From Topic to Project – The FYP Experience Continued

Digital image of a poster featuring a quote from Charles Bukowski. Courtesy of redbubble.com

FMoving towards the end of this semester, its’ becoming more and more apparent the great endeavour the Final Year Project is truly going to be.

A few weeks ago I posted about how to get started and figured it was time for an update. As such, this weeks’ post is dedicated to how I brought my general interest area to an actual research question.

For my FYP, I plan to examine the unique association between poets and mortality and why destructive lifestyles are perpetuated as the price of great poetry.

My general area of research is therefore in modern poetry as I want to look at the phenomenon in terms of its course in the history of poetry and the legacy that has been left for todays’ poets, writers and artists.

Friedrich Nietzsche said; “For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication,” so the specific ‘destructive’ habit I wish to pay attention to is substance abuse.

Upon my initial research, while there is a general societal understanding and acceptance of the ‘sacrificial’ artist, with substance abuse often seemingly going hand in hand with creativity, there are very few academic examinations of it in specific areas and modes of creativity, like poetry. As such I feel empowered to pursue a question with no definitive answers yet, making for a much more interesting research process.

I have chosen two writers to pay specific attention to; Elizabeth Bishop and Charles Bukowski. I made this decision based on a number of factors:

  1. They were both alcoholics which further narrows my research area to one specific stimulant and its use, or abuse, as a tool for creativity.
  2. They were both born in the first half of the twentieth century and are considered American poets, thus their writings and reactions to events of the time can be compared.
  3. The choice of one male and one female poet allows for an analysis of how their work compares and contrasts in terms of gendered voices.

As a result my working research question is: ‘Does addiction fuel art or does art fuel addiction? An exploration of the unique association between poetry and alcoholism through the work of Elizabeth Bishop and Charles Bukowski.’

If you would like more information on the FYP system in the University of Limerick be sure to check out the official website for FAQs: ul.ie/artsoc/content/fyp

Victorian Science in ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’

Poster from an 1880’s theatrical adaption of ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, courtesy of the National Printing and Engraving Company, Chicago.

Last week I participated in a presentation of a close reading of Chapter Eight, entitled ‘The Last Night’, from the novel Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

While studying and making the presentation for my Victorian Literature module, I was fascinated to learn about the Victorian contexts and ideals of the time, which happened to have also been the section I presented.

In this week’s blog I would like to discuss in particular the influence of science on and in this novel, as it was the area that intrigued me most.

The Victorian era saw many unprecedented scientific breakthroughs. Thomas Graham’s 1829 paper established Graham’s Law on the diffusion of gasses and Charles Darwin’s iconic ‘Origin of Species’ was published in 1855, directly influencing the scientific theories that may have gone into the creation of Jekyll’s potion, which allowed him to turn into his Hyde alter ego.

Jekyll’s personal laboratory had “tables laden with chemical apparatus, and the floor [was] strewn with crates and littered with packing straw”, as well as a private office containing “glazed presses full of chemicals”.

The representation of Jekyll as a man of science continues when we discover the extensive diary he has kept detailing the various experiments he conducted in the perfection of his potion, giving us an idea of just how ardently prolific he was in his endeavor.

Thus Jekyll encapsulates the modern man who undertakes science in lieu of religion.

In relation to other scientific influences on the novel, it should be noted that phrenology also came into scientific fashion at the time.

Phrenology was the idea that criminality could be predicted based on the shape of a person’s skull, and was often used as ‘scientific’ justification for racism.

The psudeoscience likely influenced Hyde’s smaller, hunched physique, as ape-like features were attributed to criminals.

An example of how phrenology was used for the purposes of perpetuating racism. The middle image of an “Anglo-Teutonic” male is considered the ‘ideal’, with the outer two, “Irish Iberian” and “Negro” males, representing the extremes of ‘wrongness’.
Courtesy of EH4006 lecture slides.

Science is often portrayed as an absolute, black-and-white, model for us to define the world around us.

The conclusion I have made from my study is that novels like Stevenson’s are vitally important as they allow retrospective review of an era’s ideals and how even the facts are vulnerable to bias, giving audiences incentive to question their own era’s ideals.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘PERSEPOLIS’ BY MARJANE SATRAPI

The front covers of the two volumes of ‘Persepolis’, courtesy of Wikipedia.

