Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Coming up with a thesis topic 1

In a word: Urgle.

This year, as part of my Masters, I have to write a thesis. Technically I have a choice between a creative thesis and an academic one, but if I want to teach or do a PhD (and get a scholarship) then I pretty much have to do an academic one. Which is fine, it was my leaning last year. Howver I must admit this year, looking down the barrel of 2007 I began to get faint of heart and was thinking of doing a creative one, because frankly for me I believe it would be easier.

Anywho, so now I have to come up with a thesis topic. In the next week or so, preferably (or at least have an inkling which way I might go). Tralala.

Here are some random things I find interesting:
*Narrative structure - in particular, finding alternatives to mythic structure or the hero's journey in fiction, wondering (for my personal writing) if an alternative model could be applied to a genre fantasy novel or trilogy to interesting effect or if mythology could offer an alternative model.
*Temporality in fiction - in particular reflexive narratives, where you find out the end at the beginning, so the tension comes not from what happened but how it happened. A common choice for what publishers sometimes call crossover novels (novels that appeal to both YA and adults or are about teenagers but for an adult audience, like The Secret History or The Book Thief or The Lovely Bones).
*In my searches for inspirational papers I found an article on machines in medical dramas called Visual Anatomies by Petra Kuppers. It begins: "The jumping, modulating lines of heart and brain monitors abound in medical dramas. In them life is translated: from a living, breathing body into a visual representation." For some reason this has captured my imagination. I did some reading about comas when writing Drift, and came across the case of a man who woke from a 7 year coma to speak to his family, just as they were trying to make the decision whether or not surgery should be performed on him. Read more about it and some of the difficult issues that surround this phenomenon here, an interesting articles about coma and silence. But I don't know how I would shape my fascination into a particular thesis topic. Or if this actually qualifies as one of those things that's more interesting to read about than write about. In fact what I think I really admire about the above papers is the specificity of them, the drilling down into the layers of meaning in one precise image (the comatose body or the medical machine).
*This is a cheerful one - what a dead child/teenager or dead child/teenage body signifies in literature or other narratives (as opposed to an infant or adult). I guess partly inspired by Buffy, with the sheer volume of dead teenagers, but also thinking about books like The Lovely Bones, Bridge to Terabithia, Of a Boy, Seven Little Australians, The Secret History, Little Friend, The Sweet Hereafter, M. Night Shyamalan's film The Village etc etc etc So also contrasting what it signifies depending on the market its intended for - children, YA, adult, or (and in particular) those oddling crossover books that sit between adult and young adult (like Harnett's Of a Boy). But I'm worried it might prove too depressing to think about dead kids for a whole year.

I always thought when I wrote a thesis one day, it would be some lovely genteel topic like butterflies in Jane Eyre (are there any?) or Food and Power in the novels of Jane Austen. Or more likely, I thought it would be about Ancient Greek mythology or literature, since I planned early on to do a PhD in Classics. This was before anyone told me about post-structuralist metanarratives. Now, in true postmodern fashion, I am paralysed by choice and indecision.

Other things I am interested in include: fairytales, metafiction, the body, australian children's literature, american children's literature, nostalgia, the intersection of personal history, general history, fiction and landscape (for example Gilead, see review below), Anne Tyler, Charlotte Bronte, Alice in Wonderland, game narratives, television narratives, melancholy as an aesthetic principle, children's fiction set in the 2nd world war, Nina Bawden, Rumer Godden, Noel Streatfeild, Margaret Mahy, timeslip narratives, magic-in-the-'real-world' narratives, butterflies, cake, female friendship, imagery, metaphor, birds, winter, Jane Gardam, A.S. Byatt, Simon Armitage, Bob Graham's picture books, Margaret Wild's picture books...

Sorry, this is one of my blog posts where I'm really just talking to myself in the hope it kickstarts something into being. So far not. Sigh.

17 comments:

  1. I always wanted to write a thesis on the use of dolls and dollshouses in children's/YA literature, and how it changes very abruptly from being sweet and whimsical in children's books, to sinister and creepy in YA/adult books, and what that says about our changing notions of Self and the Other.

    Which i kind of started talking about in my honours thesis which was about Lara Croft and computer games and wanky French philosophy.

    I like the sound of all of your ideas, Penni. The idea about the heart monitor being a visual representation of a life is very arresting. (no pun intended)

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  2. I'd be really interested in the temporality in fiction idea.

    Mind you, my first thesis was on hegemonic masculinity in Hollywood cinema as illustrated in the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger (which I can't even spell now) and the MA one was on whether women's popular fiction backlists, so maybe I should just be quiet...

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  3. Oh you very cool people with your Tomb Raiders and your Arnie flicks. It still kind of amazes and impresses me that people can write their theses on such things. I met some people last year doing interesting ones including:
    *the image of the mobile phone in pop-culture (does anyone else still want to pick up a mobile phone and shout 'buy buy buy sell sell sell' into it? Or is that just me?) But I think he's exploring its status in everyday culture, and with special interest in the fact that people see it as an interruption to the everyday, rather than as part of the flow of it - which you could argue about all technology really
    *scars in popular culture (from a creative writing student, so possibly in a creative piece)
    *food blogs
    *something to do with game narratives and everyday practice but I can't remember the specifics...

    and lots of other fascinating ones that i've completely forgotten.

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  4. Oh and Lili, I love your idea about dolls and dolls houses. Imaginary friends would be interesting too - at one point do they become dangerous or threatening...at what point do they become a marker of a disturbance of the psyche, rather than simply a playlife...

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  5. Frangipanni10:31 PM

    Have you read the article The Morphing of Mollie Hunter or Folklore as the root of all fantasy by Betty Greenway? It might give you a few threads to follow.

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  6. I just found it online Mum. Thanks. Interesting article in terms of Undine, don't you think?

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  7. What about dead mums, if you don't want to do dead kids? There must be hundreds of em. Dead parents in general. The grandparent as enabler of freedom and adventure? (Or mother's "old nurse"...) Of course someone's probably already done it.

    I really wish you'd do imaginary friends, or shared fantasy lives (a la Heavenly Creatures, Brontes, Antonia Forest's Peter's Room etc etc) Wonder how that will change with on-line Second Lives and all that stuff (I don't even know the proper name for them, how pathetic am I), you know, virtual worlds, what are they called?

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  8. ooh, do imaginary friends.

    you can interview me, i had 27.

    (only child)

    one day i will write a novel about them all...

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  9. 27? Cripes. Though Fred has a guinea pig, a baby emu, Bedda, Pulloo (though he's always at home with his Mama, pretty crap imaginary friend), Hannie, Hallie (who may be the same person) and Callie (who is definitely not Hannie). And she's got a sibling (real, not imaginary).
    HAve you seen Opal Dream? or read the book it's based on (Pobby and Dingan I think it's called, by Ben Rice)?

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  10. no, but i intend to. it's on the 'when-i-finish-my-novel' list. sigh.

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