Painful papers.

I recently finished my final paper for Psychoanalysis and Early Modern Drama and, well, the final results were not what I intended them to be.  Being far over the word limit, and not giving myself enough time to edit, I think I excised any interesting Lacanian analysis I might have produced of Jonson’s The Alchemist (the final paper is now lacking discussion of both history and Jonson’s poetics in the play).

More than a week later I’m still moping about it; if the following recollections are any indication, I’m not likely to forget the experience anytime soon.  Here are some of the more painful essays I’ve written in the last five years. Read the texts; enjoy the trauma!

For GBLS 2P94 (“Epics and Ethics”).  On the Aeneid, The Tempest, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

About three-quarters of the way through this paper, my laptop failed on me.  Of course it was the day before the paper was due, and of course I had forgotten to save a back up copy on an external drive.  I rewrote the paper from memory the next day on my old PC that froze and needed to be restarted every hour or so.

Oddly enough, I’m looking back at the experience with some fondness, as it seems to have seared these works into my memory (as I’m presently writing a paper on The Tempest, this memory is proving quite helpful).

For ENGL 3P22 (“The Literature of Milton’s Time”). On Richard Lovelace‘s and Abraham Cowley‘s grasshopper poems.

This turned out to be a fairly decent little essay, but was terribly frustrating to write as it was a replacement for an essay I’d already written (on the wrong poems) and submitted.  It was probably the most humiliating way to learn that early modern poets generally did not number their own poems (and that the Norton and Oxford editors have not yet reached a consensus on the order of Milton’s sonnets).

For GBLS 3V95 (“Banned Books”). On Milton’s Areopagitica and Marvell’s “Mr Smirk, or the Divine in Mode.”

One quarter through writing this essay, I realised that while it may be terribly fun to read about Andrew Marvell’s antagonism of the English clergy, early modern pamphlets themselves can be fairly dull to read (and more dull to write on).  Finishing this essay was a test of patience.

For ENGL 3P45 (“Poetry and Poetics”).  On Stein’s  Stanza 83 from her “Stanzas in Meditation” and Michael Palmer’s “This Time.”

Every time I write on Gertrude Stein I get into mental trouble.  This essay proved particulary frustrating: I think I decided to write on temporal and linguistic confusion in the poems, using Derridean theory as a means of analysis (the first essay in which I used Derrida!).

I vividly remember sitting on the floor, surrounded by articles and drafts of my paper, which I had printed out, in a vain attempt to edit and reorganise.  The essay wasn’t bad in the end, but only after I erased it — completely — twice.

For POLI 2P90 (“Introduction to Political Theory”).  On Plato’s Republic.

By the time I took this course in my fourth year I had read the Republic, either excerpted or in its entirety, once per term.  After seven terms of reading the same text, writing a ten page paper was a tedious and irritating task (which I, of course, made worse by procrastinating until eight o’ clock the night before it was due).

For 4P20 (“Contemporary Literary Theory”).  On Jameson’s The Political Unconscious and Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.

My professor told me my writing in this paper was “extremely lucid,” a description I still find odd given that I was feeling fairly ill (and, consequently, not at all lucid) while writing it.  If the paper is any good, I think it’s owing mostly to how much fun the texts (both Jameson’s theory and Ondaatje’s poems) are to read.  It’s unfortunate I couldn’t enjoy the writing process to the same extent.

For ENGL 4P71 (“Contemporary Theoretical Approaches”).  On Baudrillard’s “Precession of the Simulacra,” Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and Baudelaire’s “Black Bile” or “Spleen” series from Les fleurs du mal.

I wrote this paper under similar conditions as the one for 4P70, but produced an entirely opposite result.  The professor kindly commented: “at times the clarity of your argument is obscured by poor grammar.”  I read this comment as “your entire paper demonstrates no knowledge of syntax: it’s a good thing you wrote another paper prior to this one, or I might have to question how you made it to fourth year.”  Re-reading the paper over now, I think I was right to interpret the comment this way.

The experience did help me understand Deleuze and Guattari better, however (which proved useful for my seminar paper for psychoanalysis), and reminded me that Baudrillard might be a useful theorist for the first chapter of  my 4P99 paper.

Sometimes good things can come from dross.  I’ll have to reminisce about some of those better paper-writing experiences tomorrow.

12 April 2009 ~ St. Catharines

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