Dissertation Days (46): Adventures in Research

As promised, I was back at work on the Dissertation today. I’m actually quite tremendously pleased with the work I produced today. Although I only wrote 500 words, I think that they were pretty good ones (all things considered), and that is always a cause for a minor celebration. There will, of course, be a lot of revision between the time I finish this draft and the time I turn it in, but that’s just par for the course.

This was also a surprisingly productive day in terms of research. Peter Brooks’s brilliant Reading for the Plot has been really helpful in beefing up that theoretical section. Indeed, I basically spent the entire day focused on that. Sometimes, you just hit your stride when it comes to writing a theoretical section, and you get that fiery, passionate feeling that you are really onto something important in the way that you’re phrasing and articulating your argument. That’s the feeling I live for, and this is the first time that I’ve felt it in a couple of weeks.

In this chapter, I’m really trying to get to the heart of the tension between narrative and spectacle in the epic film. These are terms that people often use as if they were self-explanatory–epics are simple narratives that overcompensate with a use of spectacle is a typical line of argument–and I want to give this the sort of detail that I think it deserves. The way I’m framing my argument, I think anyway, will serve as a nice end to the dissertation as a whole and has some important connections to the first chapter. Given how much I’ve struggled with this chapter, I’m really happy that it’s finally starting to take a shape with which I can be happy.

Given that I only have 2 more days here in West Virginia, I’ll probably take another mini-hiatus until I return to Syracuse. Then, I’ll be back at the normal schedule (as much as possible), though it might be a bit touch-and-go because of the new TA Orientation that’ll be going on throughout the second week of August. And, of course, there’s all the other stuff–articles, revisions, conference proposals, etc.–that will undoubtedly eat their way into my free time.

But, I shall persist, as I always do.

With the right amount of determination, I know I can get this done, and I can get it done well.

Onward.

Dissertation Days (45): Insert Clever Title Here

Today, I worked mostly on context, with a little bit of composition in the discussion of Fall of the Roman Empire. I also wove in some criticism of Cleopatra into that section. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the material that I produced today, though I also know that there will need to be some finessing and trimming done (those goddamn couplets are still proving to be something of a thorn in my side).

All in all, this was quite a good day, especially since my productivity tends to slow down when I’m visiting West Virginia. I noticed some repetition in the historical section, so I’ll have to take care of that, but it does seem as if the broad contours of that are pretty much in place. One of these days soon, I’m going to have to take another look at the theoretical section. There are a number of coordinates in that section that I think work well separately, but I need to make sure that they all fit together in a coherent whole and, just as importantly, that they also lead directly into the discussion of the films.

I also like the material I produced about The Fall of the Roman Empire. I’ll need to do some re-reading of secondary material once I return to Syracuse, so I can begin layering that it more consistently. As we know, that will also help me to nuance my arguments and explain how my own contribution elaborates on the existing scholarly conversation about this particular film.

Though this draft still has a number of weaknesses, I am determined to make this the draft that I end up submitting. It’s hard not to get frustrated, and I have to keep reminding myself that sometimes, it’s okay to spend a day revising rather than just producing more words. Old habits die hard, though. Still, I am also a determined person, and so I shall continue endeavouring to revise this chapter as the days go by. Someday soon, I know, this chapter will be done.

Tomorrow, I may not get anything done. Lots of obligations, but I’ll surely write another 1,500 words or so in the following week. Plus, I hope to be able to start the revision of Chapter 1 soon, and if I keep up the pace I should have both Chapters 1 and 2 in pretty much finished shape by the end of August.

Onward!

Dissertation Days (44): Glimmers of Daylight

Today was one of those truly great days, when the writing and the ideas began to really come together in a productive way. I think the section on Cleopatra is going to need a little bit of tidying up. I know there’s a bit of repetition there, as well as some areas that need some development and elaboration. Still, I like the way that it’s coming together, and the next step will be folding in some of the secondary criticism that already exists on the film. That will probably take a little time, but that’s okay. I’ve got the whole month of August.

Today I started shifting into a discussion of The Fall of the Roman Empire. As I’ve noted before, I have to start finessing this part of the discussion so that I can show how my own reading of this film contributes something new to the overall discussion of this film. I actually had a glimmer of what I could do in that regard as I was writing today, riding high on a caffeine buzz (amazing what that coffee can do for you). What’s more, I think I found a way to ensure that this section of the chapter does something new and doesn’t merely repeat the arguments made about Cleopatra.

