Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, June 15, 2014

But No One Has Ever Argued It!

I recently got a paper (draft here, but not the finished copy as I plan to send it out) back with feedback. Like most of my research it focuses on how the representation of the devil in medieval literature and writings is the folkloric devil, not the theological one. The folkloric devil can be identified by three distinct markers- physical description, personality, and actions. He is black or dark in color and animalistic, often described as a shapeshifter, but usually shown with animal physicality (not a Biblical description, but a folkloric one that grows out of Krampus and Norse mythology). 
He is a trickster and seducer (again, not a Biblical representation). He is known for making deals or contracts with ignorant humans. I use these three markers (physical, personality, actions) to analyze close readings and images. I then expand on these markers to consider the significance, the work that this figure is doing in each piece. As he's the folkloric representation the work is usually associated with representing the "folk". In this article, I argue that he represents the sinners, whereas the Virgin Mary represents their possible salvation- two sides of the same coin so to speak.
So here's the issue- the feedback I got was that the reader "struggled" with my argument, because, if I'm reading it right, there was no documentation for my thesis that the devil is the folkloric representation. While the article goes step by step through the texts and images to explain how this is the folkloric representation, I think the critique is that my initial thesis/introduction doesn't supply support for my argument. But no one has ever argued this before- it is mine, an original idea. Over the past three years I've read every possible source about the devil, and not a single one makes the folklore connection. I can talk about how Kelly traces Satan through the Bible, how Russell and Michembled trace him through history, but none of those address the folkloric devil. 
I can certainly understand if I need to place my argument within the larger arguments of current devil scholarship (and in my dissertation I do). I can also understand if my argument wasn't clear (but that doesn't seem to be the feedback- the feedback seems to be the authority of my claim). But I guess what I'm struggling with is the critique seems to be the originality of my argument. I thought that was the whole point of dissertation work- to find a new way to think about something, or present an idea that no one had ever thought of before. 
So how do you combat this? 
How do you claim the authority of your own ideas?
What should the response be?
Appreciate any advice from people whose dissertation projects presented completely new and original arguments and how they dealt with similar critiques.


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