly base is necessary but not sufficient. You might have a strong base but not have the drive to use it. Secondly, it needs to be maintained and improved; it is dynamic not static. Lastly, there are many parts of the base that will never be used in any explicit way, that will never be visible to someone reading your scholarship. I think that in my book Apocryphal Lorca I came as close as I could to using a lot of it. (This is Hemingway's iceberg theory of writing.)

Ok, a fourth point: using it does not use it up, but rather serves to replenish it. The more you use, the more you have, because the best way to keep up a good base is to write books and articles. That is one reason why quantity, intelligently managed, produces quality. It's kind of unfair, because if you've written a lot you will get opportunities to write more: jobs with time off or skimpy teaching loads, research grants... Nobody will come along and say, oh, since you haven't produced very much we'll give you time off to write more.

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