Since tomorrow is the dawning of August, I think I’m going to have to start moving into the revision of Chapters 1 and 2 that I’ve been putting off for quite a while. As I’ve written before, it’s always revision that is the hardest part of the process, but if I go ahead and do it now, it will make things that much easier when I start amping up for the defense. Besides, if I want to stay on my my schedule to defend this spring, I really have to make sure that I stay on track with both Chapter 4 and the general process of revision (to say nothing of Chapter 3, which is still under review).

Tomorrow, alas, I won’t be able to do any work as most of the day I’ll be on my way back to West Virginia. However, I might be able to do a bit of reading of Brooks’s Reading for the Plot. Hopefully on Thursday I’ll be able to get back to work on the chapter, though I know my pacing will be a little more subdued while I’m back home.

Onward and upward.

Dissertation Days (43): Scattershot

Well, today was a mostly good day of composition. I wrote the 1,000 words that were my day’s goal, but things were a bit more scattershot and unfocused than I would have liked. Indeed, it wasn’t until I got to the very end that I finally hit something that I think was truly good. Which means, of course, that I’m going to have to go back and do a great deal of deep revision in order to get the rest of the chapter into submittable shape.

I’ve noted a few spots of repetition on the close reading section of Cleopatra, so I need to iron those out. I also have to begin weaving in some of the existing scholarship on the film–and on the Cleopatra myth in general–since I’ve been putting that off for far too long.

I also made some progress reading Brooks’s Reading for the Plot. I was hoping that I would be able to make extensive use of it with the work that I was doing today, but it’s being a bit stubborn. Hopefully, as I finish up the book, I’ll be able to see more clearly how it fits into the theoretical paradigm that I’m attempting to use.

I have to resist the urge to start over with this chapter. I know that if I do that it’s just going to be a delaying tactic, but at least I’ve gotten to the point where I am able to recognize those urges in myself. I don’t want to fall into a circular trap.

Since I feel like I’m spinning my wheels a bit on the Cleopatra section, tomorrow I think I am going to focus on my close reading of Fall of the Roman Empire. As I’ve said before, that’s going to be the most challenging section, but I am hoping to be able to weave some of the existing scholarship

Saturday and Sunday, though, I’m going to have to make sure that I get at least the majority of the Cleopatra section absolutely done, finished, and polished. That’s probably a bit ambitious, but I am sure that I can do it. All it takes is the sort of determination that I am able (when the need is on me) to summon up, and I am sure that I can do it.

From there on, there’s no way to go but forward and upward.

Let’s do this.

Dissertation Days (42): Back at It

At long last, I have returned to the Dissertation. The poor thing was languishing, but now that my traveling has abated for a bit, I can now return in full force.

Today was quite a productive day indeed. I even managed to write 1,000 words of the chapter, mostly concerning the general introductory and theoretical sections.  I also wrote a bit in the section about Cleopatra, which is actually coming together quite nicely. Ideally, if I keep on at this pace with that section, it should be fairly ready and polished by the end of next week.

I’ve really determined that this will be the version of the chapter that I submit. I’ve reached the point where I have to make a concerted effort to bring my arguments together and tidy them up. Otherwise, I’m going to run the risk of spinning my wheels and not making any productive headway, and that is not the space that I want to be in again. So, it’s full steam ahead.

As far as research goes, I have begun reading Peter Brooks’ magisterial Reading for the Plot, which is a really interesting piece of literary criticism and theory. I’m hoping to use bits of it to add some layers to my theorization of the tension between spectacle and narrative that I see as a core part of how the epic film negotiates and engages with the terrifying nature of history. I’m not very far into it as of yet, but I’m hoping to finish it up by next week.

Tomorrow, it’s onward into the weeds of Chapter 4. I am hoping to work mostly on the historical context, which is coming together in its broad outlines but needs some more flesh in order to make complete sense. As I continue my work on this chapter, I’m really working on making sure that the various pieces all move together, and that each piece leads to and intertwines with the others. It’s easier said than done.

Starting in August, I am also going to start revising Chapters 1 and 2 in earnest. They are badly needing some tender loving care from me, and the revisions should be fairly minimal, so I’m ready to get started. At long last, I’m beginning to see the finish line. And let me tell you something, dear readers, that is one hell of a good feeling.

So, it’s onward and upward tomorrow.

Dissertation Days (41): No Title Needed

Today was a moderately successful day. I only wrote 500 words, but they were good words (I think), so that means a lot (to me, at least). As I always say, any progress is good progress.

