Keep On Keeping On

Similar to other classmates, the biggest challenge I’m facing in the writing process is balancing the time needed to engage fully with my research question and the actual time available to do just that.  The bibliographic essay was beneficial in this regard in that I was able to get a nice jumpstart to my research and confirm the availability of evidence to support my claims and reasoning.  The essay also exposed some not so great sources early enough to locate suitable replacements.

Our assigned readings from Craft of Research have given legitimate guidance in organizing thoughts as well as prepping a plan to tackle this paper.  It’s also a nice feeling to read that I am supposed to be feeling anxiety about this paper and that many experienced writers feel the same.  It’s been daunting to keep that crippling sense of being overwhelmed at bay.

One challenge I’m finding is that I’ve been unable to turn-up counter arguments to my claim on B. Kingsolver’s work specific to Prodigal Summer, my chosen work of art.  It seems an important part of a paper according to Craft of Research to acknowledge opinions and claims counter to those I support and I wonder how this might affect my argument.  Outside of Heise’s critique on a prior Kingsolver work for a lack of transnational application, I seem to only be finding support for my claims (which seems like a really good problem to have).  Fortunately, there is still time to locate something acceptable in this regard.

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Staying Literary

My final project focuses on the issue of genetic engineering and the limits and morality of science, and how Margaret Atwood uses Oryx and Crake to reflect on that issue. My proposal was too broad and two vague, and that has been the main problem I’ve been trying to correct. I’m getting closer to being precise with the essay, but I still feel like I have a long ways to go.

The issue is partly due to the abundance of research on the topic. That’s been very interesting and entertaining for me while I work on the project. With Oryx and Crake, Atwood’s “speculative fiction” thing where she writes about the relevant possibilities of science, definitely rings true. Genetic engineering has been such a hotbed of interest and controversy for the past decade or so that there is an incredible amount of literature on it. A lot of sources I’ve found have to deal with documented studies and chronicles of genetically engineered creatures, rather than the bioethics debate it has created. For me, it’s been so fascinating to read about the actual capabilities of science, that I sometimes am losing the actual focus on the novel and instead wandering into a paper about science and the capabilities of genetic engineering.

I moved in the right direction with my bibliographic essay in that I turned my focus to the ways in which Atwood reflects and comments on the bioethics debate, instead of simply talking about the science in Oryx and Crake in relativity to today’s science. Now, in my first draft, I’m working on developing that idea further and making the research sit in context with that idea instead of being these ‘argument’/’evidence’ chunks.

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The Pain of a Poor Proposal

An inundation with overwhelming amounts of information was not my problem when carving out the bibliographic essay; it was rather, trying to find enough information on my desired topic. I attribute this to poor consideration when it came to choosing my research topic. Instead of delving into a subject rich with information I chose to go with something a little more near and dear to my heart, this is not always the best answer when a 3000 word essay and a majority of a final grade are on the line. The fact of the matter is that I am stumped, I do not know where to go, it’s 1:30 A.M. and I’m beating myself over the head with a book in the hopes that some form of forced osmosis will help me gain some new insight into my topic.

Is this normal? I’m going to have to say no. I can usually write, hell I can usually write well, but the thought of this paper makes me nauseous and my heart palpitate. Then again maybe I can attribute all this to the time of year, just remember, it will all be over soon enough and I’ll get to look back on these days as the best of my life; or something like that…

Give me my cap and gown and put me on flight UA58 from Houston to Amsterdam.

Real talk though, when considering a research proposal stick with something feasible. I decided to go with something near and dear to my heart, and now I’m lying in the ruins of my broken dreams. Music has its place and it’s in the park, or the bar, or in your Jeep with the top down, not academia.

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The Bibliographic Essay Experience

I want to talk a little about my experience with the bibliographic essay. Until this last assignment I had never written a bibliographic essay. Because of this starting the assignment was like exploring a new world. I sat down ready to begin. Books, articles, and notes stacked in various piles all around me I began to type out my first draft. I felt so prepared. When I got through I realized I wasn’t. I’m not sure about anyone else’s experiences with writing this essay, but I definitely felt like it was an entirely different experience than that of writing any other variety of essays. I felt like I was placed in a quasi-interactive state with all of the sources I trudged through. I was allowed to engage and talk about the argument of the source, talk about how it relates to the novel, and then not engage back into my topic novel. I feel like this somehow a component of writing an essay that is about how your sources are related instead of using sources to progress your argument (?). I’m not entirely sure, but it was undoubtedly provided a different way of looking at sources, and using research.

