Can't even choose a dissertation topic...Watch
Background: I just moved to Japan to pursue grad school. Though the concept of major is rather sketchy here, apparently I'm doing Gender Studies. I got my BA in English in Romania, and frankly was never an exceptional student, in a system which was very traditional in that cramming sparknotes last-minute was the norm, and I had never even read a Cambridge companion before moving here. TL;DR: I am basically facing an academic setting for the first time.
My only experience with academic research&writing was my BA dissertation, and I took a really hard blow to the confidence when I realised how redundant it was. I had spent months thinking & reading & researching for it based on my previous experience with social work and derived this social theory which I thought was pretty cool and "applied it to literature" (though frankly the actual application was rather poor; I didn't really understand how anything would count as a conclusion), and derived the proposal I came to Japan with off the theoretical approach... only to discover, quite randomly, that I had basically reinvented the concept of social justice. Since the concept never made it to Romania, I had genuinely never heard the term used before, and since I'd not known anyone who had a tumblr I hadn't even known that there's the whole stereotype against SJWs (which I apparently am). Needless to say, this has pretty much shattered any confidence I had in my knowledge of anything, really. TL;DR: I have little to no theoretical knowledge.
Then, my proposal was about Japanese literature. I had assumed that I have a somewhat decent grasp of it, having read about 30+ novels which I was told were classics (I know it's not a lot, but I figured it would count for a basis, at least). Since I knew I had a pretty good grasp of the theoretical part, I figured grad school would leave me enough time to read to my heart's content, now that Japanese books would become readily available. Then I came to japan and realised that I'm the equivalent of someone who moves to the UK with extensive knowledge about Pamela, Virtue rewarded & its associated epistolary novels. My professor hasn't heard of most authors and told me how they only heard about them from Westerners' research proposals, since no one in Japan actually reads them. If I tell anyone what books I like in Japanese lit, I get strange faces. Needless to say, this has pretty much shattered any confidence I had in my familiarity with Japanese literature. TL;DR: I have little to no clue about my field of study.
My professor advised me to turn my initial research into a journal article, and think of a new topic. I've been working on that journal article for a months now and it doesn't seem to be amounting to anything, despite my having read the authors, had some clear ideas about where I want to go with it, etc... and it's ****. I can't get a clear idea at all. It's scattered, it's taking me forever to find theoretical support since it's so redundant. It's too broad, even though I thought it was very specific when I chose it. Needless to say, this has shattered pretty much any confidence I had in my ability to write and research academically. TL;DR: I am highly incompetent.
I have to turn in a research topic soon, so that I can spend the next semester devising a proper proposal, and the next 3 years turning it into a dissertation. I'm fairly sure that's enough time to become capable of writing a dissertation in the field, but frankly given my recent failures I feel incapable of even choosing a topic. I've been reading thousands of pages in the past months, but don't feel like I'm any closer to getting a grasp of things. I have a few things I'm interested in, but anything I can even think about as a broad topic is a great unknown for me (e.g. I'd be really interested in researching the portrayal of trans people, but given how little I know about the literature in general means that there could be dozens of books that I've not read which would clash with my current impression of it). Just finding resources *about* things takes me a crazy long time, and that doesn't cover the time needed to actually read them, and even when I do I find that rather than properly ingest the information I end up more confused/have to read even more (e.g. I was reading this feminist reading of Murakami that would occasionally stop in highly theoretical paragraphs and name-dropping.. at the end of the book I only got a bit more acquainted with Murakami, but had a list of 30 authors and concepts that I should get familiar with.) TL;DR: I am completely overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge.
At the moment I'm going through huge bouts of impostor syndrome, and don't really feel like I'm making much progress. What should I do? How does one go about choosing a topic in this situation? Should I just choose a topic that sounds like it could be done and just hope for the best?