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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Research and Writing

Though I talk here a lot about writing, I don't go much into the process of research. In other words, I'm dealing with the process of turning ideas and claims into finished prose and then publishing it. But where does my knowledge come from? How do I know what I know?

You might see me in café in Lawrence Kansas. I'll have a pen and a notebook, but no books or other materials. I will just be writing things down from my head, working out problems. Obviously this only gets me so far. Here's the thing, though. I cannot gather all my information before I begin the writing process. Until I start writing, I literally do not know what else I need to find out. So I'm working with an idea I know something about, enough to start writing about, but I always have to do more research as I go along. Writing in the humanities is a heuristic process: you can't just find out some results and later write them up, because the writing always causes other issues to surface.

So my research is mostly reading other things and trying to make them fit together. A second component of my research is knowing people I can ask things I don't know. So if I'm writing about Valente, say, I would email Claudio Rodríguez Fer in Galicia, the head of the Cátedra José Ángel Valente, and ask him a few pertinent questions. If I'm writing about Gamoneda, I would ask Miguel Casado, who is the foremost expert on this poet. I have Lorquistas I can ask Lorca questions to. I never abuse the privilege by asking things I could easily look up myself. Scholarly contacts are part of my scholarly base. Aside from specialized information, they can provide a "check" on my ideas by saying, "you're right, that's a fruitful approach" or "you're barking up the wrong tree."

Other researchers are very good at looking at archives, specialized collections of materials. Some people I know have a great archive at their disposal but aren't as good at interpreting what they find. They unearth things, but these things are of interest to people like me, the hermeneuts. Scholarship really requires both types of people.

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