When I started the MA in American Literature and Film last September, I intended to dramatically improve my writing skills. I was of the opinion that the standard of my writing should increase throughout the academic year now that I had finished an undergraduate degree and was a student of an MA course. At the beginning of the course, every MA student in UCC’s School of English was asked to create an academic blog. We were advised to contribute to our blogs quite regularly in order to improve our writing. Although I agree with the idea and I believe it did improve my writing skills, I must admit that I did not add to my blog as often as I should have. However, I believe that it did achieve it’s aim in demonstrating the development of my writing throughout the course.
My first blog entry was an introductory piece of work. At this stage of the course, I was unsure as to what to write and as to what was expected in my writing. Therefore, to ease myself into it, I created this piece below, describing how I became interested in American literature and why I chose to further my education in that subject area.
“I first started this blog when I began an American Literature and Film MA in the University College of Cork this year. As soon as I was introduced to American literature in my first year of third level education, I took every module that was related to this subject area throughout my undergraduate career in the UCC. I found it more interesting than any other subjects I had studied such as Irish writing, Old English or Shakespeare. American literature, to me, is something different, something I knew little about until I began my undergraduate degree. I attended a Gaelscoil for my primary education and I was always encouraged to embrace my Irish culture. I grew up reading in the Irish language and this continued throughout my post-primary education. When I came to university, I was introduced to so much new literature that had never crossed my path before. American literature was the one that stuck with me. It intrigued me. Through my reading of American Literature such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter and Nella Larsen’s Passing which was published in 1929, I have learned more about American history and it’s journey into the twenty-first century.
This MA degree also includes the aspect of American film, a subject area in which my knowledge is lacking. Although I attend the cinema quite regularly, I have never studied the subject or any films in great depth. The range of films studied in this course are extremely diverse and this only adds to my interest in studying them. They go as far back as the silent films of the 1930s to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006). The variation of texts and films in this course ensures me that there will be something for everyone and I look forward to finding out what sparks my interest and increasing my knowledge of each and every part of the MA.”
This post indicates that I was merely a beginner regarding blog writing. At the time of writing my first post, we had only finished one week of classes and these were only introductory classes so I did not have anything academic based to reflect on. This is the reason why this post is more of an introduction to the blog. Soon after this entry, the course intensified and I found it difficult to allocate time to contribute to the blog regularly. Between keeping up with the class work and studying outside of the classroom environment, I was not focusing on working on my blog. I had also been absent from class for three weeks and because of these various factors, there was a month between my first and second blog entry. The second blog post I wrote was based on a screening of David Lynch’s 1986 cult-classic film Blue Velvet.
“There has been quiet a gap between this blog entry and my last. This was mostly due to my fear of doing it incorrectly combined with a lack of inspiration as to what to write about, but it is also because I have been in Australia for the last three weeks. If I could write about the holiday alone, I would be here for quite some time. However, I must leave it in the past and return to my academic duties.
Luckily for me, I was eased back into the college routine due to the fact that my first class back was the screening of David Lynch’s 1986 film, Blue Velvet. It was good to return to a new topic which hadn’t already been discussed. However, after twenty minutes into the film I knew that this topic wasn’t going to be an easy one. From the opening of the film I was already slightly confused. The flowers swaying in the wind and the fire truck with the fireman waving as it passes really threw me off. This scene portrayed a beautiful, peaceful neighbourhood which is contrasted by the the gruesome violence in the rest of the film.
I was then surprised when I learned that Kyle MacLachlan was the lead role in the film. I had only ever seen him play two characters. One, in Sex and the City, and another in Desperate Housewives. From watching him in both of these television productions I think I had stereotyped him as ‘the good guy’. Although he does not play the villain in Blue Velvet, his character, Jeffrey Beaumont, does have a dark and mysterious side. I did not know much about the rest of the cast, apart from my one encounter with Isabella Rossellini when she guest starred in an episode of Friends.
The mystery of the film begins when MacLachlan’s character comes across a severed human ear in a field close to his home. His quest to find out who’s body this ear comes from, leads him into a strange and dangerous world. His curiosity keeps him imprisoned in this world. I found myself watching the film intensely, trying to unravel the mystery with him. Although the film ends relatively happily, I was still left with many questions. There is no doubt that a film like this is open to numerous theories and explanations and so I look forward to hearing some of them when we commence our study on it in our next class.”
I thoroughly enjoyed my study of Blue Velvet and I later chose to answer on this film in an assignment for the module in which we studied the film. This was the first blog entry I wrote that was directly related to a topic that was covered in class. I wrote this piece after only a screening of the film. We had not discussed it in class at this point and so before I began to write this, I researched the film online. I found that this was of great assistance to me when we began to discuss it in class as I already had some basic knowledge on it and this enabled me to be more involved in the discussion. I then realised that writing about any given topic before attending the class, would benefit my learning and understanding of that topic.
Throughout the year, UCC’s School of English held research seminars once a week during the academic term. These were given by lecturers from UCC and from other universities in Ireland and Britain. I wrote a blog post discussing how difficult I was finding it to write a blog entry based on one of the seminars. Many of the seminars were given on topics of which I had no previous knowledge. In my third blog post I wrote that “None of the seminars so far have been of any great interest to me.” I was feeling frustrated because of the timing of the seminars. Each seminar was only one hour long and “I found myself trying to understand what the talk was about for the first half an hour and then trying to remember everything the speaker said in the last thirty minutes. ” After attending a number of these seminars I felt that I was under pressure to pick one to write a reflective blog entry on and that I was taking too long to do so. At the end of the first term, the final seminar given was on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. As I had previously studied this topic, I decided that this would be the first seminar that I would incorporate into a blog entry and below is the post that I added to my blog.
