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The BEST research paper ever written Nephtis - 23/04/2004 10:45:42 AM

A Brief History of Research Writing

The history of research writing shows that the form has only recently assumed its present meaning and function. At different times in the past the research paper was not merely an educational tool, but a religious ritual shrouded in mystery, then a device of horrible torture, and, finally, a pathological indicator of perversity and madness.

Recent scholars have thrown into doubt the common assumption that research writing is rooted in oral tradition. According to R.K. Type, the long-accepted belief that the first research "papers" were performed orally as part of ancient anti-fertility rituals has no basis in fact (69). He points to the discovery of the Rosetta Research Rock as indisputable proof that early research writing "was inscribed on large flat stones, with a primitive system of documentation whereby sources were indicated on smaller stones accompanying the main tablet" (96).

These smaller stones, or "reference pebbles," were assembled by nomadic note gatherers and then turned over to the "scribal priest" charged with overseeing the research ritual (Derrida 165). Thus the first research papers were assembled communally as part of a mysterious rite whose purpose we may never know. But these primitive research rituals raise some interesting questions. When did research writing cease to be tribal or communal? When did it change from a collective to an individual process?

Although the history of research writing is far from clear, a crucial shift evidently occurred some time during the Spanish Inquisition. During this dark period, the research paper was one of the most feared instruments of torture devised by the dreaded inquisitors. At an auto-da-fe held in Lisbon on October 8, 1559, dozens of Protestants accused of heresy were chained to card catalogues and forced to compile extended bibliographies on obscure medieval topics. A few submitted willingly to the torture of the research process, but most begged for mercy and asked to be burned alive. Their pleas went unheeded as the entire group was assigned to do research on such subjects as Gothic masonry, Gregorian chants, and Ignatian meditation. A few members of this group had sufficient means to bribe corrupt inquisitors and procure some other, more humane type of punishment, such as quartering or the rack. Many committed suicide; the rest languished their lives away in monastery libraries (de Segura 256).

Other such episodes in the external history of research writing might be cited. Before going further, however, some effort must be made to understand the internal history of research writing in every individual, that is, the psychology of research. In a little-known lecture given in Vienna in 1902, Freud argues for what he calls "the documentation drive," analogous to the sex drive, in certain individuals who have experienced profound trauma during the anal stage of psycho-sexual development.

In this lecture, titled "The Dynamics of Documentation in the Anal-Retentive Personality, or The Riddle of the Sphincters," Freud argues as follows:

The child who is made to feel, during his or her toilet training, that the feces produced are filthy objects, may react by retaining those feces in an effort to remain clean and thus please the parent from whom those feelings of disgust originate. Such a person in adult life may pursue research in an unconscious effort to please various authority figures, the drive for documentation being a transformation of the same basic sense of well-being derived from pleasing the parent and therefore keeping neat, clean, and orderly, the very qualities one finds in research papers of all peoples. One could even say. . . . (113)

Unfortunately, Freud did not finish this lecture, leaving the podium abruptly to go to the bathroom (Zeitblatz 1).

Despite Freud's inability or refusal to get to the bottom of ¡§the documentation drive," it is evident from the remarks we do have that the internal dynamics of research writing seem to complement our historical knowledge. That is, certain persons (e.g., college professors, graduate students, and guys named "Thornton" ) seem to gain some perverse emotional satisfaction from the process.

One is not surprised, therefore, to read Leopold von Sacher-Mosoch's description of fetishistic research transference in his seminal work, Venus Infers. In this novel, the hero Severin can only experience intellectual satisfaction when his mistress Wanda flagellates him with a rolled-up copy of the MLA Handbook (101).

By contrast, in 120 Days of Research, the Marquis de Sade describes his discovery that the satisfaction he derived from binding the lovely Juliette with leather straps was nothing compared to the sadistic delight he took in forcing her to type his term papers (99). Occasionally, these contrary tendencies manifest themselves in one personality. Known as S & MLA syndrome, this condition has been described at length by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Research.