A few weeks ago I posted a review of ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys which I read as part of the syllabus for Colonial and Post-Colonial Literature, EH4026.

This week I finished a new book for the same module and figured it might be an idea to get a series going. As such, this weeks’ post is going to be my thoughts on ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi.

Divided into two parts; ‘The Story of a Childhood’ and ‘The Story of a Return’, Satrapi uses powerful black-and-white comic strips to illustrate her autobiography.

‘The Story of a Childhood’ follows Satrapi’s life from ages six to fourteen in the capital of Iran during the overthrowing of the Shah’s regime, followed by the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq.

Her life is uniquely entwined with the history of her country, as she is the daughter of socialist activists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, lending her an insight into events that captures the visceral experiences of her people.

When the threat level is at its’ highest with daily bombings from Iraq, Satrapi’s parents decide it is best for her safety to send her to school in Austria, and so begins ‘The Story of a Return’.

We watch Satrapi navigate her adolescence and see how her coming of age story is affected by her identity as an Iranian in Europe.

In an effort to assimilate she begins to experiment with her appearance, sexuality and drugs. Finding it all too much she returns to Iran upon her graduation, only to find she is now too much of a ‘Westerner’.

Satrapi explores her experience of diminishing mental health in reaction to this discovery and the meandering path she took to her recovery and, ultimately, her life’s purpose.  

The Los Angeles Times heralded ‘Persepolis’ as “one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day”, and I cannot agree more.

This book offers so much on so many levels; a deeper understanding of the mid-twentieth century turmoil in the Middle East, the experience of womanhood in a chauvinistic society and the universal human endeavor for a life that feels worthwhile.

As it is in a comic-strip format it’s easy to breeze through and is probably the most uniquely entertaining experiences I have ever had as a reader.

Note: I was surprised in my research for this post to find that this book had been listed as Number 2 on the American Library Association’s 2014 list of Top Ten Most Challenged Books, i.e. books banned by schools, with reasons stating it as being “politically, racially and socially offensive”. To see the full list, and those from other years, here’s a link: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10#2014

What are your thoughts on this kind of censorship of alternative voices? Are the motivations really in protecting children or an ideology? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Inventing a Festival for a College Assignment

Image from Longitude 2018, courtesy of the festival’s graphic designer; Ríonagh McNamara

I started this blog as part of one of my third year modules; Writing for New Media. It is dedicated to the practices involved in writing content for the modern market, hence much of its content is dedicated towards online, rather than print, material.

As such, the first assignment was the creation and maintaining of a blog (i.e this blog, obviously) and the next is the creation of a website, from scratch.

To date I have had two Labs on the topic, the first teaching the basics of HTML coding, while the second was on the primary tools of Google Sites, which is the programme I will use to make my website.

I have always been personally and professionally intrigued by the language of HTML and the infinite possibilities of website creation. It is a difficult topic to fully immerse yourself in however, and I was extremely grateful for the step-by-step guidance offered in the Lab sheets.

The brief for the website is very open to interpretation, the most basic criteria being that the site have at least 8 pages. In this blog post I will share my core idea for the site to establish a general plan for my progress over the next few weeks.

I have decided to make a website for a festival, as I think it’s a fun approach to the assignment open to my own spin and creativity. I’m taking the real festival Longitude, held in Marley Park in Dublin during the Summer months, and creating a fictional sister festival, ‘creatively’ called Latitude.

I had initially wanted to make an independent festival, but the need to cite image sources inspired this decision as I can use images taken at Longitude without breaking the continuity of the websites’ appearance.

Latitude Festival’s site will advertise the first event in its history and have eight distinct pages: Home, News, Information, Line Up, Tickets, Gallery, History, and Contact.

I really look forward to next weeks’ Lab where we will learn about designing the websites and adding our own personalities to our concepts.

I will be sure to update this post once the website is up if you want to know how I get on!

Lastly if you have any ideas for colour schemes or things I should include in the site please comment them below, I would love the inspiration.

How to Prevent Post-Deadline Panic

Image of the essay writing process, courtesy of medpreps.com

Now in Week 7 of the semester things are coming to a head. We’re talking at least two books to pre-read a week, 1000-2000 word essays due every Friday and midterms are right around the corner. The stress can become overwhelming when you have the next ten assignments swimming around in your head and no idea where to start. With that in mind this week’s blog post will be dedicated to planning and writing tips for essays; the ones I use and the ones I plan to employ over the next few weeks.

