I'm about 63% decided that I'm going to do my thesis as some kind of multimedia web-based essay. The biggest reason? This thing is damn hard for me to write linearly.
Normally when I sit down to write about a topic I know pretty well, the ideas just kind of . . fall into place. Quotes know where they want to be, sections know where they want to be divided, and thoughts follow a natural progression. If this isn't happening for me, I know it's time to step back and learn a little more about the topic.
Yet, I know my thesis topic -- I've presented it at least four times -- and still, the ideas aren't falling into place. I've spent two weeks writing seven pages, a glacial pace even for me. I'm starting to think my problem is the topic itself. All the thinkers or poems I'm writing on are networked in weird ways -- for instance, Harsdörffer, Caramuel and Kuhlmann are all interested in Kabbalism, but there's no direct connection, no straight path from A to B, between them. Do I spend a few pages describing Kabbalism in the first section, then simply refer back to it? Or do I slowly unfold the tenants of Kabbalism as they become relevant?
I also want to pull in large chunks of text from other work (like some of Italo Calvino's novels), and do some close reading of unrelated artwork from the period. But . . how?
The case for doing something digital: I can pull together disparate but topically related elements together without explicitly making connections between them. Brueghel's Tower of Babel beside a description of Schottel's Adamic linguistic theories; a chunk of Leibniz's thesis describing the Denckring, beside Harsdörffer's own description of it. In this way, I can also connect close readings of digital poetry to some of the text generators, without making stupid analogies or overstating my case ("look, they both generate text, they're the same!"). I could maybe even pull in some video clips of digital poets talking about their work, alongside my own close reading of a seventeenth-century proteic poem. Lots of possibilities.
In my head, I see the screen split into two halves, almost like the leaves of an open book. Different links embedded within the text change one or the other side of the screen.
I think one of the best arguments for doing my thesis like this is that it enacts the same kind of relationship to language as the work I'm analyzing. In other words, I could take the idea of ars combinatoria seriously, breaking my thesis down into a collection of different "topics" that can be permuted (placed side by side, combined with different elements) to generate new meaning.
The downside? I won't have a good traditional writing sample for the (very traditional) PhD programs I'm applying to. But why should I care about that? I've got to live with this thing for another eight months; grad school apps will be done in December.
Okay, I may have just talked myself into this. At least, I'm up to about 85%.