Fast Thoughts: A Dissertation Reflection

I handed in my dissertation just over a week ago, since then I’ve had some time to reflect on a project that started off as just one good idea, then turned into something else. Which reminded me of something…

In the documentary ‘Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans‘ his first wife Niele Adams says that , “He wanted to leave his scratch marks on the history of filmmaking”.

Having re-watched the documentary I’ve realised this is what I was trying to do with my dissertation (FSLE, to give its official designation). I wanted to leave my scratch marks on academia. In the way McQueen wanted to show his passion for motorsport as something that could be taken seriously so did I. I took on a dissertation that was a passion first, applicable to something serious second.

This is not to say I am the Steve McQueen of academia but I can say that, through this essay, I have experienced problems with applying your passion to a far more serious environment. I can attest that I was full of confidence going in but afterwards feel a little sour in the mouth.

When the film was made McQueen was at his peak. The film, with John Sturges directing, should have been an instant hit. What happened was a disaster and the production was tumultuous. Filming was meant to take one month, instead it took four and it was 1.5 million dollars over budget. Such was the chaos that McQueen decided not to attend the premier and never raced cars again sticking instead to motorbikes. By all accounts, Le Mans drained him.

So did this FSLE drain me in a small way. When you do a project like this, about a topic you love, there are two pressures. There is the academic pressure to do well, to do things properly, to reference, to footnote, to write in the correct style. However there is another artistic pressure that wants everything to be free flowing, that wants this to be a great artwork. To be an expression rather than an essay. Both of these pressures, balanced well with an emphasis on the academic side, are brilliant.

Yet, I will be the first to admit that there have been points where the secondary ‘artistic’ pressure has been dominant and resulted in some portentous writing. Though this was fixed in a week long editing process I am not completely happy with my FSLE. Just as Le Mans left a bitter taste in McQueen’s mouth, so did my FSLE leave a bitter taste in mine.

So, after the hand in, I ask myself the same question McQueen asked himself in The Man and Le Mans, “Should I have done it?”. I know from an academic side I shouldn’t because it was a risk. Weirdly though I feel it was the right decision.

Why? In the same way in racing you think about going flat out through a corner you’ve never been flat out through before, I would have kicked myself afterwards if I hadn’t given it a try.

Whether I crashed or not is still being decided.


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