To be clear, I’ve known why; however, someone looking at my vita and seeing where I teach now and where I’ve taught before, and how long it’s been since I obtained my doctorate, might wonder. Why now, after all this time? So, I’d like to point that person to this essay by David Perry (thanks to my FB friend Kendra Leonard for linking to it), and in particular to this paragraph:
For me, the key was realizing that I was writing this book solely for myself. I believed I knew some things about history that were important and would contribute to a field of study to which I have dedicated much of my life. I believed that the best way to communicate my findings was via a long-form monograph, rather than chopped into discrete articles. I did not, and do not, expect this book to transform my career. A new study shows that perceptions of prestige matter at least as much as quality of work in terms of hiring at top jobs, so no matter what I write, those perceptions are static.
In addition to Perry’s discussion of the academic and professional aspects of things, I would add two things. One, it’s been immensely gratifying to do some reading of recent work on culture in Latin America and find that, on the whole, my arguments that I’d made way back when in the diss. seem germane to these recent discussions (when, I confess, I had my doubts as I was writing the thing). This is important to me because, given the nature of the classes I teach at Butler, I get little space in the classroom to explore these ideas, and I really need that intellectual outlet. The other thing I would add that has been true for me is I tell my students: they will be more engaged, if not happier writers if, whenever possible, they can think of their academic writing as a creative act, as a form of self-expression. To put things delicately, because I’m not up against a deadline, it’s been easy to, um, become distracted from the task; when I am working diligently, though, I’m learning things I hadn’t known I believed about New World writing, and I’m having a pretty good time in the process (even when, as now, I’m in the middle of unsnarling a rather tangled section of the Columbus chapter). I’d also add as a corollary that if we’re regularly engaged in writing and researching, we can speak from those experiences as we teach, counsel, and advise our students regarding their own writing.
So. I’m doing this because, as Perry says of his own book, I think I have something to contribute to discussions about the literatures and cultures of the Americas, and–just as importantly–I want to have some intellectual fun. I would hope that others of you who find yourselves in similar circumstances can see your way clear to say the same thing about your work.