Reading, Writing, and Research Agendas

Reading Dan Filler and Ethan Leib (and others) on research agendas, old and new, I was moved to track down this quotation: “How do I know what I think until I’ve read what I have written?,” which turns out to be an adaptation of this: “How do I know what I have to say until I see what I have said?,” which is attributed to E.M. Forster. Though I haven’t seen a source.

Updated (9/30/06): The correct quotation, it appears, is “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?,” and it’s from Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. In context, the quotation reads as follows:

Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide–that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her niece of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. ‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!’ she exclaimed. ‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’ Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to-date than they were.

I haven’t verified the passage (yet) by looking at an actual text, so there will be another update with edition and page information and, perhaps (though I hope not), correction of the quotation.

Updated again (10/9/06): The comment is correct. The correct quotation is:

Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide–that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her nieces of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. ‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!’ she exclaimed. ‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’ Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up to date than they were.

I found it on page 152 (in Chapter V, The Plot) of the Harcourt, Brace & World hardcover edition printed sometime after 1954. My library copy is rebound, so I can’t refer to it more precisely.

3 thoughts on “Reading, Writing, and Research Agendas

  1. PS: Theda Skocpol used to always make a similar point to graduate students…she’d insist one could never totally outline an article before writing it, one had to toggle between writing and structuring.

  2. The quote is right, except for a few nits (her nieces, plural, accused her, and up to date is not hyphenated). p. 101 of the Harcourt paperback edition with the weird yellow book on the front.

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