statement of purpose

This formerly read-only archive of threads dates back to 1996, but as of March 2007 is open to new postings. For technical reasons, the early dates shown do not accurately reflect the actual date of posting.

Feel free to add new postings to any of the existing threads in the archived forums, but please create any new language-related threads in one of the Language Discussion Forums.
Post Reply

statement of purpose

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Dec 20, 2001 10:37 pm

A quick note, I'm a peace corps volunteer working in China. My Chinese has improved but my english has gone to hell. can you help me out with my statement of purpose?
‘Duke Huan and the Wheelright’
“The world values books and thinks that in so doing it is valuing the Tao. But books contain words only. And yet there is something else which gives value to books, not words only, not the thought in the words, but something else within the thought, swinging it in a certain direction that words cannot apprehend. But it is the words themselves that the world values when it commits them to books: and though the world values them these words are worthless as long as that which gives them value is not held in honor.” – Zhuang Zi
To begin a discussion about my past, present, and future interests in language and literature, it would make the most sense to start at the beginning. I hope to show how language and literature have thread their way, organically, throughout the fabric of my life. At the age of six I was first allowed to stay up late and listen to my grandfathers recite poetry to each other. It was a transforming experience for a boy of six to see his infinitely reserved Canadian grandfathers let loose their passion, raise their fists, shout curses of indignation, pause for eternal seconds, then softly roll their closed eyes in gentle lamentations. They would recite ballads and lyrics, sonnets and quatrains, strathspeys and reels. I, at the age of six, could hardly follow what they were saying. I would get lost in the dialect, grow drowsy, and my parents would carry me to my room to sleep.
Through my childhood and adolescence I was encouraged to write and recite poetry. Of all the things that I have done with my time here on the planet that trudge upon, I’m most grateful for having learned to recite poetry. Later this skill would teach me how to read poetry in a very meaningful way. Having heard both myself and my grandfathers recite, I learned how the voice lends itself to language, and that the sounds created by poetry affect as much meaning as the words themselves. This is a delicate appreciation, a blessing. What I’m most grateful for is how the poems I learned when I was a child have been with me in moments of doubt, in moments of fear, and in moments of loneliness. These poems are a kind of magical communication from the mouths of the dead kept alive in consciousness through the centuries.
Later, literature pulled me off the deck of a ship where I was training to be an officer in the American Merchant Marine. After I had worked on a ship for three months on the Mediterranean, and completed two years of course work at SUNY Maritime towards an environmental science degree, I was working on the ship ‘American Mariner’ on the Great Lakes. Somehow I saw sailing as a way to pay for my literary interests; which had at the time been TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and the Tang Dynasty poets, which I would spend hours on the bow of the ship reading, and thinking about things while staring out over the endless seas. This was before I read Melville. How true his description of the Platonic sailor was. How true it is that the Platonic sailor will never call in a raising whale. One day while I was reading Zhuang Zi, the third mate, a sympathetic fellow, confronted me on my commitment to literature. His advice shaped my future. First he said, “Don’t let no body tell you when you can or cannot take a piss.” Next he told me, “Never take any job that you can’t walk away from – that makes you a slave.” Third, he told me, “These kind of jobs: sailing, oil-rigs, driving truck, counting beans, these kind of jobs will always be here. Unless you can’t live without being on these boats, you should try to do what you really love. Come out here when you fail, and since this is a good life you are not really failing.”
I took the fall semester off from Maritime; I worked construction; in the spring I enrolled in SUNY Buffalo’s English Department. I transferred at a critical time in SUNY Buffalo’s curriculum development, they were at the crossroads between critical theory and the literary canon. A battle is still raging over these topics in English departments throughout the country. My experience in the classrooms of SUNY Buffalo, however, is that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. To understand modern critical theory a scholar must have a working knowledge of the major authors like Shakespeare and Milton.
Of the courses that I took at UB, the two courses had the most impact on my approach toward literature were classes on Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and James Joyce’s Ulysses.. Both works demand a lot of considerations, and both books engage the reader, forcing the reader to become actively involved it the arguments. Both books have violent arguments with history, society, culture and religion. They fall in the tradition of the epic and the epic is the voice of the culture; it is the catalogue not only people, places, and events, but the culture’s values and beliefs. Through these works I really grew as a scholar because both of the these books are so large and rich, that too much will give you gout of the mind. Two other courses that really shaped my approach to literature were the nineteenth century novel and the modern novel. In these classes I began to understand how to use comparative techniques not only between two similar genres, but between different mediums of art as a way of understanding a text. During the last summer at UB I was finishing up my undergraduate degree with literary journalism course. This course really shaped my writing consciousness. The course stressed a personal and a didactic approach to writing. This class was also a good ending to my undergraduate career, because it ended with the imperative: now go out there and write! And that’s what I went and did.
I didn’t want to go directly to graduate school without some experience in the world to expand my knowledge of literature and to experience literature and the language outside of a classroom. I worked six months as a construction worker waiting for my degree to arrive from the University of Buffalo; here I heard fantastic four letter word poetry about broken equipment and the ritual morning gripes over coffee in the shop. After that I worked one year in South Korea as an ESL instructor; here I began to study Chinese characters, teaching methodology and Korean language and literature. The Korean experience opened my mind to a new dynamic both in thought and in rhythm of language and literature. I returned to the States and spent two months in a used bookstore in North Carolina’s Chapel Hill (a great way to build a personal library), and then hit the Dharma Bum trail working with Quebecois migrant workers and college kids as a tree planter in Northern Ontario, Canada. In September of 1998, after returning to America I worked one year as a data clerk in the cubicled basement of Harris RF Communication, managing data bases, doing office work, provisioning and editing technical manuals. At Harris I learned how a lot about electronic publishing, communication technology, account managing, and how business is conducted in America’s business environment. I also learned its language, its ethics, and its Kafkaesque surrealism. I was also during this time a literacy volunteer.
Now I am a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching literature, writing, listening and speaking, as well as giving quarterly department wide lectures at Yuzhou University, Chongqing, in the heart of Southwest China. Apart from my teaching responsibilities at Yuzhou University, I have also been involved in many other activities. I am serving as a Peace Corps peer counselor. I was involved in a program with the Guizhou Provincial Ministry of Education, teaching TEFL methodology to high school teachers in rural areas throughout Guizhou Province. I have also published articles in Shi Tang, a Chongqing magazine, and the Tang-Cu Times, a Peace Corps publication. I have given lectures, facilitated discussions, given radio interviews, and am working on a program that will open communications between Chinese students with American high students via the internet. I think that this
My interest mainly lies in the early modern period where I think there is a lot of room for fruitful scholarship. Fundamental problems raised by the Early Modern poets and novelists have yet to be resolved (and its doubtful they ever will be resolved). Now that the twentieth century has given way to the twenty first. Specifically, I want to work with TS Eliot and work with the relationship between Asia, and Asian cultures and the imagination of the West as manifested in Western literature. The dialogue began between Ezra Pound and the Tang Dynasty masters also has a lot of room for. Conversely, I want to do research on the influence of the early Moderns on Chinese ‘Scar’ literature that emerged at the end of the cultural revolution, especially in terms of narration, use of time, and fragmentation of character. As an immigrant myself, I’m interested in studying American Poetry and the relationship between immigration patterns and the resultant effect of poetic linguistic structure, content, and form. This topic also brings with it the shifting perspectives between the current social emphasis on cultural diversity and the traditional ideologies of the melting pot and the frontier heritage. I would also like to work with Chinese-American writing, 16th through 19th century English and Scottish lyrical ballads, Kierkegaard and existentialist writers, Donald Barthelme and postmodern writers of the 1970’s and 1980’s, and modern pop music as a manifestation of the pop culture’s bardic tradition.
I come to your door with my hands held open. I offer you my skills, services, experience, hopes, and dreams. I am a determined and hard worker. It has been five years since I left university, and now I’m willing to seriously commit and focus my efforts for the next five years to scholarship and teaching. For the past five years I have traveled, taught, labored, read, learned and walked with many people. This wealth of experience has truly transformed my outlook on life, I consider it my most valuable possession and I offer it to you for a position in your department.

