Monday, August 15, 2011

The Joys of Research

Over the past few days, I have begun once again working on editing my thesis. This process is mostly for graduate school applications, but some is as a tonic for my own soul. Although my thesis certainly did what it needed to and was relieved well, it failed to entirely answer the questions upon which I wrote it. I know what I cannot spend my life fine-tuning my undergraduate thesis, as Propertius II gently reminded me, but I just do not feel like the project is finished yet.

I love researching, which I think is part of the reason that I love Plato. My favorite thing is finding that nugget of text that others missed and figuring out the possibilities of what it means. Plato is full of these little moments that could have huge interpretive significance. I have spent the last few days researching the possible dramatic date of the Laws looking for the clues dropped within the text itself because I think that Catherine Zuckert, who has a wonderful chapter on the dramatic (not compositional) date of the laws in her book does not fully address some of the complications with her position.

Through this process I realized the truth of something a friend said: she told me that not everyone is a researcher. At the time, I thought this was absurd. I figured that if someone liked the topic enough, they were bound to like researching it. However, over the past few days I've been able to see her point. Someone researching needs to not only like the topic, but rather enjoy what a blogger on the CAMPVS refers to as "the hunt." I might put it rather differently; for me it's more like a hike which is long, sweaty, and arduous (although it is invigorating as well) with the "epiphany moment" as the peak of the mountain where the hiker feel like (s)he can suddenly see the entire world (or sometimes suddenly realizes it's not the peak at all).


  1. Your lovely closing metaphor called to mind some lines from your fellow-hiker Alexander Pope (in his essay on criticism), of which you have surely heard at least the first:

    A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
    There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
    And drinking largely sobers us again.
    Fir'd at first Sight with what the Muse imparts,
    In fearless Youth we tempt the Heights of Arts,
    While from the bounded Level of our Mind,
    Short Views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
    But more advanc'd, behold with strange Surprize
    New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise!
    So pleas'd at first, the towring Alps we try,
    Mount o'er the Vales, and seem to tread the Sky;
    Th' Eternal Snows appear already past,
    And the first Clouds and Mountains seem the last:
    But those attain'd, we tremble to survey
    The growing Labours of the lengthen'd Way,
    Th' increasing Prospect tires our wandering Eyes,
    Hills peep o'er Hills, and Alps on Alps arise!

  2. What a wonderful excerpt! I had only seen the first line, previously (as you suspected). I shall have to read the poem in its entirety. Thanks!

  3. Here's a better text:

    It's just not the same without the ubiquitous italics!

  4. Also relevant:

  5. That's so funny. I guess it's a popular metaphor.