Friday, 7 July 2017

Reflections on a one-to-one tutorial with Richard Mulhearn, 7th July 2017

The conversation started with a general question as to what my current thoughts were; In essence, I was reconfirming my intention to produce 70% of my submission in written form and 30% as practical outputs.

I felt that I was on track with the 70% written piece for a week next Wednesday, that is, for the submission date of 19 July. I am in a good position with the document, having already written a substantial part of it even though, as agreed with Dr Bailey and Dr MacDonald, I would be producing the output in a book form rather than the standard academic paper format.

Approximately 10,000 words have already been written out of the 14,000, and my intention is to lock myself away for the next week in our cottage in Northumberland to finish off the writing of this document!

I was extremely reassured when Richard provided very encouraging feedback and said that he was not at all concerned with my work. He said that I have all the material that I need and if anything, it is probable that I need to stop my research now, and just articulate and condense my findings.

As I have already indexed all of my previous blogs, which has been a great help in returning to reread them at times, has helped a great deal with the creation of the book. With approximately 110,000 to 120,000 words currently in the blog, there is a huge amount of resource that I can work with.

One of my plans today was to print out all of the blogs for easy reference.

Richard observations were that with that amount of material, I need to drill in and eject (to distil) the information, and 'that' will determine my success. I am worried about the distillation of the information, and anxious to make sure that it is correct and valid. I recognise also the need to get the voice right, and I bounced the idea off Richard,  that as there are so many voices within my research, the approach that I'm probably going to adopt; and the one that I think I want to go forward with, is to actually write 'within' the voices of the various players?

By anthropomorphizing, I'm giving the Peregrine a human voice, and whilst I didn't want to do this initially, having read so much with Donna Haraway, and more recently, Richard Grusin (The Nonhuman Turn (2015)) and various others, plus John Gray's Silence of Animals (2016) together with the recent book (Animals: Documents of Contemporary Art, by Filipa Ramos, 2016), I acquired from Whitechapel gallery, together with what I think is probably a classic, which is John Berger's (1980)"Why Look at Animals" (which Richard confirmed was an amazing document in itself, and surprise that this was the first time that we have mentioned it).

Getting the voice correct, with a number of messages to verbalise is critical according to Richard and I entirely agree. While I do have research material, with research methodology and so on, considered with the research strategy and my own voice needs to be clearly enveloped, included too.

In discussion with Richard, I also mentioned the social sciences idea of Grounded Theory Methodology (which Richard confirmed is familiar with), and how it may be possible, that this strategy, where there is a 'non-linear', yet a massive amount of research data can be considered and distilled?  This may be a similar process that I may be able to adopt with some variation too perhaps. The GT process is all about a kind of wandering and serendipity, in the way that things are 'found'.

To describe my own research strategy, rather than a "methodology", this Grounded Theory 'strategy' by Glazier and Strauss, (who originally discovered it, and they themselves describe it as a "discovery"), is appealing to me as it is very 'non-linear'.

I'm currently combining this GT idea, because the more I write it seems the more that I want to research!

The distillation is critical with this approach, because while I want to say that I have a strategy that can narrow down, and focus, with a timescale set on it. In this case it is the cut-off point aiming towards a week next Wednesday (about 10 days time on 19th July). However, I feel I can make a conclusion without it being a final resolution, and there's an opportunity to leave things sufficiently open for further study should I wish.

Richard agreed that it is more than sufficient for me to say something along the lines of "at this point in time, these are the findings et cetera".   Richard also confirmed that whilst there is still work to do, it seems clear that I understand my methodology; to encapsulate the direction and wandering through the materials and theories towards findings, and in 'getting the voice correct'.

Just to recap then, my intention is to talk in terms of the Peregrine itself, to talk in terms of an anthropologist/biologist; to talk in my own voice as well.

Thinking through this, the argument of the studies perhaps could be the exploration of how voices could be linked together? Otherwise, they could end up being discreet? Do I need to think about this?

What links all of these 'voices' nicely, is the book itself "The Peregrine"... But, I need to be careful that all of the voices interact with each other, but also draw together through the book itself.