Foucault traces the history whereby the various procedures of research torture, such as those practiced during the Spanish Inquisition, were gradually internalized to the point that the researchers themselves came to regard their condition as natural. The modern-day researcher goes about his practice with no knowledge of the "ancient powers which constitute it" (276).

Foucault argues that the absurdity of the situation is obvious if one takes a moment to reflect. How is it possible that reading obscure books about other obscure books, and then writing about them, not in an interesting way, but using the most turgid style, can be termed a human activity at all? Foucault traces this institutionalization of the madness of research by discussing the delusion that origins may be perpetuated, that the arch may be recovered.

The very language of research writing suggests this anxiety over origins: some sources are "primary" others are "secondary." As Foucault says, "The claim to origins confers upon the claimant the original power of origins. In the beginning was the Word: to recover that original Word is to appropriate the power of original utterance, to become God" (10). In this way, the delusional search for authority leads in only one direction, not backwards to the desired origin, but inward. Authority removed from origins can only become authoritarian. Directed at the self, as it usually is, the authoritarian attitude is repressive; directed at others, it is oppressive. This mix of repression and oppression is easily transformed into masochism and sadism, and when that happens, S & MLA syndrome is the unhappy result.

To conclude, the only way to avoid S & MLA syndrome and all the other consequences of research writing may be to stop writing. As countless professors testify, this seems to be the approach favored by most students enrolled in American colleges and professional schools. Although the old guard may decry the abandonment of research, the absence of writing may be the only way to address the hegemony of the phallologoeurocentric metaphysics of presence. Perhaps the New Age of "research writing" is upon us: the bliss of silence, the eternal peace of the blank page.


E-mailed to me by my Ulysses professor, David Weir.

"That is the BEST paper I've ever read! Where did you find this treasure?"

"i wrote it just for you, anastasia. thanks--it's nice to be appreciated. --dw"


This message last edited by Nephtis on 4/23/2004 at 11:33:56 AM.




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The BEST research paper ever written - 23/04/2004 10:45:42 AM 257 Views
I didn't expect the Spanish inquisition - 23/04/2004 10:57:00 AM 29 Views
Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition - 23/04/2004 11:32:01 AM 19 Views
yay!!! - 23/04/2004 11:41:46 AM 17 Views
Fetch the comfy chair! *NM* - 28/04/2004 06:18:51 AM 5 Views
Re: noone expects ... - 23/04/2004 11:32:57 AM 24 Views
*cannot answer as he is still in the bathroom* - 23/04/2004 11:45:31 AM 23 Views
Masochists *NM* - 23/04/2004 12:27:00 PM 6 Views
*NM* - 23/04/2004 12:37:06 PM 7 Views
So you are one then? - 23/04/2004 12:46:11 PM 13 Views
not exactly... - 23/04/2004 12:52:52 PM 12 Views
You mean - 23/04/2004 12:55:18 PM 11 Views
so you got it. - 23/04/2004 12:57:50 PM 11 Views
Yup, I liked it *NM* - 23/04/2004 01:00:13 PM 5 Views
YOU MEAN, US?! *NM* - 23/04/2004 12:33:58 PM 9 Views
yes... - 23/04/2004 12:38:04 PM 20 Views
HA! *NM* - 23/04/2004 01:41:52 PM 11 Views
IT`S CONTAGIOUS! *NM* - 23/04/2004 04:28:23 PM 6 Views
Awesome! - 23/04/2004 11:51:39 AM 16 Views
LMAO! *NM* - 23/04/2004 12:44:15 PM 6 Views
That is GREAT!!!! - 23/04/2004 12:55:38 PM 12 Views
cool *NM* - 23/04/2004 03:44:27 PM 6 Views
*proposes the paper for Nobel prize* - 23/04/2004 03:53:26 PM 10 Views
Oh man... the "phallologoeurocentric metaphysics of presence"... - 23/04/2004 05:15:17 PM 14 Views
my favorite parts are - 23/04/2004 06:06:36 PM 14 Views
ROFL! *NM* - 23/04/2004 05:20:41 PM 4 Views