A bit of a work in progress

I thought I’d share an excerpt from my dissertation proposal, which I’m working on right now:
According to several of the scholars I am planning to cite in my dissertation, including Henry Jenkins, Lisa Lewis, and Jennifer Hayward, it has become acceptable for fans to write academically about the texts they love and the experience of being fans. I am relieved to hear it, because I am a fan of both of the authors this dissertation is about. But there was a time when I hesitated to produce scholarly work on the texts I read for enjoyment. When I was working on my master’s thesis, on eating and bodies in George Eliot’s novels, I said things like “Eliot is for work; Dickens is for fun.” I was afraid, I think, that in order to write academically about Dickens’s novels, I would have to adopt a drearily critical stance toward David Copperfield (my absolute favorite) and all the rest. I was afraid, in other words, that I would have to stop loving Dickens.
Something happened in 2009 that changed my perspective: I discovered Harry Potter. Not that I’d never heard of him before; I’d just considered him annoying and beneath my notice. The story of how I changed my mind is probably delightful only to me, so I won’t narrate it here. Suffice it to say that I arrived at the party very late; all of the books had been released by the time I started reading them, but at least I made it in time to see the last three movies come to theaters. I had finished reading the series by September 2009 and was already getting together with friends to make butterbeer (our version consisted of cream soda, butterscotch, and, yes, sticks of butter) that fall. Sometime around the end of the year, I received a call for papers for a casebook on Harry Potter. And the funny thing is that I never hesitated over whether writing an academic essay for the casebook would destroy my newfound love. Of course I wanted to write an essay about Harry Potter; I wanted to do everything about Harry Potter.
My academic interest and my fan interest in the series grew simultaneously. In summer 2010, I learned that my proposal for the casebook had been accepted, and I got Virginia license plates that said HAFBLOD (i.e., Half-Blood, as in the Half-Blood Prince). In the three years since then, the casebook has been published, and I have presented papers on Harry Potter at two academic conferences; in the same period of time, I have visited the theme park The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and accumulated a respectable collection of memorabilia (including three wands). As I write this proposal I am preparing for a trip to Portland with my mom, who introduced me to Harry, to attend LeakyCon, the largest and most respected Harry Potter fan convention. Certainly I hope to gather information relevant to my dissertation during this trip, but I’m also going for fun.
By early summer 2012, when I started thinking about my dissertation, I had let go of the division I had formerly set up between books read for work and books read for fun, but I was at a bit of a crossroads in my scholarly identity. I called myself a Victorianist, but I was at least as much a Harry Potter-ist. I don’t know what sparked the idea that I could be both, at least in my dissertation; it may have been a conversation with my dad, who was reading through Dickens’s novels for the first time, or it may have been the early buzz about Pottermore. Whatever the cause, I recognized a potentially fascinating link between author-reader interactions in the nineteenth century and those occurring today. And, just as important, I saw a way to revel in fandom for a couple of years while telling people I was doing it for a project.

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3 thoughts on “A bit of a work in progress

  1. I feel quite honored to have been mentioned in your proposal. I am looking forward to Leaky Con and to your finished work!

  2. Liara Montesano says:

    I had a similar experience a few years back when I discovered that I could enjoy contemporary literature and even fluff pieces as much as I enjoyed a good existential essay.

    While my assimilation of modern literature was gradual and made possible by the author Paulo Coelho. I am grateful for the change, as it has broadened my horizons.

    While my career does not requiere me to write about literature I’m grateful that there are people brave enough to challenge conventions. I salute you Penelope Clearwater.

    “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

  3. […] K. Rowling’s unusual relationships with their audiences; you can read a piece of the proposal here.)  All I want to do right now is to share with you a quote I was delighted to come across in my […]

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