Monday, March 31, 2008

My Passive Aggressive Relationship with Research and my Bachelors Project

Starting a couple years ago, while walking around during a lunch break in Concord, MA, frustrated as all hell, I came to the conclusion that I'm in an abusive relationship with my bachelors project. Please don't be offended as I use the term because, honestly, even though I've never been in such a relationship, I feel like I've been whacked about quite a bit by mind and this research. I've reached the depths of hell and risen to the epiphanies of Nirvana, trying to figure out this albatross around my neck and trying to write it down on the page, all with incomplete knowledge, struggling with some foul beast to tame it, understand it and make it something usable to myself and the human race.

After today, after reading a lot of Roy Baumeister's Meanings of Life, I have a similar yet different concept of the situation. As I retain the abusive relationship imagery, I've started thinking of my research and writing as inhalation and exhalation, the rising and lowering of the chest, the growth of meaning then the thrashing about because it's not enough meaning and lose my whole sense of meaning because the meaning I've gathered together does make the coherent sense that I want it to make nor I can find an angle with which to approach the huge ugly, mangled mass of information and data that needs to be made into sense. It's these moments of frustration, of trying to make a shape to it all that I find myself withdrawing into myself and my books, compulsively looking for that answer and occasionally losing faith in the whole journey and quest. Only once I have given up all hope, my unconscious mind gets thinking, cutting things up and putting them back together, sewing a whole new quilt of sense then waking up my consciousness to fill it up once again with even more nonsense that seems to make some kind of coherence at the time.

Then at that point, like now after the research I have done recently and will detail a little bit more below, I feel elated and euphoric. I see a path to an end point, yet I have doubts whether I need to reach that end point. Nonetheless, I tell myself to ignore those doubts because I need to make progress. Maybe I won't reach the real final destination in a straight line, but as long as I keep struggling and making my way toward what I can see as a destination, I'll reach that point, even if I have to wend my way up the mountain in a windy and twisty type of fashion. Then I fall into the work, I read, I take notes, my mind ruminates and works on making connections while I do other things (all the while, thanks to my ADHD, I get to monitor the whole process as it goes while also questioning it and trying to direct in ways that look to be obvious), I outline (right now, I've written up a 22 single-space printed outline for the current paper that I need more information to tighten up and provide better support) then I move onto the writing stage. But, anywhere in that point, I can trip and land on my face, sending me into a state of frustrated meaningless and moodiness that, I think, Baumeister addresses as the state that people enter when life loses meaning because something pulls the rug out from under your feet. Unfortunate for me, the melodrama of my mind allows me to simulate this process quite often and a lot more frequently than your common everyday person.

I once had a friend who said that he respected me for my trait of searching for answers and truth. Friend, walk in my shoes for a year, walk in my shoes. . ..

Now to let you all know about the recent research:

Almost done with Roy Baumeister's Meanings of Life. Just the epilogue and two appendices. This book has proven so dense that I've had to check it out of the library twice to get as far as I've gotten so far. I will have to check it out many more times in the future to get quotes, information and pore over it some more. It will prove a major source for my bachelors project, and I've only just begun to glimpse the genius in it. . .along with the genius Baumeister's other works.

On Saturday, pretty much right after getting out of bed, getting some grub and doing the minimum to get out the door, I got on a bus to head down to the library. I checked out The Transcendentalist Ministers: Church Reform in the New Renaissance by William R. Hutchison. I read the first chapter at work and at home one day off of Google Books then read the rest of it that Saturday, after immediately getting on the bus home after checking it out. OK, I'll admit, I didn't read the last chapter.

The Transcendentalist Ministers doesn't have the same kind of density as Meanings of Life. Obviously. . .I pretty much read it over a weekend. Unfortunately, unless the last chapter has some really really useful information, only two or three chapters will prove of any use. The first chapter provided a good context for the "historical" situation that I'm writing about, confirmed that there's plenty of inconclusive issues at hand then and also provided a good interpretation for a major controversy that occurred before the "historical" situation that I'm writing about that could very well possibly influence the reasons for my focused "historical" situation. Interestingly enough, though, Meanings of Life provided a very interesting and possibly useful wider context on the situation by talking a bit about Victorianism, social reform and the increasing respect for women during that time.

And today, straight out of work, I got on the subway and headed down to the library once again. I checked out two books: American Transcendentalism: A History by Philip F. Gura and Walter Leatherbee Leighton's French Philosophers and New England Transcendentalism. I picked up the second one on a whim, since it was next to Gura's book and the title touched upon my need to know how exactly the French philosopher's did influence the ideas of at least a couple Transcendentalists. Hopefully it's good, but especially then, I'll need find something that addresses how German philosophers influenced the Transcendentalists. Dang Transcendentalists.

I've got a bit of hope for Gura's American Transcendentalism: A History, though. For one, it came out last year, which makes me think it might prove more colloquial than something written about 50 or so years ago. I also got to read the first chapter, which provided a good amount more context than I had before about the times and the type of stuff going on about interpreting the Bible. This topic has a lot to do with what the first generation Unitarians and Transcendentalists were arguing about. I can't even really get into that now, since it's in a state of thought that I'm just not used to thinking in. Nonetheless, theories about interpreting the Bible, whether miracles are supernatural interventions or natural phenomena that humans can't perform or fully understand, whether Jesus is part of the Trinity as a part of God or simply the epitome of the Divinity expressing itself through a human, whether humans are just tabula rasa that learn through sense experience and reflection or whether humans have a priori consciences and intuition and so on and so on to the point of me not understanding how all that leads to a compulsion for social reform outside of a church. . .but I need to know to get a better idea of why George Ripley and some others established Brook Farm.

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