my dissertation: developmental psychology, sociology and the bildungsroman?

I just finished reading this long but interesting article in the New York Times. I think it’s getting published on Sunday in print, but it’s already online.

If you’re not reading it, I will just say that I think that’s what I’ve been looking for as a way to qualify why I want to study all the things I want to study. People keep asking me why I want to go and do a Master’s in library science first, if I’m just going to do a seemingly unrelated PhD (comp lit at Columbia or media, culture, and communication at NYU) after that. And people wonder what the difference between comp lit and English are. I only just learned this summer, thanks to Rutgers, and now I can say that aside from doing two years’ worth of English courses as part of my dual Master’s, I am much more interested in comparative literature than just plain English. Comp lit acknowledges that art and literature are not created in a vacuum, and (hopefully) studying that instead of English will be less about “proving” things that don’t matter in the real world, like what the green light at the end of the dock means, and more about finding connections in different fields. I think the ultimate thesis of the study of comparative literature (not the students, but the field itself) is to find that there is kind of an inherent, universal truth in people–meaning that, through the study of literature and other things, we find that no matter our individual differences in geography, background, generation, etc, we all go through the same things and want the same things and have the same human history.

Since I’m not a doctoral student yet, that may not be at all what comp lit is about. But it’s what I’m hoping.

Anyway, the article is about developmental psychology, which is a branch of psychology that I actually think is legitimately psychological and not necessarily tied to culture and society. I think Arnett’s idea is legitimate enough, though I understand his colleagues who oppose his idea, because his theory of “emerging adulthood” really only applies to western, first world 20somethings. I recognized his name not because I’ve read his work, but because I’ve read his titles, and a few quotes. The researchers I worked for last year used him often in their work about college students and finances, so I would see his citations when I edited their work and wrote their bibliographies. I think his theory can be applied to western, first world young adults in reality and in literature. Like this article says, the bildungsroman, though not limited to Americans, is also a distinctly American thing. I think I just found a dissertation topic. Now I just have to stay interested for the next four years while I finish my Bachelor’s and Master’s, and then I can do it.

(I think I said next to nothing that has to do with this article. Isn’t it great how all things inspire thinking about other things?)


One thought on “my dissertation: developmental psychology, sociology and the bildungsroman?

  1. It’s an attractive notion that comp lit will, by nature of its connections and juxtapositions, have self-evident utility. But the romantic unity you’ve described as the ultimate thesis of comp lit is equally true of all literature; a linguistic craft fundamental to the way we think inevitably harmonizes (or chafes) with other fields and how we live. It’s not about proving anything. A professor of mine said adamantly, “Poets owe nobody an apology.” It’s a curious thing to me that we’re a generation which so undervalues art and literature (backlash from postmodernism’s great void?) that to study or engage in it at all requires such a leap of forceful dedication. I think the argument for pragmatism simply lies in individual efficacy, because we all already live silly isolated lives without a cosmic context. Take that, Keats: Efficacy is truth, truth efficacy.


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