IST 700: The Research Life

After a productive spurt this past week, this weekend has been a bit of an up-hill trudge. But one continues. I have my favorite tea and a door open to a sunny spring day. This is good.

First, an update on the current fanfic project. I’ve started hearing back from people. Just two for now, though one asked for a more set deadline for responses. I probably should have given an earlier day, like this weekend, so that I could reply, but I feel odd about imposing, as these questions are an intrusion I’d imagine. Like a lingering survey, stuck in an inbox because you may do it and win the free gift card–one day.

Only, I don’t have any gift cards.

The responses had some surprises and confirmations. I’m trying to avoid thinking too much about them now, mostly just using them to generate followup questions. I don’t want to influence how I view the next responses too much. So, I guess I’m avoiding conclusive thinking, while continuing interrogative thinking. As Sherlock Holmes says, “Always approach a case with an absolutely blank mind. It is always an advantage. Form no theories, just simply observe and draw inferences from your observations.”

Though I’m not as positivist and deductive as Holmes, I do see value in the art of trying to step back and check confirmation biases as best as one can. My tension is trying to design with enough focus and maintain that focus without letting the focus decide itself. It’s like trying to design a possibility space without trying to coax certain possibilities to the fore in an artificial way.

This is why the current responses have both surprise and confirmation. Having read scholarship–and having some personal experience with fanfic–I expect some things and recognize certain narratives. This is why I designed certain questions. But on the other hand, the case is itself different. One has the standpoint of the respondent, our given time and place, the whole “chonotopic” (time and space) materiality of this moment, and the inflections of a given instant, both big and small. And then, one has me, as the researcher, affected with the same concerns.

With this in mind, I come back to Aristotle’s Categories and the capacity to abstract and apply, taking insights from the practical and dragging them into the theoretical like some sort of metaphysical alchemy or sleight of hand.  What are these ideas? What are conclusions? How can I abstract or generalize–what allows this deductive step? Or are we stuck in the hell of Hume’s “scandal of induction,” in which knowledge derived from experience remains haunted by the “what if” of exceptional cases?

But in the more mundane realm of research–outside of these big questions–I’m definitely learning things, learning by doing, that is to say. And this is something else. The “learning” of the research–what society can learn–and the learning of the researcher–what I learn.

For example, I know now better ways to word questions, ways to contact people and work through this process, ways to do followups, and (most of all) ways to measure time. The tiny edits and hidden documents that inform research–that build projects–are indeed granular. But important. Sands that may or may not build to anything, like Beckett’s Endgame: “Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.” And that impossible heap may or may not be intelligible, but it’s there and must be sifted through.

Like my current research documents.

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