Narrative Praxis is the Name of My Muse Cover Band

In another life, I was an academic. More precisely, I completed a M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon, and then spent several years applying to PhD. programs in Media Studies, Radio, Television Film, and more — with a proposed dissertation topic investigating the mainstreaming of geek culture. I completed my M.A. in 2007, and applied to programs for the cohorts of 2007-2010. I got on the wait list at a couple of schools, but was never offered a position in a cohort.

So now, in 2014, when superhero movies dominate the big screens and are taking over the smaller screens, when Game of Thrones is a toast of the town, and SF Dystopias have helped cement the strength of YA literature as a cultural juggernaut, I can look back at those programs that rejected me and wonder what might have been. Was I too early? Did I see the wave because I was inside the subject group, but pushed for it too early for the academy to see it? Probably.

But here’s the thing: By *not* pursuing a PhD, I saved myself possibly over a hundred thousand dollars in student loans, and have ended up with a burgeoning pair of careers in SF/F publishing as a professional and as an author.

And my scholarship? It hasn’t gone away. Not getting into a PhD program didn’t quash my academic interest in SF/F and cultural studies. Instead, I focus on praxis.

Narrative Praxis.

Praxis Wordcloud

Praxis Wordcloud, from Infed.org

What do I mean by narrative praxis? Simply put, praxis is putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to a theory or worldview. For me, Narrative Praxis is putting my scholarly and cultural perspectives into my fiction.

The Ree Reyes books examine bricolage, textual poaching, my own idea of narrative farming, and more. They literalize the metaphor of “we tell ourselves stories to learn how to deal with the world,” and more.

For lack of a PhD appointment, I turned my scholarship into prose. I’m far from the only person to write fiction infused with critical theory, and I’m far from the best at it, since my focus in the Ree Reyes books is more on the fun than on the theory, though they are far from mutually exclusive. My notion of narrative praxis is directly informed by the work of several of my colleagues – both scholars and writers themselves – Alyc Helms, and Darja Malcolm-Clarke, who have both masterfully incorporated critical theory into their prose works.

Shield and Crocus takes my thoughts about the New Weird and Superhero genres and puts them into dialogue with one another, showing how one genre can shore up the weaknesses of the other. But I do it on the back of an action-adventure story. And instead of possibly a few hundred academics reading my essay on how the New Weird and Superhero genres have interesting contrasts that could speak usefully to one another, I *show* how those genres can speak to one another by making the culture that others can comment on. Not that scholarship is not cultural work – it is. But I’m using the age-old trick of putting my argument into a story to make it both more digestible and less direct.

And a new project I’m working on (the one that I’m fast-drafting right now) is applying my love of narrative genres and the relationship between genre tropes and assumptions and our social lives to fiction.

 

Takeaway

I don’t have a PhD. I don’t get introduce myself as Dr. Underwood. There are days I wish I had, and I could.

But I’m still a scholar, and (occasionally) a teacher. I have a platform for sharing my views on the world, my praises and my critiques. And I couldn’t be happier to be in a place where I can change the world with stories.

3 thoughts on “Narrative Praxis is the Name of My Muse Cover Band

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin)

    I don’t have a PhD. I don’t get introduce myself as Dr. Underwood. There are days I wish I had, and I could.

    I got out of science when I learned I was not a good scientist. And I still regret that to some extent.

    Thanks for sharing this, Mike 🙂

    • But in engaging with science fiction as a reader and critic, I hope you’re getting to enjoy some of what attracted you to science in the first place. 🙂

      • Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin)

        My science education informs my viewpoint, my genre love, and my world. 🙂

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