Another component of the essay I found interesting was how my sources were more interrelated than I had first assumed. Obviously all the sources will have a broad-spectrum commonality that makes them applicable to the paper as a whole however, several of my sources seemed to share more than this passing commonality. I hope to take advantage of these stronger commonalities to improve the flow between topics in my final paper. This is an aspect of my paper that I feel would not have existed had I not done the bibliographic essay assignment.

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Thanks Bib Essay!

I feel as if my biggest enemy in any research project is time.  I find myself thinking that if only I had endless time and energy to look at every potentially applicable article/book/etc. pertaining to my topic, only then will I write a truly successful paper.  I felt the biggest challenge in writing my Bibliographic Essay was to finally make myself stop looking and start analyzing the things I had already found.  When the plethora that is a database search is delved into, I find it extremely hard to stop.  I keep thinking to myself that the perfect piece to my puzzle is still out there.  Despite my addiction, I did find a way to stop and I did find lots of interesting and helpful sources for my paper.

One thing I caught myself from doing by writing the bibliographic essay is manipulating sources to fit my need for them.  I was able to realize that I have a tendency to sometimes unfairly represent sources in order to use blurbs from them to support my argument; however, I feel as if this is another product of my lack of time.  Regardless, I was thankful for the opportunity the added step of writing a bibliographic essay provided me.  Due to an inability to procrastinate the research process, I was able to indulge in more database searching than I usually am able to do before writing a paper, and I was also able to recognize and correct a bad habit.

Although it was hard to sit down and do without wanting to just go ahead and write the whole dang paper, I think writing a bibliographic essay is a necessary step I wish I had been taking in all my previous writing projects.

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To Err Is Human

One of the obstacles I had in working on the bibliographic essay was trying to narrow down my research question so that it dealt with a specific enough subject without being too broad or narrow. In my bib essay I think I tried to focus on too many aspects/questions of bio genetic engineering that my argument kind of got lost in the process. I want to focus on one or two connected themes that run throughout the novels/films I am comparing, because I realized as I was writing my essay that each source I chose to focus on has so many levels to analyze that I wouldn’t be able to fit everything into a 15-page research paper. It’s tough because I really like what the films Gattaca and AI: Artificial Intelligence add to my argument about genetic engineering and what it means to be human, but I have a feeling I will only be able to pick one of these films to focus on. I am going to use one of these films to compare their depictions of original creation to how the Crakers are represented in Oryx and Crake.

It seems like many others in the class, I am finding the sheer amount of information that is available to be sorted through daunting, and this struggle is even more difficult when you are trying to find sources that are not only relevant to your research question but that also bring to light a new perspective or take an opposite stance to what you are arguing. It was hard for me to find sources that focused primarily on the advantages of human genetic engineering, and I feel like I need at least one type of this source in order to balance the views from the dystopian science fiction novels/films I am using. These dystopian realities mainly deal with the ethical/moral consequences that arise when scientific technology has been taken to extremes, and don’t highlight many favorable outcomes (or if they do, these advantages are presented in a way that make them seem like disadvantages, or they quickly evolve into them).

I think my main problem will be narrowing in on the one subject/argument I want to present and then coherently organizing my final paper, because right now I have a rough idea of where I want to go with it (focusing on the concepts of empathy, individualism, and capacity of thought/knowledge as the things that make us human), but I haven’t yet found all of the sources I had hoped I would find, so that makes it hard for me to envision what the final paper will end up like.  I know my bib essay was all over the place in terms of my thoughts/organization, but I think that once I gather all of my sources and make up my mind about what aspects I want to address and decide what film I will use to juxtapose the novel Oryx and Crake with, I will feel less overwhelmed. I am actually excited about my topic, it is just about sitting down and doing the research.

I know everyone is stressed out with final papers and exams, and I am definitely feeling the stress too (in addition to this research paper, I have another 15-page research paper due and a 10-page poetry paper due) so I’m finding it hard to give all of my attention to any one class at the moment. Who knew being an English major meant writing so many papers?!

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One Thing At A Time

Prior to writing my bibliographic essay I was stressed about how much I needed to cover. Avatar is already a long movie (171 minutes), but then I found two books, two short articles, and a forty-minute interview that I want to use as sources. I eventually had to just dive in and summarize one source at a time, which ended up helping me narrow my research idea to a few specific aspects of Avatar that I want to explore.