1. Keep a planner: While not specifically to do with writing, I think it is one of the most essential practices I have undertaken over the last few years. I worked for a magazine publishing company for co-op and started keeping a planner during my time there to track the social media and blog posts I was responsible for.

I have kept up the habit in college and in it I write down all my deadlines and schedule when I will work on specific assignments and how many chapters of my assigned readings I will get through each day. The practice of writing down each step is almost therapeutic as when the panic starts to set in I know exactly what I need to do each day to keep on top of everything.

2. Essay plans: This is something I was surprised to find my lecturers and tutorial leaders never really talked about in detail. I was fortunate to have had an excellent History teacher when doing my Leaving Cert who taught us third level essay writing skills. We would complete an essay every week and each had to have a one page plan accompanying it. The model he taught, which I still use today, is an eight paragraph system. It works for any essay that is about 800-1500 words.

Basically you write down the numbers 1-8 in the margins of a page, one and eight are the introduction and conclusion respectively, and all you have to do is fill in the blanks from 2-7, each paragraph topic leading from one to the next. This model creates a cohesive essay structure and gives you something to go back to when you get stuck.

3. Write in drafts: For myself, I find my work is better if I sit down and develop the question in one go. Writing a paragraph or two a day creates a stunted flow and prevents you from fully expanding on your ideas from paragraph to paragraph. With that in mind I’ve found it best to get the bare bones down in one 2-3 hour sitting, and if it starts to get draining I can come back later to add in supporting quotes and references.

So that’s how I’ve been getting through assignment season, I hope you found something useful in there. If you have any tips from your writing process please share them in the comments.

The Dreaded Big Three: Starting My FYP

An FYP starter kit graphic, courtesy of the UL FYP website

For most of us studying in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences department, the second half of third year heralds the end of a year of adventures exploring potential work environments and new countries and slams us right back down to Earth in Week 1 with the feared acronym; FYP.

For myself, up to this point I had seen it as some far away difficulty that I would be prepared to tackle when it finally came around. Well it did, and I wasn’t. But fortunately, now in Week 6 of the semester, I have fumbled my way into securing a topic and a supervisor, and am dedicating this post to the best advice I can give on getting your final year project off the ground.

Go to the preparatory lectures: While I must say I was disappointed to see that all the AHSS departments’ FYP students seem to have been lumped into the same series of preparatory lectures, they are still invaluable in that they show you where to start and who to go to with specific questions related to your course/topic.

They’re very general as they must be inclusive of a huge array of disciplines, but will give you basic information on deadlines as well as tips on research methods and the ethics approval process.

Find your topic: I think this is something you should keep in the back of your mind long before the semester starts, as picking a topic is obviously the most important decision for you to make.

I spent last Summer researching casually; reading books, articles and academic journals that interested me and pertained to elements of my degree (English, New Media and Cultural Studies) in the hope that I would get an idea from one, or a question I really wanted to answer. This has the added benefit of providing a foundation of research on which to build when you start working on it in earnest.

The main thing is that the topic interests and excites you, as it will take hundreds of hours of research and writing to get to the finished result, but you should also do your best to incorporate your established talents by seeing what you can tie in from modules you have previously done well in. I think it would be a great disservice to your degree to not chose a subject that you are truly passionate about and would be proud to represent your time in UL.

Securing a supervisor: Once you have your general topic it’s time to find an academic supervisor who will act as a sounding board for your ideas and help progress your project. I used UL’s FYP website to find my supervisor as I did not have any personal contact with lecturers in my chosen subject area.

Poetry has always been one of my great loves in literature, so I chose to do my FYP within the English department. As a result, I started by filtering the long list of supervisors down to members of that specific department. I decided to email two potential supervisors regarding my topic and supervision request; the first was a lecturer I had completed modules with previously, whose work I knew to be of an incredibly high standard, and the other’s areas of study were closest to my topic.  

The supervisor who worked within the poetry department decided to take me on, and in retrospect I am delighted as, while familiarity can greatly assist the beginning stages of a project, the very best final result will come from working with an expert in my chosen field.

All in all, while it was stressful at times, I am excited to have made the first steps towards my FYP and hope my experience can assist another confused third year in the future.

If you have any extra questions please leave a comment, I’d love to help.