So. I recently accepted a PhD offer in English Literature at University of Virginia. Periodically I get questions as to what I do, why I do it, and advice as to how to pursue similar paths. At the risk of becoming too self centered, I, over the next few weeks, am planning to outline why I decided to pursue a career in Medieval Literature and how I went about it.
I hope that these reflections are useful or, at the least entertaining. Quite frankly, the academic life- ‘the life of the mind’- both is and is not what many or most people think it is. In the end it is simply life, more like all other human lives than not and complete with its little horrors (meetings) and rewards (June, July, August). If these posts seem self indulgent I apologize, I simply have no other place to speak from other than my own experience.
I will answer the first question, ‘What I do,’ now. I study medieval literature, particularly English literature. My primary interests center around the relationship between the mechanics of book production prior to the printing press and the nature of pre-print fiction (fiction is used in the broadest sense encompassing all written creative endeavors). I generally distinguish between ‘books,’ i.e. physical objects and ‘texts,’ i.e. the contents of a given book.
Taken out of academic mumbo jumbo, I am interested in how people use to books to share ‘meaning’ and to create communities. I think this is particularly important in an age which is witnessing the unbinding of the book. If nothing else, the Internet, and especially tumblr is an exercise in radical decontextualiztion and bears a haunting likeness to Borges’ Library of Babel. Tumblr sees the exciting aspects of my career- travel to libraries, pithy anecdotes, etc- but most of it consists of long library hours, tedious research, and constant revision.