My initial plan for organization was for each paragraph to cover just one source and have the paragraphs in order of which source was most useful. As I summarized I began to see how the sources were connected, either by similarities or differences. I decided to arrange the essay by the three main points I formulated while summarizing and then introduce the different pieces of evidence in their relation to each other within these main points. This helped turn my bibliographic essay into more of a conversation, which made the writing process more natural.

Since writing the bibliographic essay I feel much less stressed about this research paper as a whole, as I feel that I have better formulated ideas to explore and have good sources of evidence to aid and critique these ideas. I am a little worried that I do not have enough of a dissenting opinion for my paper’s conversation, but I am otherwise pleased with the varied media of my sources (movie, books, articles, interview) as well as with the different professional backgrounds of the sources’ authors (film director/writer and deep sea explorer, scientific writer, ecocritical writer, journalists).

My biggest worry for the paper is my ability to balance this paper with the many other projects and papers I will be doing in these next three weeks. As always, I need to stress less and just do one thing at a time.

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This is Harrrrrrd: Sources, Outlines, Blocks

I’ll be honest. I am having a rough time with this assignment. I feel like a deer caught in the headlights. Though I must admit; my modus operandi is to freak and get writer’s block, unfortunately. The aftermath of the bibliographic essay has me feeling like I’ve taken a perfectly good appliance, like a coffee maker, and dismantled it. And now I have to remember how to put it back together. And if I don’t reassemble it within 48 hours a bomb will go off, in the style of MacGruber/MacGyver.

Okay, I guess it’s not that bad really. One research-related problem I have is how to know when I should be referring to a secondary source to support a claim. Initially, this seems like a problem with a simple answer, ‘easy, refer to it as evidence.’ But once I start writing and my argument begins evolving, and my thesis commences changing: I feel like I run the risk of using too much or too little of my sources. Sometimes I come up with a new idea for the paper, and then I wonder if that means I need to go find a new source to back up my idea. I think the key is to remain “in conversation,” with the sources as Dr. Houser would say. Nevertheless, I am having a difficult time with this.

I also have trouble with outlines. According to The Craft of Research, someone like me who tends to write papers very slowly, reluctant to move on until a sentence is “just so,” should be writing long and detailed outlines.  I used to write long complex outlines, but they made absolutely no sense. Over the last two years I’ve become more and more haphazard with outlines as a result of over planning the early ones. However, last week I wrote an outline for a paper on a post-it note. I need to work on finding a middle ground between an overly long outline and a post-it note. Otherwise, I will continue to just sit and stare at the computer.

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How natural are natural laws?

One of the most interesting subjects I’ve come across in my research is the idea of “natural laws”.  The premise behind them is that these laws exist inherently in the universe, some branch of academia uncovers them (often philosophy) but man never creates them.  Well that’s the premise at least.  But how can you prove beyond any doubt a law exists outside of any human influence? The answer so far seems to be rigorous philosophical scrutiny.  Some historical claims of “natural laws”, like the equality of men under the Declaration of Independence seem to hold up under closer inspection.  However other instances of “natural laws” being asserted are obviously just a means of justifying inequality and hierarchies of power.  The institution of slavery was once argued for using “natural” rhetoric.  Women’s suffrage was blocked using “natural” rhetoric.  The Holocaust was supported through “natural” rhetoric.

“Natural laws” seem to exist in All Over Creation and I plan to get to the bottom of their origin.  A standout example is the Terminator gene.  It seems like the book basically rejects the idea that life should self-terminate.  Certain characters can reject the idea for specific reasons: Lloyd because it goes against God’s will, the Seeds because it conflicts with their Deep Ecology based philosophy.  This idea however, is also conflicting with a thematic element beyond the individual characters that deals with continuity between generations and the circle of life.  I believe that by establishing overarching themes, Ozeki can suggest “natural laws” in the world she’s written.

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I need to get off my lazy ass

As I begin writing the first pages of my the paper I’m having a few concerns. Not that I’m worried, I always have distracting thoughts and second guesses, but still. It might help to write them out.

One of the major problems I’ve had throughout my entire academic career is my writing style. Well I wouldn’t say problem, but it’s been brought up to me numerous times. My style when writing, whether it’s a short story, an opinion piece or a research paper, is very casual. It’s not a conscious effort. It’s just the way I write. It’s been this way since highschool, some professors have liked it, some haven’t. But that’s just the way things go and while I’ve written research papers before I’m not sure about this one. I dunno, this paper feels… more academic? Academic-y? Maybe because it’s the senior seminar I feel that it should be more professional. Anyways, I’m worried that my paper will be too casual.

