Monday, January 7, 2013

"Research Rapture"

“Research Rapture.”

When I read Sean Pidgeon’s recent piece “Research Rapture” in the New York Times, I experienced a resounding sympathetic vibration.

You may pity me, if you wish, but my compulsion is relatively mild. As a longtime publisher of scholarly and scientific reference works, I am addicted to looking things up.

I first heard the formal name of my condition at a panel discussion on the topic of historical fiction and its challenges. When somebody at the top table confessed to a case of research rapture, the smirks and knowing looks shared among the panelists made it abundantly clear that all of them had direct experience of this writerly phenomenon. And I, too, though unfamiliar with the term itself, knew immediately what it meant. If I may paraphrase various informal definitions that are to be found online, research rapture is something like this:

A state of enthusiasm or exaltation arising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history; the delightful but dangerous condition of becoming repeatedly sidetracked in following intriguing threads of information, or constantly searching for one more elusive fact.

My own susceptibility to this malady became all too apparent when I began to investigate its diagnostic ancestry. [LOL] ... I would … suggest the following definitions of the writing and revision processes.
  • Writing [of a historical novel, etc.]. The process of overpopulating a narrative with ostensibly pertinent facts uncovered by the author while in a clinical state of research rapture.
  • Revision [of a historical novel, etc.] [PROGRAM NOTES!] The process of undoing the deleterious effects of research rapture. [OMG HOW DOES HE KNOW?]
Rapturous research. It’s what I do. It defines and shapes my professional work (technical research, writing, and editing), and informs and supports my avocational pursuits (reading, writing, music study, singing, cuisine, birding).

Go read the whole thing (citation below). His proposed solution for dealing with all the wonderful information that a rapturous researched discovers for each writing project sounds … perfect.

In early days, I tried not to give librarians any trouble, which was where I made my primary mistake. Librarians like to be given trouble; they exist for it, they are geared to it. ...your good librarian has a ferret's nose. Give her a scent and she jumps the leash, her eye bright with battle.”
— Catherine Drinker Bowen. From: Adventures of a Biographer, 1959
Pidgeon, Sean. "Rapturous Research." New York Times, January 5, 2013.


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