Finding Research Topics
by Rishika Kaushik
(New Delhi, India)
Finding Research Topics : I landed on Myself
After a bachelors degree in English and halfway through a Masters, you know the start and ends to the questions you will see on the paper. Paper and pen (or now, your laptop) are your friends. Okay fine, who am I kidding? Not friends. The Paper and Pen are your personal act of colonisation. The Paper lies there, an untraced territory; and then there’s you, the Pen, mapping it out, drawing the margins and writing your answers, critically analysing and thereby, giving worth to the otherwise empty paper (never mind its archaic history, what all it’s seen prior to being laid out before you, all immaculate, all the ways its been smoothened out from you, all so you can step on its ancestral memory and call it new and made for you).
No wonder the pen is the greatest phallic symbol.
Gives us all a taste of what it would feel like to be God. Or at least, God’s favourite.
Thing is, it’s easy to write answers about the world outside you. The Pen is powerful then. It’s not the hardest thing to write a PhD thesis even, no wonder everyone’s doing it, right? You spend a certain amount of time reading reading reading — books, books about other books, Jstor articles about those books, a few other literary journals responding to those books; and then you go out there and replicate all you’ve read. You tweak things perhaps, alter it the way you perceived everything, no two minds are the same, of course. So, finally when you finish it, you allow yourself to feel like you’ve done something worthwhile. Wait, something’s missing. You sprinkle a little jargon like oregano on pizza and you get peers to review with heads nodding and bobbing, but when do you face things as they really are? The signifier only gives way furthermore to signifiers and as Derrida says (and one of the 3 things I’ve actually managed to understand from his essays) “the absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the interplay of signification ad infinitum.”
You need to prove you’re worth more than just words and if you just research enough, you’ll come upon something something something—
No I’m asking the questions—
CRITICALLY ANALYSE— drumroll please…
…are you serious?
In a world full of signifiers, that’s like asking for the absent transcendental signified. (You know shit is real when you start quoting Derrida to explain the conundrum inside).
Okay, let me try again, let me put it this way — Then coloniser then becomes the colonised. The paper laughs at the pen: Go ahead, write. Draw your margins. Write your thesis statement. Present your argument. Infer your accurate conclusion.
Not that easy anymore…is it?
If I critically analyse myself, the answer will be a scathing one. If I do a research paper on myself, the margins would jump off the page and the criss cross counterarguments will twist the jargon till it melts and my thesis will be…inconclusive.
I want to be a soothing Frosty poem that was written
after Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, I want to be an intricately woven Sterne-y leather-bound gold-leaf novel that explores my Life and Opinions, I want to be a Burn(s)-ing Ballad or a Shakespiring sonnet. Maybe I’ll even be bold enough to say I have it in me to be all the contradictions of a Mahabharati epic.
But when I gaze at my own reflection, I feel like a rejected piece of writing (coloniser becomes the colonised) Lost, and Found only in Moretti’s Slaughterhouse of Literature.
Discarded like the old Hindustan Times.
Lost. And Found only as a last minute makeshift gift wrapping paper.
And well, my critical analysis states…that that sucks.
But what sucks more is that there’s no point to it. The more I unravel about myself, the more I analyse, the more wounds I end up opening. No one wants to know you. I mean, not really. They want to think they do. But the moment you make them feel like you may just be a foreign country, that they may have made you an Imaginary Homeland, it’s over. The recognition of untranslatability makes you more foreign than ever before. The illusion that you were a homeland is zapped. Now you’re free.
But you’re so alone.
Critical analysis isn’t enough then. Reference to context, please.
How can you understand yourself without looking at your context?
You want context? You got context.
I like to call it the harsh truth : you’re more intense than is needed. Your sister wants some peace and quiet but your thoughts are so loud, you can hear it like wind in the air. Your father just wishes he got a simpler deal. He doesn’t understand trauma and how each cause has a root cause and you’re all questions questions questions when he’s all about the answers. Your ex boyfriend left the continent because you were both so volatile, there was too much context, in fact, and loving you just got tiring. Loving you suddenly became outdated even.
Sister is a dentist now. The dentist’s office is calm. Silence spread out on scary metal tools and thoughts tucked into her lab coat.
Father always fought at the frontline for his country. Answers may be war and death but they are answers indeed.
Ex-Boyfriend is a pilot now. No critical analysis or research or readings or discussions. Just soothing blue skies always.
Is that good enough, do we have the background texts, can we start working on the research proposal now?
No. Please just. Stop.
Don’t be so harsh on yourself.
Drop the pen. Crumble the paper. You were never God’s favourite.
The silence gets louder. I am the colonised. The blank page (with so much history scribbled onto it).
I’d like to be Rousseau’s tabula rasa today. A new beginning.
Maybe that’s why I need to end my journey with literature. What good did it ever do to be anyway?
I look at the paper. I gaze at the pen.
The paper seems to pout. The pen bats it’s eyelashes.
Well, this requires a eulogy to literature at least. ***