On Methodology

One of my biggest fears (which will absolutely happen) is that my exam committee will ask me about my methodology. There was a section on “method” in my prospectus, and I think it discussed affect theory, thing theory, theories of close reading, etc. The problem with that is that I still don’t know much about affect theory, and probably don’t know as much as I should about thing theory either.

But I do have a vision for how I want to be able to answer this question, so that’s something I actually can talk about. I want to be like Lynn Voskuil, Elaine Hadley, and David Kurnick. Their methodologies are graceful and rich. Lynn Voskuil uses the Victorian theory of “natural acting” as a lens through which to read her primary texts. Elaine Hadley reads a variety of texts and social events through the lends of what she calls the “melodramatic mode,” which is more than a simple genre, but is also a gestural language, a method of interaction, a method of political communication, etc. And David Kurnick writes that he wants to reverse engineer Henry James’s “scenic method” in order to account for the theatrical failures of major novelists. 

Here’s what I admire: you can’t just pin these folks down to a school of thought. They don’t announce their theoretical labels with bumper-sticker tags like “deconstruction,” “Marxism,” or “feminism.” They’re more elegant and subtle, like the Victorians, hahaha. Seriously, though, these methodologies feel organic, like they’ve grown from the subject itself. That’s what I want. I want a methodology that feels like it came from my research topic. I guess that would make me a historicist, which I suppose is the over-arching methodology I’m admiring here. 

So I’m going to say all that when they ask about my methodology. And I’m going to say that so far, the thing that I’m hanging onto is the “legitimate” vs. “illegitimate” theater. I haven’t seen anyone do for this what Elaine Hadley did for the melodramatic mode, so maybe I could do it? Maybe I can find a cache of reviews and articles and cultural instantiations of theatrical legitimacy and illegitimacy and can use that to build a theory that might account for how material objects function in sensation novels and their theatrical adaptations. I’m not sure that elegant methodologies are born this way, but my research so far suggests that this could work, so I’m going to pursue this for now.

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