“The last research seminar of the first term was the only one that was based on a topic which I had previously studied. I took a module in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in second year and I found it quite difficult to keep up with the work because of the language in which the tales were written. The tales themselves were actually very interesting and entertaining, which is why they have stood the test of time. Although we did not study any of the tales in great depth, it was beneficial for me to have a basic knowledge of the topic before going into this seminar. The seminar was given by Dr. Darragh Greene from Trinity College Dublin. He focused on one particular tale, “The Pardoner’s Tale.” From what I have studied, this tale consists of the Pardoner commenting and almost judging on the actions of a group of young people who partake in activities that the Pardoner considers to be sinful such as drinking in excess. Dr. Greene focused in on a certain line in the tale:
“substance into accident”.
This is a line not originated by Chaucer himself, but from Pope Innocent III in his work titled De Miseria Humanae Conditionis. Dr. Greene researched all the different possible meanings of this line. He began by simply defining the words ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ in modern day meaning. Of course there are many definitions given to any word depending on the context in which they are found. ‘Substance’ can mean a thing or an entity. Another definition is to distinguish the essential from the trivial. An accident is simply something that happens. By using different meanings for the words, Dr. Greene has attempted to interpret what Chaucer was really trying to say or convey. With this research comes the question:
‘What are the limits of interpretation?’
Dr. Greene’s seminar contained research from the studies of Umberto Eco, who states that there are numerous ways in which to interpret a text and that it is also possibly to interpret a text incorrectly. If you are to agree with this, then it would be difficult to define the real meaning of this line from “The Pardoner’s Tale.” This is something that is always in the back of my mind when reading any text or writing any assignment. How do I know if I am understanding a text correctly or how can I be sure that I am not greatly mistaken? Therein lies the greatest aspect of literature. There are many possibilities of meaning in any given text but it is up to the individual person to interpret it in their own way.”
I enjoyed this seminar because of the fact that it was not a completely new topic to me. I was able to follow Dr. Greene more easily because of this and I was not struggling to write down everything the speaker said, in order to fully understand the topic when reading over it. This was the first blog entry that I really felt was meeting the criteria of the blog. It was not until the end of the first academic term that I felt completely comfortable in writing blog entries and in my opinion, the blog post above demonstrates this.
After our last class of the year, the MA students and their lecturers held a mini-conference where all of the students made a presentation that focused in on a specific topic of their thesis. We were required to write a blog reflecting on how the day went and whether we would change anything if we had the opportunity to do so. The following extract is the post I wrote after the mini-conference.
“For the second year running, the MA students of the School of English in UCC have held a textualities conference in which each of the MA students present on a topic which is related to the their thesis. There are four different MA programmes within the School of English: Texts and Contexts: Medieval to Renaissance Literature, Irish Writing and Film, American Literature and Film and Modernities: Romanticism, Modernism and Postmodernism. Due to the diversity of the different MA courses, their was a wide variety of presentations given on the day.
As a group, we were assigned the task of promoting the conference through social media and designing a poster. We delegated these responsibilities between us and certain students were responsible for setting up a Facebook and Twitter page, a live WordPress blog and for taking photographs throughout the day to be uploaded to these various sites, the links to which are below.
The title of my presentation was The Orality in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. This is one of two authors that I will be focusing on in my thesis. I had previously given a general presentation on my thesis, therefore we had to focus in on a specific topic within the thesis for the mini-conference. It was also necessary for us to use the Pecha Kucha style of presentation. With this style, every slide changes automatically after twenty seconds. Anyone who has ever given a presentation before knows how challenging it is and to have a time limit per slide adds difficulty to that challenge. Practice was key for me. Although I had never used this style before, I believe it went relatively well. There may have been one or two slides that changed before I had moved on to the next topic but it was nothing that I could not recover from. However, the next time I am required to do a presentation, I would make sure that I am not so reliant on my cards and that I make more eye-contact with the audience. I also noticed how some of the other students were using more of an informal tone and conversing with the audience. I personally found this to be more engaging as opposed to the formal tone of reading from a script or cards.
I learned a great deal from the experience of organizing and taking part in the mini-conference and I hope that it will continue to be a permanent fixture of the MA programmes in UCC’s School of English.”
This was a short piece of work due to the fact that I believe the day went exceptionally well and there were not many changes I would make if given the chance to do it again. I did not want to repeat my presentation but to give the reader an idea of what the mini-conference consisted of. This piece certainly demonstrates my growth as an academic student and my understanding of what was expected in the blog. There is a clear progression to be seen in my blog. I began this process without any experience in this type of writing and it was difficult for me to avoid a casual approach to my writing considering it was not intended to be too formal or academic. My first blog shows how unsure I was regarding the blog writing process. It is an example of my inexperience in this style of writing. After the first entry, I had more topics to choose from when creating a blog post. The literature and films from the course that I found most interesting became the topics that I wanted to discuss on my blog. I decided to name my blog My Journey through an American Literature and Film MA and it demonstrates how my writing improved throughout the academic year and how I improved on my ability to reflect and review on lectures and seminars.