Sunday, October 07, 2007

Some Intellectual History of my Project

So. . .yeah. . .I think the proposition against me writing time travel stories until I'm a master storyteller essay will have to wait.

My research has really started coming together and becoming more coherent. Strangest thing, too, is that bits of the information have come from some obscure sources that don't have a direct connection to my project and even come from mostly random situations. The random situations, however, can touch upon themes that have stayed with me through life.

Having big, important insights come from obscure and random sources scares me. Not so much about the current project, since I'm already working on it and have dedicated myself to finishing it, but more about my future, post-project.

Obscure and random sources can come from anywhere, can take years to find and generally have a small chance of providing good resourceful use of time. Finding it can require reading 300 pages or so just to find one or two sentences. I'm averse to intentionally setting out to find them except at the beginning of a project, but they can be vital to a project.

For instance, following some tangential research to understand the satirical message in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which really doesn't have the most clear or logical message, I decided to research into the importance of the individual conscience.

Alasdair MacIntyre's book, A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century didn't provide much insight into individual conscience. It did, however, provide a good comparison between the Homeric hero and the Socratic/Aristotelean civilized man and some insights I can't remember at the moment (probably not important at the moment).

In addition, however, MacIntyre's highlighted, in a footnote, a book that I had heard about but never thought about checking out: Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Along with Lynn Hunt's Inventing Human Rights: A History that I picked up to supplement MacIntyre's book, I got an okay historical overview of individualism philosophically, literature-wise, historically and politically.

Hunt's description of the later regression of human rights after Napoleon started screwing things up and the rest of Europe's view of human rights probably wouldn't have made much sense to me if I read it alone. Having read plenty of essays from Isaiah Berlin's posthumous collection of essays, The Proper Study of Mankind, though, I had a better understanding of the reactions against human rights and individualism.

Good stuff to know, which also helped me to settle my aggravation over not completely grokking the transmission of the message in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Unfortunately, I still have an essay to write about Brook Farm. Reading some other materials I can't remember and a couple secondary sources about Brook Farm, in combination with all the previous stuff, I came up with a hypothesis about Brook Farm trying to strike the best work-life balance by reconciling the individual creative spirit with the needs of the group/community.

All well and great except the secondary sources addressed the history of Brook Farm rather than ideas of it. One of them provided more detail about the ideas but more as a "this idea from that scholar and that scholar's idea provided a source for this aspect of Brook Farm or George Ripley.

Gathering together a list of sources from the secondary sources and through Amazon.com searches, I found Autobiography of Brook Farm edited by Henry Sams. This book has loads of primary sources. It has provided me with a better understanding of the logic behind Nathaniel Hawthorne leaving the community, but from the first 20 or so sources I've read, there hasn't been much explicit discussion of theory behind Brook Farm except the idea that if you get a bunch of people together to work on a farm, they'll reach their individual peaks and live lives of justice. That doesn't satisfy me.

Like with the research for Brave New World and so on, I figured that I needed to get a better idea of the intellectual ideas behind labor back then. That's when I remembered that Ian Watt addressed the Puritans and their work ethic/belief in the dignity of labor as a source for economic individualism in The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (OK. . .so I just finished this book a week or so ago). With George Ripley's, leader of Brook Farm, intellectual tradition and rebellion coming from a Puritan and Unitarian background (which, along with Congregationalism came off as rebellious offshoots of Puritanism in New England), I figured that the dignity of labor was something to look into.

And that's where I am now, finding that the 2 or 3 pages on the topic in The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding unsatisfactory, I did some further research into it. I found Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. I've only just started it, and from my understanding, it doesn't totally gel with the theory and proto-theory of Brook Farm. I think I'll be able to come up with some suppositions or find some source material that makes the connection.

The above logical and not-so-logical (I started with the research to address my dissatisfaction with a novel only to have it bleed into paper on a historical community that existed probably 90 years before it) has taken me about four months to do, a lot of it simply to fill in details to further my understanding. I also did plenty of Internet research to understand some political individualistic distinctions, economic history and the "sociology" of European civilization from Greek times to modern day. Four months, I don't know how much money, the time I needed to spend working a full time job to pay expenses and all the other practical concerns I had to address while doing this work.

Hell yeah, I'm scared of how good I'll be at doing this kind of thing after I graduate from college. One consolation, though, is that this is quite an intense topic, and I didn't have the central conceptual framework and angle for working on it until about a year and a half ago, six years after leaving college and pretty much 2/3 the way through first drafts of the academic side of the project and 1/3 of the way through the first draft of the novel. Still, I'm scare.

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