27 October 2011

Mapping Close Readings

Today was somewhat off of my usual routine. A good friend needed a lift to and from a Doctor’s appointment. I don’t begrudge her this, of course, and I knew about the appointment a day in advance, so I was able to reschedule my day accordingly. I also brought work with me and got a bit done while I was waiting. Calling today hectic or something of that nature would be misleading and unfair. But I do feel like it was rather packed. In addition to helping my friend, I’ve entered another publishing cycle at my job and have been editing news items. All this is to say that tonight’s entry is going to be a relatively short one.

Over all, I think this has been a fairly productive week up to this point, although I’m not certain how much I will be able to get done tomorrow, since I have plans for the evening that are going to require some preparation during the day. But certainly I’ve accomplished more over the last four days than I did all of last week and feel good about that. I’ve been spending most of my time the last several days writing zero drafts of what I think the chapter I am working on is going to be about (and I’ve tentatively decided it’s going to be a full blown chapter rather than part of one) and highlighting key ideas in all of the close readings I have done thus far. I had already done this one way by bolding items that I thought were thought provoking. Now I’m using colored highlighters in order to categorize the information into overarching topics and subtopics.

Deciding on how to highlight my close readings offered me a somewhat challenging task. It was difficult at first to know how I wanted to arrange the information. I only have five colors to choose from, so I needed to decide on rather broad topics. The three most closely related topics are ‘the conqueror’, the ‘conquered’, and ‘translation / theoretical concerns’. I chose red (for the aggressors!), blue, and orange for these respectively. I’ve also chosen yellow as a sort of hodge podge color for items I’m not sure how to categorize, as they could fall into one or several of these three categories, or none. Lastly, green is for ‘dialogue’, which I think ended up being one of the more useful tangents I repeatedly came back to in my close readings.

Something rather interesting has been happening as I’ve highlighted the already highlighted material from my close readings in color. I’ve seen that many of my sentences are organized in terms of several of the topics I have chosen. A sentence can begin by mentioning the conquerors, for instance, which I highlight in red. But it can end with discussion of translation (orange) and /or the conquered (blue). Instead of marking sentences in one color, I am marking them in several, as best I can, to reflect these distinct references. And what is emerging from this is a kind of map of the dialogue that seems to be going on between the way I think of the conquerors (mostly but not only Arthur and his forces) and the conquered ‘in translation’. Very often I’ll have a sentence where orange mediates between red and blue (or vice versa), so that I can see a definite pattern of thought in many of the paragraphs I’ve written.

Admittedly, the patterns that are emerging in my writing have a lot to do with the way I have decided to utilize the color choices available to me. In a very real sense, these patterns have been predetermined by me. Nonetheless, I find seeing a visual representation of how I have approached the topics I have been wrestling with extremely exciting and thought provoking. And I am gathering valuable information in a very quick way. Even if I decide that this arrangement does not make much sense later on, for instance, I have still cut down on a lot of the guess work at the beginning of the more careful drafting process rather than later. And I can more readily visualize how other topics like dialogue feed into my ideas about the conquerors, translation or whatever, which is important to think about as I attempt to put all of this information into a more less cohesive narrative.

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