Monday, September 21, 2009

Learn To Recognise Good Data When You See It: A Rant In No Particular Parts

It's been hard at times, but for three years I've kept my mouth shut. About what, you ask? Well, most of the time Stephen King (because the man can be a joy to quote). But on the whole—genre fiction.
  • Context: University. Double major—English Literature and Religious Studies.

In three years, I have never raised contentions about either a grade I was given or the content of an essay. Until today. Today, while I tried not to froth at the mouth and head-butt the pillars of academia, I lost my pip. I lost it quietly, because I still had lectures to attend, but still enough to write down a mini rant. And I rarely rant. Today, then, must be a rare day.

  • Point of contention: Quoting Stephen King as an expert in the field of writing.

So I'm writing this nifty little essay for my Religious Studies paper "Myth And Ritual". In said paper, I propose to put forth the notion that the act of writing is a ritual comparable to that practised within ancient Shamanic traditions. I got all my quotes and lovelies for the shamanism theory down, no biggie. During the course of this little essay, I manage to quote both Clive Barker and Stephen King. [if you're curious, the quotes are: "I work to loud music—hard rock stuff like AC/DC… Metallica… but for me the music is just another way of shutting the door. It keeps the mundane world out.(KING); "I think novelists go out into a space that is essentially a psychic space… report back and say 'That's what I saw' (BARKER)].

Notes in the margin, how we love them. So on the page where I offer up the quote from King, Mr Pet Cemetery's name is circled, and in the margin next to it, the following note: GOOD DATA ARE NEEDED.

Excuse me, what? That's funny. Because when I was writing this essay, I thought the best possible "data" you could get when it comes to what goes on during the creative writing process would be to quote a fucking best-selling writer. Now, it is interesting to notice that, on the very next page, Mr Clive has no angry circle around his name, and there is no mention of any GOOD DATA. Two things: 1)either the marker got sick of telling me to offer up GOOD DATA, or said marker didn’t recognise the name of Mr Clive, therefore having no clue that he wrote the same nonsensical, genre troll-trash as Mr King.

This is not the first time this issue has come up and I am sure you are all familiar with the biased opinions some academics hold against genre work. Yes, I know that in the academic field we like to have a nice theory from some third party who has, in numerous cases, never experienced exactly what it is they are theorising about. That's a good and a bad thing; good because it allows for a sense of distance and objectivity; bad because without experiencing something, really, can you ever know what the fuck you are talking about? Should academics not by now begin to realise that they can potentially benefit an enormous amount from people who are actually touching the very heart of what they themselves are working so hard at understanding?

I should perhaps mention that, said marker have on many an occasion displayed public disapproval verging on disrespect for Carl Jung's theories, many of which have an extremely close relationship to topics such as the imagination, the subconscious and the unconscious, human attributes that I believe are highly undervalued and underrated when it comes to understanding and interpreting not only literature, but us little Homo Sapiens as a whole. But then, those things are not concrete; they can't be put under a microscope and mapped, so fuck 'em. They mean nothing.

I'm not ranting because I want a better grade. But just once, I'd like you to recognise that, when it comes to fiction--writing it, knowing it, living it, understanding it--Stephen King and any other seasoned writer has something valid to say. And you can take it as "data".

Final comments on the essay? "Some good insights here; best when substantiated with some data." I gave you data. You just blithely ignored and refused to see it because you allowed what you think you know about a "hack" to make you think you know better.

End note: Not all academics seem to live inside a sheltered box of theory. Earlier this year, a different Religious Studies lecturer in the same faculty admitted to me that genres such as science fiction may very well be better equipped to explain metaphysical notions about ourselves and the world. Aces.


Darkin Inc said...

"Good Data Are Required" - There bad grammar or a typo due to incandescent rage?

I would send it back and demand a re-mark. Argue your case.

Lynne Jamneck said...

I know! I'm not sure, because said lecturer always says "Good Data Are" when lecturing, too...

Yeah, I'm definitely composing an elegant comeback. Thanks for the vote of confidence :)

Conni said...

Darkin Inc: "data" is a plural word; "datum" is singular. Therefore "good data are required" is grammatical.

Lynne Jamneck said...

Hi Connie,

Admittedly, there is some degree of argue and confusion about this. In terms of how I myself have been taught, I would agree with Darkin Inc. Language is a fickle thing. Anyhoo, see this link:

Anonymous said...

Wow! I'd love to read that paper. I totally consider writing genre a trip to the "inner world".

And I don't envy you the act of butting your head up against the predudices of academia.

Go girl!

Ripley Patton

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that should have been prejudices. Ack!

Oh, and everything we write or say is grammatical. The question is- is it grammatically correct.


Anonymous said...

Question mark.