Another problem I’m having is finding sources that deal with my subject directly. There’s plenty of stuff about Science Fiction and a plethora of material about Environmentalism but I have yet to find a paper or source that deals with the interaction between those two subjects directly. At this point I’d use anything, even a paper that directly contradicts my argument about Science Fiction and Environmentalism going hand-in-hand. Either no one has written at all about this or (more likely) I’m just not good at finding this stuff. Regardless, a source that deals with the relationship between Science Fiction and Environmentalism would be a godsend at this point.

At this point however, I’m pretty happy with the rough drafts. They seem like a decent start for the paper. The biggest obstacle to my progress (as usual) is myself. But overall I’m feeling pretty confident about this paper.

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Work, brain, work!

I felt the bibliography essay was decently challenging. I think I’m pretty apt at summarizing, but I had difficulty connecting my sources into a “conversation”; several dealt with significantly different topics, and some with different works altogether. I was concerned there was a bit too much agreement among my sources in their interpretations of Oryx and Crake. I just couldn’t find that misanthropic interpretation that would have made the “conversation” diverse enough. In spite of that, I do feel I have strong sources.

As I start my essay on eugenics in Oryx and Crake and Gattaca, I’m having trouble coming up with an intro that doesn’t sound like the intro to every other essay on eugenics in Oryx and Crake or Gattaca. Eugenics and genetic engineering are extremely prominent topics and will continue to be so in the coming decades — the challenge is to express that in such a way that does not sound cliched.

I’m not confident with my tentative outline. Essays that deal with two works are always hard to manage, and I’m concerned with striking that balance where I can transition between them smoothly, discuss both equally, and avoid switching back and forth too much.

I’m also deliberating over whether I should include direct quotes from Margaret Atwood to back up my argument. I’m concerned that this may be “cheating,” as I ought to be examining the novel itself. However, many of my sources quote from interviews with Atwood; does that mean it’s acceptable practice in academic writing as long as it only reinforces evidence from the text?

Beyond that, I need something magical to happen that will allow me to compile my research into a coherent whole and just start writing. Since that won’t happen, my next steps are to map out my argument and mine my sources for the quotes that I’ll need.

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Party of Two in the Tree

“He shouldn’t dangle impossibilities in front of himself, as if he were some caged, wired-up lab animal, trapped into performing futile and perverse experiments on his own brain” (45).

Oryx and Crake reminds me of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. While trying to determine whether Snowman is more akin to Caliban or Prospero, I found this quote and decided that he may embody characteristics of both. Snowman resembles the despotic island magician Prospero, because he rules over Crake’s children to some extent. They bring him fish and rely on him for stories of Crake. Snowman resembles Prospero’s slave Caliban as well. Caliban feels the island rightfully belongs to him, yet he lives as Prospero’s prisoner. We don’t yet know Snowman’s full story, but we get the sense that Snowman was the “word man” to Crake’s role as “number’s guy.” It seems Snowman was instrumental in the creation of life as they know it, and has been cast off to live on the water (the same setting as The Tempest). As he struggles through his daily existence, Snowman frequently remarks on how the effects of his distant executive decisions impact his daily life –an unanticipated situation for him. Snowman’s encompassing both Prospero and Caliban reflects the dualities inherent in his character. Snowman is both prisoned and imprisoned, Snowman and Jimmy, victim and perpetrator. That duality is seen in the above quote. Snowman both “[dangles] impossibilities in front of himself” and is a “caged…animal.” He is the oppressor of himself. More of Snowman’s duality is seen in his internal monologues that often sound more like dialogues. Certain lines are italicized, which connotes that Snowman is in conversation with himself and embodies two characters. Moments of Snowman’s duality feel like the psychological side effects of his isolation, after growing half crazy from loneliness and lack of kinship.

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May the Best Human Win

I’ve noticed in the section we have read so far in Oryx and Crake that Jimmy is often described as being more of a beast than a human, while the genetically modified humans (Crakers) are presented as the more ideal version of humanity. The scene on pages 100-101 where the Crakers being Jimmy a fish to eat especially creates this impression.

