This week my reading and study time settled into a particularly productive schedule. It is kind of a relief because I have been waiting to hit this study sweet spot. Something clicks, the penny drops, it all comes together – whichever phrase you think best describes that moment of increased confidence in, and command of, the topics and texts I am studying. How and why it happens is an open question. How to maximize this opportunity and develop a better grasp and expression of my material is the more urgent one.
It would make me feel very good to believe that all of my various study strategies brought me to this moment of enlightenment. I hope all of my often intense and sometimes obsessive focus on key learning out comes, topics of special study, and reading strategy is responsible, but it does not really feel that progressive and incremental. Instead, it feels more like at one special moment a switch is thrown on in my head, and all of my faculties are immediately engaged. Suddenly, my thinking is organized and my ability to discuss texts, topics and themes becomes established. This usually happens when one particular text really affects me.
For the last two years texts that really affect me are focused around themes of race, slavery, othering, economics and gender. This was a little unexpected because they are not themes I found interesting or planned to study. I learned that, for me, when a particular text stimulates a lot of thought and emotional response it is a good idea to focus on that text and the particular issues it raises so effectively. Last term the text that resonated most powerfully with me was ‘Oronooko’ by Aphra Behn. This term it is ‘Black Boy’ by Richard Wright. For me, this deep engagement with one text prompts comparisons and analysis of themes, narrative strategies, and literary devices, among other things, in texts across my courses.
This intense engagement helps me to ask many questions while I am reading. Articulating those questions and possible answers makes a thrilling reading experience. It makes research and essay writing an almost effortless joy. I do not think you can force or fabricate an authentic emotional, and somewhat intellectual, response. Maybe it is the result of reading through many texts for a course and having the aggregate benefit of all that reading solidify around a certain text.
As I mentioned, right now I do not think I know how or why this burst of enlightenment happens. Maximizing the benefit is my priority. It is now time to begin writing essays and focusing more on details in specific texts. Each of my ‘special’ texts forms a kind of focal point for my research and facilitates comparisons in a course. Now, I will start a new ‘post enlightenment’ section in my course binders. I will concentrate earnestly on researching a very select set of primary texts, comparing texts and authors’ strategies, and noting historical context and critical arguments. Using one special text in each course to crate a framework for closer study makes this unique and productive perspective possible, at least for me.
However my moment of enlightenment happens, the second it does is both a relief and invigorating. You can imagine how awfully glad I am to reach that point this week, and to feel prepared to begin a vigorous revision process based on these special texts, the issues, and opportunities, they present.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.