Part of the distillation process needs to be a clarity in each of the voices and how they are talking so that they can relate to each other. The central core of the work from which all of the voices emanate, and what each of them is saying in relation to the core, is what is important here?

How then, whatever it is that they are saying, relate to each other?

The book will need some careful editing. My intention is to produce an awful lot more than the final output, and possibly between 20 to 25,000 words can then be condensed down to the 14,000 words that I need in readiness for Monday 17th, as a printing day, with Tuesday 18th as a contingency. I will then be able to submit it in readiness for the Wednesday the 19th July deadline as a fully functioning 'prototype'.

At the moment the essay is very much a report style. But as mentioned earlier, the book will become a much more lyrical output combined with drawings. What I have already created is the scaffolding, which will then be stripped away within the book itself.

An observation that Richard made, was that in a lot of my writing it seems that I am searching, together with the reader, in a kind of clarification style language?  That is, I tend to say things in a certain way and then perhaps 'reword' them and repeat the substance of my conjecture or statement.
I need to watch that.
I need to be clear about the words and confident with the voice!!

How is my own story in all of this documented?
- My findings come towards the end, and what these are, are very much based on my journey.
While I introduced this idea of a journey at the beginning of the book, I've introduced the other, of the voices as narrative, as a lyricism if you like. But then at the end of the book, is a summing up using my own voice, of what I have found.

Equally, I've taken on board entirely, the idea that the 'finding' of my photograph in Helen Macdonald's book is wonderfully serendipitous, but I shouldn't make a fanfare of it. So this element is left towards the end, not presented as a final fanfare, more of a reflection of how I was, - say 12 years ago. The journey in itself is not just this year's journey but it is almost like a 12-year journey, and it lays out grounds for further study and further consideration.

This reflects on me because of how I have changed so completely as to what I was 12 years ago, and my own position 'in' the world and 'of' the world, is extremely different to how it was 10 or 12 years ago. Richard wanted to confirm if this was still part of the work? - Because if that is the case, this is less about the Peregrine and more about me? I need to think about this carefully because this is kind of satellite stuff and may distract the message.

However, in thinking about this, what I do feel, is that in many of (if not most of) the books that I've read, including The Peregrine itself (JA Baker, 1967), and Helen Macdonald's H-is-for-Hawk (2014), but also the theoretical references such as Donna Haraway, Tim Ingold, and even the great John Berger himself, is that all of these books are written around the authors themselves.


The conclusion is, there is no escape from the anthropomorphising, the anthropocentric reflection. 

Despite trying to get away from this, it is simply impossible, and so this is why I feel that the philosophy of Speculative Realism is so important in this work too.  - I have to try and view the world from a completely different vantage point, the rejection of Immanuel Kant's ideas of human sovereignty over everything else. This idea of, if you like, 'domination of the universe' from a human centric point, is what is of critical importance here.

Richard observations were that, as my own observations, that the author is central to the work makes absolute sense, and tone and voice do not need to be sugared (which is something that I tend to do). I shouldn't be worried about that though.  I do need to make sure that the process, is about confidence. I should be able to say things only once, rather than three times, and that is the distillation. This takes time and I may not get it right each time, but Richard agreed that this just needs to be practised.  I suspect this schema within my own mind, that constant looking for reassurance, comes from my childhood, but also probably from the people that I live with too, as I'm always unsure of what is expected of me, or if I am being understood.

This was a great session with Richard, I'm confident in what I need to do, but with his help and guidance have been able to improve my confidence, which I struggle with a great deal. Richard's closing words were that it is not the collection of material that is important but the distillation and clarity of delivery, with beautiful elegance. Talking about extremely complex things, but making it simple is what is required.


Grusin, Richard A. (2015) The Nonhuman Turn
Gray, John. (2106) Silence of Animals
Ramos, Filipa (2016), Animals: Documents of Contemporary Art, by  Whitechapel Gallery, 
Berger, John (1980) "Why Look at Animals" 
Baker, JA (1967). The Peregrine, 
Macdonald, Helen (2014), H-is-for-Hawk 

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