I am working on an essay (which is commonplace) for the inaugural issue of a journal (which is exciting). Said issue aims to be a special topics issue, one focusing on magic. Since I have done a fair bit of work with fantasy literature, which is predicated on magic, I figured I would have something to say that the journal may well want to print. Getting it onto the page has proved more difficult than I would prefer it to be, and I am duly annoyed by it, but I am making progress, and that is satisfying despite the vexations.
I write in the plural to refer to the difficulty for the appropriate reason: more than one annoyance. The difficulty in getting words about something I have studied at length to go from where they are to where I want them to be is a pain, certainly. Another is in something of which I have been accused before: overreliance on the words of others. I seem scarcely able to move ahead one paragraph without throwing in a citation, not to a primary work (which I would expect to have to do in any event), but to a critical or secondary.
I am supposed to be capable of carrying out my own analysis of written works. I should not have to lean so heavily upon the work of others that it carries me; I am supposed to be able to walk, perhaps haltingly or with a cane, but upon my own feet. Yet it seems that I am unable to do so with this paper--or with the others I have written and am writing (because of course I am working on more than one project). Despite having been chastised for it in the past, I still let myself be carried.
Do I cite excessively because I wish to demonstrate my erudition by showing command of the primary and secondary materials? Do I do so because I fear to venture forth under my own power? Do I do so because I ultimately recognize the folly of what I do as a scholar in the humanities (which is to repeat platitudes that were doubtlessly cliché when they were first written down millennia ago and to string together words in ways that make no sense--as few scholars will ever admit)? The second is most likely, I think, but all three are possible.
Or is it a happier truth, that I recognize myself as the product not only of my own experiences and circumstances, but indebted to all who have preceded me in flesh and in working on The Work? Perhaps it is this truth, that I am but another to tread the long road towards The Truth, and the cane with which I limp further along it is in fact a baton that has been handed me for my section of a relay whose end is imagined although not glimpsed. Perhaps, then, my essay will be the baton another scholar picks up.