Guest Blogger: Danielle Ely on Writing a Literary Studies Thesis

Hi, My Name is Danielle and I have an Infinite Jest Problem: What Surprised Me About Writing a Literary Study Thesis

First of all, I think it would be a disservice to anyone interested in pursuing a Literary Study Thesis, Writing Thesis or Education Thesis not to mention the timeline required to complete a successful thesis. I first read Infinite Jest in the summer of 2009 for Kim Middleton’s seminar on just that ‘Infinite Jest. I didn’t realize my interest in the novel until Fall 2009 when the literary theory I was reading in Douglas Butler’s ‘History of Literary Criticism’ course really started opening up various avenues to explore within the novel. The next semester, Spring 2010, I read the novel again for Middleton’s ‘Contemporary Narrative’ class. That same semester, I got together an Advanced Project proposal for a feminist/reader-response reading of Infinite Jestand completed the project in the fall of 2010. At that point, I decided that there was a whole lot more I wanted/needed to say about the novel, so I took on the Literary Study thesis, putting together yet another proposal. I didn’t successfully finish the Literary Study thesis until October 2011, 2 years after my initial interest for the Advanced Project. If there are two morals to be found in my long and arduous journey; one is that taking incompletes and extending deadlines are not indications of inadequacy on the students part, rather in order to create something that you are truly proud of, and that your advisors respect, you need all the added time you can spare. In addition to time, extensions and multiple

Danielle and her well worn copy of Wallace's literary monolith, Infinite Jest

drafts allow extra time to really think out where you want to take the project. One of the most surprising aspects of writing a Literary Study thesis was how drastically my project evolved over two years, from interests in the reader of Infinite jest to more sophisticated interests in the novel itself, and how many drafts I needed to say something truly unique and meaningful.

On a more personal level, another thing that surprised me about the process of writing a Literary Study thesis is the very quick and almost dizzying 360˚ turn I made in my area of academic interest. Before I read Infinite Jest, I was a student with interests in Narratology and the Graphic Novel. However, I think these interests translated very well to my love of Infinite Jest. Infinite Jest is a novel very much interested in toying with the idea of traditional narrative, and so maybe what at the time seemed to me like a confusing turn in a new direction was more like a sideways leap in the same. In any case, what I enjoyed most about the process of writing a Literary Study thesis was the creative freedom I was granted and the enlightenment I received from my advisors, whose inexhaustible interest in pushing me to create something great, revealed to me that completing a thesis is less about bragging rights than it is a chance to do something that will actually follow me into my future academic career. What I mean here is that at certain times in your academic career at the College of Saint Rose you may feel limited by the availability of courses in your field of interest. You may feel like you just want to take your required courses to get that degree at the end of your studies, or fulfill your requirements for Teacher Certification, but the thesis is a truly unique process that allows you to take control over your own destiny and write your own future—and so it’s an opportunity that I think many more students should take. In fact, I did a little research in the library catalog and in the recent decade there has only been one other Literary Thesis, six Writing Theses, and two Education theses. Why the disparity? Well, I don’t have a very good answer for that. But I think if more students see what a great career move writing a thesis can be for them, these figures will soon change. In summation, don’t be afraid to push yourself and get pushed by your advisors. We’ve got some really special and really smart professors at the College of Saint Rose and their assistance and advice can take you a long way. I don’t dread the thought of my thesis being bound and held forever in the Archives of The Neil Hellman Library because I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I know that it is only the beginning of what will most likely be a life-long interest in Wallace. I hope in five years or so, when some hapless academic stumbles over my project in the catalogs of the Library they will be as thrilled in their findings as I was to write it.


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