After a night of Seagram’s 7, I’m a bit of a better headspace today. Am even feeling up to engaging with that anxious octopus of an academic genre: the job letter.
Maybe it’s my obsession with narrative, but it feels like a key part of said letter (and the job search in general) will be to show potential employers how all of the seemingly disparate pieces of my work as a scholar fit together into a coherent whole.
This issue came up for me in a roundabout way last fall, when our department was involved in a hiring search. In reading through candidates’ CVs, I kept looking for the story: I wanted to know how conference presentations X and Y and publication Z lead the candidate to do a dissertation on A. That shows my bias right there, I guess, because I assumed there was a connection, one that could be discerned by me, the grad student, in looking at a potential future colleague’s CV. And I got frustrated, if not irritated, when I couldn’t find one.
However, when I asked a faculty member whom I trust about this, she said, in essence: no one cares how the pieces fit together. To me, she seemed to be implicitly suggesting that as long as you’re doing the “right” things in publications, conferences, etc., the big picture–the grand narrative arc of yourself as a researcher–is irrelevant. Which, I have to admit, makes no sense to me. But what the hell do I know?
The more I learn about this job search thing, the more I think: not a hell of a lot.
Maybe narrative coherency is overrated. Still, I want to get my own story straight, as it were, because I think it’s important–in part, too, because on its face my research and publications stuff is, shall we say, wide-ranging. Like, how do I swing from the Harlem Renaissance to some pretty boy angel from Supernatural to the sex lives of evangelical Christian women, exactly, and still claim to have a coherent research agenda?
So this post is me trying to do that, in a way that I hope I can mine for my cover letters to come. But we’ll see. If you’re not opposed to blatant but inevitable self-promotion and repeated references to my CV, you’re welcome read on and watch me flail.
*clears throat nervously*
As a scholar, my work is centered upon questions of identity, narrative production, and performance. During my graduate work in Humanities, English, and now in Rhetoric and Writing, I have explored these questions across a variety of traditional and digital texts, ranging from the literature of the Harlem Renaissance to fanfiction to the frenetic Twitter presence of a contemporary celebrity. My dissertation is similarly focused, as it explores two online spaces allied with the evangelical purity movement that are each invested in constructing, performing, and persuading their readers to adopt distinctive forms of female Christian identity; identities that are, these sites claim, otherwise absent or ignored by the church.
Although the two sites—one dedicated to helping young women and girls to retain their “purity” and the other to Christian women who believe they have tarnished that purity through their addiction to pornography—are aimed at very different audiences, each presents identity performance as a matter of narrative production whose effects cross online and offline spaces.
Ultimately, I argue that these sites present rhetorical performance as a way for evangelical women to establish new kinds of Christian being—first within the female-centered spaces each site offers its readers online and then offline, within the male-dominated body of the church itself. Thus, although the aims of these evangelical sites may appear objectionable to many feminist critics, this study asserts that, in the context of the sexual purity movement, the work that these sites do is essentially feminist. That is, these sites suggest that rhetoric can provide a performative, productive means for Christian women to self-fashion narrative authority over their own identities within the church—the kind of discursive engagement to which rhetorical scholars are uniquely positioned to attend.
Moving forward, then, my research agenda will be centered upon further explorations of purity rhetorics created by and for evangelical women. Building on my dissertation work, I will be particularly focused upon Christian women’s rhetoric around matters of pornography and addiction, two sets of secular discourses that, on the surface, appear diametrically opposed to discussions of purity. Indeed, the convergence of evangelical Biblical teachings and the increasingly medicalized discourses of addiction offers a particularly rich vein for rhetorical study, given its position at the intersection of religious and secular language and culture, along with the panoply of potential identity performances that such a convergence offers. Given the continued influence of evangelical perspectives in contemporary political and medical discussions of gender and sexuality, and the often-contentious debates over the effects of that influence within the public sphere, such a research focus seems especially timely.
In addition, my research will continue explore questions of narrative production, identity, and performance within fan communities both on- and offline. As my publication record suggests, scholarly interest in, and engagement with, the reading, writing, and interpretive practices of fans continues to expand. I believe that rhetoricians have much to offer to these evolving conversations. Thus, in my future work, I will continue to explore the intersections between rhetoric and fan studies.
…so. It feels to me like there’s a semi-coherent story here, maybe, if one that’s a bit bendy and twisty at times. Still a little iffy about the description of my diss, but that’s in large part because the damn thing’s not finished. I don’t really know what the final product will argue yet, so the description’s more meta fiction than anything at this point.
Huh. What would my letter look like if Borges wrote it? Or Shade from Pale Fire? Heh.
That said, next problem: how do I condense this bad boy into a) an elevator speech and b) a job letter or 12? Hmm.