It’s one of those wonderful weeks when everything is going exactly as it should. All the various threads of a year-long study plan for 4 modules have come together as planned, hoped, and worked for. For me, it is important to have a trusted study plan to produce specific results when I need them, like an athlete trains for peak performance at a specific time to be at their best in competition. While studying 4 modules over 9 or 10 months it is sometimes easy to wonder if learning is on target for this complex project with a goal so far in the future. There are a lot of primary texts to read, even more secondary reading, and then there are the writing tasks that must be addressed. I jokingly refer to the process as ‘my personal hermeneutic circle.’
To share the joke, in a nutshell, the hermeneutic circle refers to the idea that our understanding of an entire text depends on our understanding of its individual parts, while understanding the individual parts of a text is based upon our understanding of the whole. Neither the whole nor the parts can be understood without reference to one another, and so the circle as metaphor. My circle revolves around primary and secondary texts.
When I start reading the primary texts a sophisticated understanding of them is not really achievable without reading critical commentary. Critical commentary is not particularly comprehensible without a good reading of the primary texts. Writing a quality essay is quite difficult without a grounding in both primary texts and secondary criticism. Where to start, and once I begin, how do I know that my work is truly progress?
At the beginning of the term, and even a good way into it, my ‘personal hermeneutic circle’ can leave me with a rather dizzying feeling. If your dog or cat likes to chase its own tail, you can probably appreciate the sensation. With the need to ‘make the time fit the work’ and the need to succeed in my courses, putting confidence in my study plan ‘for the long haul,’ as they say, became very important this year. Over the last several months I have checked my progress with quizzes and by referring to support materials provided by the University of London. No matter how many times I reassured myself that it would all come together according to plan, I still wondered if it really would.
This month I started reading secondary criticism, right on schedule. As I read it is a wonderful reward, and relief, to watch the details of close reading, knowledge of primary texts, and research all come together at just the right time. Sample questions in the ‘Examiners’ Reports’ and ‘Study Guides’ are suddenly coming into sharp focus, and my essay plans and outlines are becoming more precise. My next task is writing, writing, and more writing.
My secondary reading started with general reading on literary periods and individual authors. In a few days I will begin more detailed research on specific texts in response to specific sample questions. My plan is to have some detailed outlines by 15 April, then begin timed essays and revision to prepare for my first exam on 8 May. That suddenly sounds really soon, but I am not going to think about that right now. Instead I am going to concentrate on my study plan, and how ‘my personal hermeneutic circle’ worked for me.
The hermeneutic circle really only means that texts must be understood in context. For my personal process it means trusting and having confidence that my study plan will allow me to put everything from my year of effort into context. I learned a lot this year but the biggest learning curve will come over the next eleven weeks. For right now, everything is working just as it should.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.