On page 100, when Jimmy smells the fish he drools, like dogs do; the Crakers place the fish “on the ground in front of him,” as if he is a dog that eats off of the ground; and Jimmy says, “he’ll eat anything,” which is again a characteristics of many dogs. Further on in the scene, Jimmy is said to have a “beastly appetite” (101) and is compared to a lion eating, “it’s like hearing a lion gorge itself…a rending and crunching, a horrible gobbling and gulping” (101). These descriptions caused me to cringe, as I can see this horrible image of my cat eating a lizard. Even more reflective of this brutish imagery is the name “Snowman” that Jimmy has taken in reference to the Abominable Snowman, which is a fictional beast known for being fierce and murderous. All of these bestial references suggest that even though Jimmy is a “real human” that hasn’t been genetically modified, the Crakers act more like “proper” humans.

In this scene the Crakers are clearly opposed to Jimmy’s bestial ways, as Jimmy remarks that they kill the fish for him in such a way that, “the unpleasantness is shared among them and no single person is guilty of shedding the fish’s blood” (101).  They are such peaceful creatures that even killing a fish is morally offensive to them. The Crakers’ morality and intelligence is shown again in the line, “They’ve accepted Snowman’s monstrousness, they’ve known from the beginning he was a separate order of being, so they weren’t surprised by this” (101). However, the line also solidifies the stark difference between the kind of human that Jimmy is, versus the kind of human they are since according to the Crakers he is “a separate order of being.”

From the diction and imagery used to describe Jimmy versus the Crakers, do you think Atwood is implying that genetic modification can be moral and beneficial, and that the destruction of humanity in order to establish a new, peaceful humanity is actually a good thing?

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What Does Human History Mean Without Humans?

“ “I used to be erudite,” he says out loud.  Erudite. A hopeless word.  What are all those things he once thought he knew, and where have they gone?” pg. 148

I think this passage really starts to delve into the implications of being the last human on Earth.  Not only is Snowman the last record of his own existence but he is also the last vessel of so many of humanity’s achievements and history.  This idea gets uncomfortable, so much time and work and life will be lost forever.  But all this sense of loss seems insulated to the human race, the mutant animals don’t mind, Crake’s Children have no sense of what once existed and the natural world seems to be harmonizing with the ruins of civilization.  The legacy of humanity seems to be the new species that were introduced, the inter-species interactions we engaged in, rather than our intra-species accomplishments.

In the preceding paragraph Snowman talks about his desire to learn, study and compile.  It seems that this innate human curiosity was both the foundation of human society and its ultimate destruction. Just as there are two ways to consider human curiosity, there seem to be two ways to think of human history/achievements.  On one hand, it satiates our basic need to learn and experience.  Snowman constantly revisits his own memories because they are so critical to his identity and I’d argue that the achievements of humanity are critical to our identity as a society.  But the flipside is, maybe all these achievements are trivial in the grand scheme of things, they seem to be in the present setting of the novel but I think this theme was hinted at in the Jimmy flashback episodes too.  The games he and Crake would play on the computer exemplify this: historical events and the entire evolutionary Tree of Life are treated as trivia where the player is rewarded for obscure knowledge.  These topics have been taken out of the classroom, stripped of practicality and reduced to a nerdy way to spend an afternoon.

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Opinion on Genetics in general?

Possible apocalyptic consequences aside, what are your opinions on the subject of human genetics? Specifically, the ability to grow and harvest human organs? To be honest, I’m completely fascinated by the idea. People on organ donor lists, save those with congenital diseases, could get replacement organs in a matter of weeks. But while I personally love the idea of science marching on there are a myriad of ethical questions to consider. Is it ethical to breed pigs that are essentially sacs of human organs? The idea isn’t that farfetched, pigs are roughly the same size as humans and their biochemistry is very similar as well, so it may be more cost-effective to grow the organs in a living body rather than from a petri dish. Would it be okay to eat the piggoons? It’s gross but would it be cannibalism? Could we trust companies to make ethically sound decisions? (I’ll answer that for you, no.)

But walking organ farms is just the tip of the iceburg. The ability to manipulate genetics will naturally produce technology to “read” DNA. With this technology it will be possible to “read” children before they’re even born. The rich would be able to ensure that their children literally have the best possible pedigree. Imagine it, a whole caste of wealthy Steve Rogers. Is this ethical? It’s essentially natural selection sans the messy trial and error of being born and dying before having children.

It’s little wonder that so many people recoil when they here the phrase “genetic manipulation.” However, I truly believe that this country, perhaps even humanity, has a genuine phobia of progress and that science, as the driving force behind progress, is often vilified because of this. This attitude isn’t anything new, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein was written in 1818 and clearly displays this distrust of science.

How often have you heard this phrase?

I think that if a society approached these issues with a clear mind and an understanding of the risks involved we could come up with a safe, responsible way of taking humanity’s next step towards the future.

 

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