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Sample dissertation proposal

Below is an example of a successful MA dissertation proposal. Note particularly the robust referencing, and the way in which the author has already done preparatory work in the field so that clear areas of critical enquiry have already been formulated.

Modernist Poetics and the Acquisition of the Other Tongue

I will reconsider the role that multilingualism plays in modernist poetry, and particularly Ezra Pound’s, by moving away from a text-based model – in which the poem is understood primarily as translation, appropriation or montage of another language’s representative texts – and towards a more author-centric one, in which the poem documents the lived experience of knowing multiple languages, each of which transcends the finite set of words and texts that its author knows. I hope that my work will extend Robert Stark’s recent assertion that Pound acquired poetic style as if it were a foreign language, but by paying attention to the more literal encounters with foreign languages that make this simile possible. However, in contrast to Stark’s model of ‘apprenticeship’, Steven Yao has argued that modernism marked the point at which mastering the source language stopped being a prerequisite for a literary translator: thus, the different ways in which Pound translated or incorporated Chinese texts into English works over the course of his career, or used original ‘handy language’ in Italian alongside quotations, may represent different heuristic approaches to a code that still remained somehow impenetrable. ‘Barbarism and onomatopoeia’, rather than forming the comfortable pair of terms sometimes used by Stark, might define a driving tension in Pound’s verse practice, between seeing another language as pure sound and as the product of another culture incompletely understood.

Mutlu Konuk Blasing’s Lyric Poetry will be an important source: although she focuses almost exclusively on the role of the mother tongue, and uses it to justify lyric’s untranslatability, many of the phenomena which she associates with first language acquisition, such as the delay in recognising phonemes, are also relevant to second language acquisition. I also hope to move beyond Blasing’s cognitive and psychoanalytic approaches, to position Pound within a broader cultural history of language acquisition theory: texts to investigate may include the prose treatises by Dante that he admired, and contemporary reflections on language-learning by Leo Spitzer. I expect to offer a reading of Cantos LXXII and LXXIII (perhaps alongside T S Eliot’s early French poems) in light of this investigation, as possible oversights in Blasing’s argument.

Both Blasing’s and Stark’s monographs are bound up in questions of genre definition which deserve further consideration. I intend to develop the arguments of those critics, such as Simon Jarvis, who have questioned whether Blasing’s arguments define lyric poetry alone. How might language acquisition also be important for a definition of epic, especially in light of its traditional association with nation-building and Wai Chee Dimock’s recent vision of the genre as a carrier of foreign lexis? If, for Blasing, lyric ‘dramatises’ the struggle to enter a language-speaking community, is it more fully dramatised in a text such as Pound’s Elektra, where traumatic experience is manifested in a conflation of American vernacular and untranslated Greek?

Here, it may be fruitful to compare Pound’s choral dramas to Eliot’s: Murder in the Cathedral, for example, updates English vernacular drama, but by incorporating a ‘babbling’ chorus who imitate classical tragedy. While I expect the changes in Pound’s practice over the course of his career to provide the structure for my final project, I look forward to paying attention to points of comparison with other, less canonical modernists. These could include Hope Mirrlees’s use of montage to search for a ‘holophrase’ in Paris; Basil Bunting’s insistence on a regional vernacular, but against a backdrop of international cultural references; and the artificial languages of Futurist and Dada sound art, which work both to reject subjectivity and forge international communities.

Critical Bibliography

Arrowsmith, Richard Rupert, Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African and Pacific Art and the London Avant-Garde (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(ed.) Bates, Catherine, The Cambridge Companion to the Epic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) [essays by Freccero, Whittier-Ferguson and Merchant].

Blasing, Mutlu Konuk, Lyric Poetry: The Pleasure and the Pain of Words (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007).

Dimock, Wai Chee, Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006).

Ellis, Rod, Second Language Acquisition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

Hart, Matthew, Nations of Nothing but Poetry: Modernism, Transnationalism and Synthetic Vernacular Writing (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Jarvis, Simon, ‘The melodics of long poems’, Textual Practice 24.4 (2010).

Kenner, Hugh, The Pound Era (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971).

Moody, A David, Ezra Pound: Poet, I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

North, Michael, The Dialect of Modernism: Race, Language and Twentieth-Century Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Patterson, Ian, ‘Time, Free Verse, and the Gods of Modernism’ in Tradition, Translation, Trauma: The Classic and the Modern, eds. Jan Parker and Timothy Mathews (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) [and other essays in this volume].

Scott, Clive, Literary Translation and the Rediscovery of Reading (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) [and earlier works by Scott].

Spitzer, Leo, ‘Learning Turkish’, tr. Tülay Atak, PMLA 126.3 (2011).

Stark, Robert, Ezra Pound’s Early Verse and Lyric Tradition: A Jongleur’s Apprenticeship (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012).

Steiner, George, After Babel: Aspects of Literature and Translation, 3rd ed. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Yao, Steven G, Translation and the Languages of Modernism: Gender, Politics, Language (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).