Friday, October 23, 2009

The Further in You Go

Photo courtesy of
It's like that opening scene from The Grinch (2000), when the camera heads toward a snowflake then inside, deeper and deeper to a whole universe and a little planet and a little town, Whoville, and the little house of Cindy Lou Who.

That's what research is like.

You think you've gotten down to the essence of a subject, but when you look closely you see there are whole worlds inside that; look a little more closely, even more worlds.

"''It's certainly,' Smoky said, remembering the guidebook, 'en extensive estate.'
'The further in you go, the bigger it gets,' said Hannah Noon."
--John Crowley,
Little, Big (1981)

"'I mean by this that the other world is composed of a series of concentric rings, which as one penetrates deeper into the other world, grow larger. The further in you go, the bigger it gets. Each perimeter of this series of concentricities encloses a larger world within, until at the center point, it is infinite. Or at least very, very large.' He took a sip of water.'"
-- John Crowley, Little, Big (1981)

"'Of course, Daughter of Eve,' said the Faun. 'The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.'"
--C.S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle (1956)

I despair of ever being finished. Every time I work, I discover something new.

Today, I discovered systemic functional linguistics, in which M.A. K Halliday articulates and justifies everything I was struggling, without the proper language, to say.

Exciting to discover a new area of research (old, actually, 1989), like finding lost treasure. But disturbing too: Does this mean what I am struggling to say has been said before, so why bother?

Is my purpose to say something new or to learn and get out of grad school and go teach?

And why didn't the linguists who have read my drafts not mention systemic functional linguistics? Why did they let me struggle with awkward, ill-defined terms like "sociolinguistic approach" (or is that the same thing and now I've finally stumbled on the right body of research?) and "socioliteracy."

Of course, I am juxtaposing Halliday's writing against several other more modern things, perhaps in a fresh new way. I just don't know.

Then again, I was told to define discourse, which seemed like an odd request at the time, like being asked to define academia. Maybe I was being subtly pointed in the right direction? This is all so esoteric. Like feeling around in the dark.


Renee said...

"And why didn't the linguists who have read my drafts not mention systemic functional linguistics?"

Probably because they're generativists. It's a really big debate.

Anyway, good luck on the thesis!

Indie said...

Really! I almost want to know the details but I feel I will be drawn into a hairsplitting world and forget how to speak the language of clarity.

I'll just take what I need of definitions. Or maybe I will use terms and define them in my own paper, free of political implications (I hope).

Thank you!

Ronak M Soni said...

I personally find that rediscovering something helps me understand, and appreciate, that thing more, because I now have a personal context for it.
It kinda takes on more meaning than a well-argued point. I think that has something to do with the filter mechanisms in your brain; you know, you can't possibly remember every well-argued point you come across.

Nice post, by the way. Will certainly be browsing the rest of your blog.

Indie said...

Yes, the personal context makes everything matter more. Schemata theory! I am a believer. I've seen it in myself more times than I can count, and try to use it when I teach.