thanks a lot
James McDougall

Submitted by ( - )
Signature: Topic imported and archived

statement of purpose

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Dec 20, 2001 10:51 pm

Hi James,

Your English is better than most people's, though there are some lapses of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and continuity (structural and conceptual) to be found in your text. I would suggest that you print it out, double-spaced, and go over it with a red pen. You should be able to pick up most of the basic errors that way.

I will specify a few continuity errors: ‘Duke Huan and the Wheel_W_right’ - this is a title that has no evident connection with anything that follows; 'I think that this' is an unfinished sentence; 'Now that the twentieth century has given way to the twenty first. ' is an introductory clause shorn of a main clause (as well as being an entirely superfluous observation).

Gushingly earnest statements such as 'I come to your door with my hands held open' are best avoided. There are more convincing ways of expressing one's enthusiasm. However, in your case I don't think it is necessary to try, since your enthusiasm shines through every sentence you write - rather too much so for my taste, partly because it makes your piece far too long. Ask friends or colleagues what they would cut out if they had written it, and even if you don't immediately agree with them, be prepared to consider their views.

In this connection, break up those huge blocks of text into topic-based paragraphs. Your text will be easier to read, and you will be able to see more clearly what you can cut or reorganise to make the whole more digestible and coherent.

I found your discussion of modern critical theory incomprehensible and the Zhuang Zi quotation irritatingly self-serving and pompous. I would cut them both out.

On the other hand, since you seem to be applying for a position in which you will be doing some kind of literary research, I would expand somewhat on the fruitful scholarship you consider to be necessary with regard to the 'Early Modern' school.

I hope this helps.

Reply from Erik Kowal (Reading - England)
Signature: Reply imported and archived

Post Reply