I have now graduated from Charles Sturt University with the Master of Information Studies (Librarianship). Shortly after completing the assessment for my Masters program - before I had even officially graduated - I commenced a PhD at Monash University in their new Literary and Cultural Studies Graduate Research Program.
I decided to apply for the PhD program late last year because of one of the scholarships on offer, but I only discovered the scholarship a little over a week before applications closed. I only had a few days to throw together an application (fortunately I'm freakishly organised and had handy all the required paperwork), drafted up a research proposal, and lined up some potential supervisors.
I found out shortly before heading to Toronto last October that I had been accepted into the program and was also fortunate enough to have received the school's Cecile Parrish Memorial Scholarship for Research Excellence in English Literature. So, upon commencing my PhD at the end of June (the latest possible date to commence in Semester 1), I stopped working full-time and now work only two days per week at one of the university's libraries.
My thesis will consider the possibility of ethical literature and then relate this to the science fiction genre. At present, I anticipate my thesis having three closely connected sections:
- The first section will focus on ethics and literature in the writings of Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot. It will consider Levinas's philosophical writings and his ideas of totality (the reduction of people, of history, and of the world to fixed, finite concepts) and infinity (the rejection of totalisation and the opening up of transcendence, found first and foremost in the face-to-face encounter with the other person in their absolute alterity/difference), and his writings on literature and the aesthetic (which fluctuate between positive and negative). In attempting to ascertain what kind of writing could be considered ethical (in the sense of resisting totalisation and possibly bringing about an encounter with transcendence, or that which is beyond comprehension), I will bring in the writings of Blanchot, who drew on, critiqued and developed Levinas's ideas of ethics and literature in his own literary essays and fictional writings. The goal of this will be to explore what styles of writing—what narrative techniques and the like—can facilitate the opening up of an 'unenglobable literary space', where what is written has infinite possible interpretations and cannot be reduced to a single meaning or straightforward story.
- This will then feed in to a consideration of how early science fiction often failed to open up this interpretative space, prioritising the communication of fixed concepts and scientific facts over the opening up an ambiguous, interpretative space. I will consider how this has changed as the genre has evolved, with New Wave SF, for example, introducing modernist and experimental writing styles and challenging the previously dominant materialist (and totalising) ideologies. I intend on working in the idea of fabulation, as discussed by John Clute and others.
- Finally, I will engage in a study of a Gene Wolfe work—I am thinking of The Book of the Short Sun at this point—and consider how it opens up this unenglobable literary space by resisting reduction to a single interpretation or straightforward narrative. Among the writing techniques and styles I plan on discussing would be Wolfe's use of unreliable narrators, fragmentary writing, and the slingshot ending. I also anticipate discussing Wolfe's treatment of religion and theology, war, and ethics ('love your neighbour' being one of the central themes of The Book of the Short Sun).
So far research is coming along very well and I'm really enjoying the project. I have also been learning French, so I can engage with Levinas's writings in their original language. Overall it looks like the next few years will be very busy! But I'm looking forward to it.