Sunday, February 22, 2009

PhD Reflections #8

Entry #2, February 10 through February 23

This week serendipity worked to help clarify some issues in my reading. At Dr. Moses WMST 621 class, Professor Bergoffen, a philosophy scholar from George Mason University, joined us. Professor Bergoffen provided a lovely intellectual history of existentialism and psychoanalysis, including both Freud and Lacan. This helped not only my understanding of “French Feminism” (as it was designed for the course), but also my reading for my independent study with Dr. Christina Hanhardt. For that I unwitting selected two books by philosophers back to back – after a reading by a Lacanian literary critic. I was swimming in it all, trying to make sense of it, but struggling. Dr. Bergoffen provided the needed larger framework.
The confirmation of knowledge this week comes in the form of appreciating being in the Women’s Studies program for my PhD work. The opportunity to read more broadly and to think of my work in a broader framework than just English is confirmed by the reading of the week, not only with Dr. Hanhardt, but also in both WMST 621 and WMST 602. I appreciate being rooted in literary studies with my undergraduate degree and MFA, and I equally appreciate being able to explore the intellectual world beyond it.
The challenging to what I already know this period is an unusual one. It occurred to me in conjunction with reading and discussing the Kelly Oliver anthology, “French Feminism.” I first encountered much of the French feminist philosophy as an undergraduate student. A central part of reading and understanding it at that time (this was in the late 1980s) involved filtering it through our own sense of ourselves as feminists. We asked ourselves, do I believe this? Do I want this to be a part of my feminist identity? Am I feminist like Wittig? Like Irigaray? Like DeBeauvoir? Our answers were nuanced, but fundamentally, we saw ourselves (at least in my memory) associating ourselves and our identities as feminists with the material. Reading the material this time, I notice that the questions raised about the texts are not filtered in the same way through self-identities as feminists. There is a different type of engagement with the materials in which no one directly allies themselves with particular configurations. I think this may be because the configurations of contemporary feminists have changed so dramatically. I also think this may be because the investment in defining and asserting personal relationships to feminism is much less at the current historical moment.
I have discovered two new scholars, Greta Rensenbrink and Scott Herring, who are providing me fascinating models for thinking about my work. Both of them are concerned with print cultures in the gay and lesbian movement in the 1970s. I find their work exciting and opening new ways of thinking for my work.
The biggest dilemma or dissonance for the past two weeks has been in thinking about what constitutes evidence for making arguments. Trained in literature, for me, evidence has always been found in books. Through this program and the opportunity to take course in other disciplinary locations, I have been just enchanted with archival research and the notion of finding evidence in the archive and using that as integrally an important part of my project. Reading for the past two weeks in philosophy has raised the question for me, what do I think is adequate evidence for arguments? Is it enough to just quote literary sources? Isn’t there a need for other, perhaps deeper or more extensive or reliable, evidence? What is the nature of evidence in the humanities? And what is the nature of evidence for scholars doing interdisciplinary work? How do we find balance between different modes of understanding evidence? I don’t have any answers yet, but am fascinated by the exploration of the questions.

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