The LION Series 1: Finding Your Critical Voice

By Karen Stewart

This article is part of The LION Series from the Freshers’ Magazine Takeover. Each post this week features a snippet from an article in The LION Magazine 2020/21 Issue 1.

The LION magazine is written by third-year King’s students, all of whom have recently completed their BA English degrees.

The magazine helps first-year students in the English Department transition into university life.

This post is by Karen, an English BA graduate from King’s College London who is passionate about exploring the ways that we can use words to inspire as well as make positive change. Karen is the Editor of The LION Magazine. 

When you begin at university it can feel as if you are surrounded by living breathing fountains of knowledge. People appear to be overflowing with specialist information and name-drop people you have never even heard of what feels like every two minutes – and this is just the students!

I can’t tell you the number of times I have found myself flipping frantically through the course booklet in a seminar searching for a name someone had mentioned that I was sure hadn’t been included in that week’s reading. At first this was terrifying: who? I would think, noting down the jumble of letters I thought was phonetically close to what I had heard and determining to search that name when I got home. This, of course, resulted in ninety times the workload the course required in additional self-set homework and proved totally impractical: we are given a certain amount of reading for a reason.

Gradually I realised that when people mentioned these names or texts I had not missed something crucial in the course pack. Nor was I missing that one specific piece of additional knowledge which would unlock the door to a higher grade in the end of semester exam.

Rather, I realised that these snippets of knowledge, these mentions of specific philosophers or theorists, were coming from the individual research interests of the students – or at least I decided to understand it that way. I determined to apply this logic to my own research, following my own interests and really thinking about what I cared about.

Once I had decided that the names people were bringing to the (seminar) table were emanating from their own intellectual journeys and enthusiasms I began to develop a way of thinking that placed my own identity, experience, enthusiasms, and interests at the centre of my research. Over my first year I began to acknowledge the opinions of theorists and critics included in the course pack reading, whilst thinking about how their beliefs might challenge my opinions on the texts and more fundamentally, how they might challenge and clash with the values I held dear.

This emotional response became the fuel that drove my academic research; it is how I would decide which essay questions to answer, what research I would undertake to answer it, and ultimately how I would answer it. I began to research things that interested me, followed the work of critics that felt important, no longer focusing on a critic someone else in my seminar had mentioned. This is the process I use when undertaking my research now: I will look into something that is just bothering me about a text or something that has me excited, research into what others have thought and said regarding the same thing, and finally I will pass my opinion on the subject, informed by all the research I have undertaken, in my essay or exam answer.

If you begin thinking in this way, researching things that interest you and that feel important, by the time you reach third year and have the option of completing a dissertation you might realise that you already have several questions you feel need answering.

The questions you ask now could be the questions underpinning a book or module taught to other students in the future. So whilst it can be interesting to look into a name that someone else mentions in a seminar, what you find interesting is important and will drive you on to ask necessary questions and discover important truths.

Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, the LION Magazine and its editor, nor of King’s College London.

You may also like to read other articles from the LION series, keep an eye out for the others posted this Freshers’ week!