Contemplating things the other day, it struck me that Bilbo Baggins’ views of the road going ever on and on were very apt in relation to the journey toward a PhD. It also made me wonder whether Bilbo had read Derrida’s works on deconstruction or if, in fact, Derrida had read Bilbo’s poetry. If you compare the sentiment of “The Road goes ever on and on” to Derrida’s view that “there is nothing beyond the text”, and that meaning is deferred along an endless chain of signifiers, then hopefully you will get my drift. (For the uninitiated Jacques Derrida was a 20th century French philosopher: Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit).
So what, you may ask, has that to do with the progress of my research? Allow me to answer that with one more piece of Bilbo’s wisdom from The Lord of the Rings:
“He used to often say that there was only one Road … ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door … You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” (Tolkein 1966).
So I start to do my research, busily focusing on the topic of war memorials and then the road starts taking me off on a journey to distant places, some that have been visited before like the philosophy of Derrida and the study of signs (semiotics) with the work of Saussure, Pierce and Preucel, and onto green fields.
I’ve added more philosophers to my library, Maurice Halbwachs (another Frenchman), and Martin Heidegger (German) along with at least one cultural anthropologist (Igor Kopytoff, a Chinese-born Russian/American), and delved into texts on architecture, memory, landscape, phenomenology, semiotics and even occasionally archaeology and history!
Along with the academic texts I have also been trying to read some of the biographical works from the Great War in order to try and gain some of the points of view of non-combatants impacted by the conflict. Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth was essential reading. Her experiences working in field hospitals along with the loss of her brother, fiance and two other close friends really bring the point home.
Likewise, the works of Philip Gibbs, one of five accredited British journalists in France during the war, paint a grim picture of the life of the soldiers but also highlight the plight of the French and Belgian civilians who were displaced by the war. Gibbs’ Realities of War is one of a number of books he wrote after the war when he was no longer bound by wartime censorship regulations: he doesn’t pull any punches. Most of his work can be found on the Project Gutenberg web site.
So far, since the beginning of 2015 when I first stepped into the road, I have read over 160 journal articles, news items and books and will probably have read and noted another 200 before I have finished. The Road does indeed go ‘ever on and on’.