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I very recently received some harsh feedback from a former professor/adviser of mine about my statement of purpose. This draft is built around my interest in joining the subjective literary mechanisms of postmodernism with the hermeneutic and phenomenological tradition (just getting it out there). The argument, put plainly, goes something like: by embracing subjective narration, these texts are built for an ambiguity of address appropriate for issues like race, religion, sexuality.

So here's the trouble: while I believe that my line of research could be constructive for the literature of race/gender/etc, my SOP doesn't foreground these issues themselves. What it foregrounds are thinkers like Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricoeur, and the aesthetic of postmodernism. Or, "in the parlance of our time," dead (and yet often immensely unpopular) white guys and a played-out branch of study.

Do you think that one ought to stick to their guns, no matter how unfavored? Or that a little foregrounding of how my interests can be beneficial to "hot topics" can't hurt? Or give up entirely and declare myself a student of Comparative Cambodian Crossdressing Literature? (no offense to those interested in any subset of that joke, but three rights can make a wrong; respect)

There must be a few of you out there with similar worries...

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If I were you, I would try to find other people who could give you an objective opinion on it; that way, you wouldn't be changing it based on just one perhaps skewed opinion. I know that at the school I'm currently attending for undergrad, writing samples and SOPs are read first by the DGS and then she gives them to professors that specialize in the subject area they focus upon. If the professor that discouraged this particular topic/interest were an expert in subjective narratives, for instance, then I would try to to rethink my approach. But if an advisor is telling you that it comes across as weak to them, I wouldn't take it lightly. They are trying to help you strengthen your application before its too late.

In the scope of this forum, perhaps you could give a more in-depth gloss of your particular interest area so we know what your writing sample/sop delves into?

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As it turns out, another adviser told me rather pointedly to ignore the previous professor's advice (I'll leave out her personal criticisms). She, much much more recently matriculated than the pessimist, assured me that honesty to your interests is the best course. In the first, it is the only approach in which your genuine enthusiasm can come through; secondly, the AdCom will pick up on any falsity or pandering in your SOP; ultimately, the SOP is a chance to evoke your passion and commitment to research in the field (with some specificity), not your be-all-end-all declaration of one warring faction over another.

And, for the few who might care...

Just to attempt a more focused iteration of the above plan of study: I want to try and read the 'indeterminacy' of PoMo texts not as an interpretive miasma, or simply as a reflection of the disorder of modern society, or any basically pejorative readings of a subjective narrative aesthetic, but instead to see in these texts a severing from ritualized readings of symbol, a constructive (if necessarily anxiety-causing) opportunity for encountering cultural otherness through placing the burden of emplotment on the reader. Emplotment here used in Ricoeur's universe - when the rhyme and reason of time-as-being break down in a novel, we are left to assemble an incomplete story, and maybe we have to reconsider our own values to do so. A vulgar and reductive example: An anti-Semite reading Jewish non-fiction sees nothing that doesn't fall into his customary patterns of interpretation; but when culture comes through a story drenched in magic realism, or a narrator who is totally unreliable, or even through a uniform comedic absurdity, its not so easy to stay lodged in the self-same hermeneutic circle.

Blech. That's a crude little paragraph, but I hope you get the idea. It's still a project and not a thesis, obviously. No authors picked out, not even a particular cultural 'other' in mind (although Judaism, because of its unbelievably rich history of interpretive self-questioning, would be a suggestive case study. Plus who would mind writing on Phillip Roth?)

Since I've sorted the SOP (out more or less), I guess this thread can go to rest peacefully, unless anyone would like to discuss/violently attack my interests or the body of theory I've laid out here. :D

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  • 1 month later...

The question I would ask is whether you want non-PoMos to read that paragraph. Now, it might be true that rhetoricians (like me) have an especially sensitive nose for B.S., but it seems the jargon machine has kicked into high gear in this snippet o' statement. Why alienate people who aren't specialists in the willfully obfuscatory lingo of post-modernity studies? If I was on an adcom and saw the word "emplotment" in an SoP, I would jump from my chair to run gleefully through the hallways, waving the paper in the air, screaming "viva la revolucion!"

Before the fit hits the shan, I assure you that I am only trying to be helpful (and somewhat humorous). Anyway, I offer this serious bit of advice: speak as clearly and succinctly as possible in your SoP. You need not dumb things down -- NASCAR fans don't sit on adcoms -- but you need to cut out as much of the dross as possible, and most people consider $0.05 words, PC'isms, and marketing catch-phrases to be lazy writing. In fact, the part where you talk about "cultural otherness" made me want to murder bunnies. =)

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Well struck.

In truth, my SOP has come a long way since then, and I gave up (cf. the post date) trying to impress the members of this board with my snazzy description just about the same time. I agree with your advice, and my statement is altogether clear of nickels.

Hopefully the adcom room can remain dead-bunny free while reading a much more straightforward description of trying to work with both postmodernism and cultural studies.

But thanks for the belated post. The OP came at a crisis point, a night of cultural otherness, Gadamer and tears :lol:

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  • 2 weeks later...

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