The Defensive Voice.

I have a problem.

My default setting is the back foot.

A thesis (particularly a literary one) is where you are supposed to present your ideas for scrutiny. You need to convince, persuade, and inform. But it’s not just about your ideas, it’s about what you think of other people’s. My own thesis will fulfil the requirement for originality, not through some act of discovery, but through my own original interpretation. I’m not breaking new ground, I’m re-tilling someone else’s field.

So, my question is this: how do you assert your own position in a way that allows for the position of others?

In the epic I’m studying the characters often get the answer to this question wrong. This leads to defensiveness, misunderstanding, conflict, and, eventually, death. Fortunately for me I am not fighting for the kingship of Thebes, and my own aristea will be fought with words, not swords. But it’s still difficult when faced with a conflicting scholarly idea not to go on the attack. It starts when you read a carefully crafted sentence that conflicts with your own reading of the text. “How dare they?”, you think, “This is wrong because my way is right. I must show everyone how wrong this is!” As I said before, the problem with this is that with this type of thesis wrong and right are rarely black and white: it’s more like fifty-thousand shades of grey. And, if you do go on the attack, it conversely makes your own position seem the more insecure.

My supervisor tells me that language is the key to solving this issue. Choose words that are neutral in order to avoid a fight you don’t need. This doesn’t mean you cannot be passionate, it just means you don’t always have to be dressed for war.

Writing is not conflict; it is intimacy.

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