The most noteworthy accomplishment today was that I have finally begun to pull the theoretical context together. For me, this is always both the most fun and the most difficult to write. On the one hand, it allows me to really get into the weeds on the theories that I’m working with–whether it’s narrative theory, color theory, or something else–and show how these theoretical models can help us understand the way that film works. It’s a site of play and opportunity, a means of shedding new light on a very dynamic group of films.

However, it’s also a very challenging section as well, in that it can be a place where my own exuberance gets a bit ahead of itself. As my Adviser once remarked, it’s like I try to cram everything I ever read into this tiny section. Again, that has to do with the fact that so much of theory that I’m bringing to bear is so exciting, and it’s quite easy to let it get ahead of me. So, I have to exercise caution.

The other challenge, of course, is making sure that I show how this section leads naturally and organically into the next. Again, it’s really hard to let it sort of spin out of control, so that it seems to float above the other two sections (the historicizing and the close readings themselves). For someone who loves to write, this can be quite the hurdle to overcome.

I also spent part of today’s session working  on the close reading of Cleopatra. Some bits of genuine light have begun to filter though, so I’m very excited about that. In some part of my mind, I’m still wrangling with the last film in the close reading section, but I’m confident that I will be able to fit it into the whole chapter.

The next few days are going to be a bit touch-and-go with Dissertation stuff. I have a conference paper due next week, and a lot of other stuff going on. Still, I hope to chip away at it and eke out a few words. Once next week is over, though, I’ll be back into full composition mode.

Dissertation Days (40): This is Progress, Right?

Despite the title, today was actually a good day, in terms of progress. As I said I would do yesterday, I switched to a bit of the close readings, focusing today on Cleopatra. I think the bare bones of how that section is going to look are almost there, but it will take another few days of composing to make sure that my close reading is both internally consistent and flows naturally from the contexts.

Speaking of which. I actually wrote at least half of today’s word count (a bit over 1,000, thank you very much), specifically in the theoretical context. To be quite honest, I don’t think this section is as theoretically rich as the earlier ones, but I do think that the sources I’m drawing on–particularly David Quint and his theory of epic narrative and Tom Brown and his theory of the “historical gaze”–are useful for thinking through the tension between spectacle and narrative that exists at the heart of the genre of the historico-biblical epic. Well, perhaps tension isn’t the right word. Perhaps I should say that it helps us to think of the relationship between those two seemingly opposing cinematic principles.

Overall, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far on this chapter. I also can’t believe that I’ve already written 40 of these entries! However, I do believe that they have really made this whole progress infinitely less lonely. Just knowing  that there are others out there reading these (or even just skimming them), makes me feel that there just may be an audience for the type of work that we do in academia. As a writer, it’s easy to lose track of that, particularly with everything else going on in the world.

I will, as always, be taking a bit of a break this weekend. I want to focus a bit on the novel, and on cleaning my house. Both of those things take a bit of a backseat when you’re really buried under the chapter that seems to press in on your every waking thoughts. I’ve also got a conference paper set to be delivered in a little under two weeks, so I have to make sure that that is in presentable condition.

Rest assured, though. On Monday I’ll be right back at it, and this time I fully plan on getting back into Chapters 1 and 2.

Don’t quote me on that, though. 😉

Dissertation Days (39): Forward, March!

Today was another good day. I produced 1,000 words of Chapter 4, and I’m actually pretty happy with the form that most of them have taken. I’ve started weaving in some of the research material that I need to set up the context, so that’s a good feeling. I’m really trying to avoid some of the mistakes I made with Chapter 3, and to that end I’m keeping much better tabs on the sources I’m using from the get-go, so I don’t get tripped up when it’s the eve of submission, and I’m scrambling to find citations.

I am hoping that my success of the last few days really does mark a moment when my chapter will take its final form. I don’t want to find myself spinning my wheels with this one the way I did Chapter 3 (which took almost a year to write!) So far, I’m cautiously optimistic, which in academic writing is about as good as it gets sometimes.

Tomorrow, I am aiming to continue working on the historical context, though I might allow myself to wander a bit into the close readings. Though it breaks up the flow my writing process a bit, I do find that it allows me to make sure that I am making connections, both explicit and implicit, between my various sections. Since a critique of the last chapter was that there was frequent disconnects between my close readings and my context, I’m extra close attention to those bits of detail as I make my way through the composition of this one. I’m hoping to get it approved with one round, but we’ll see.

I’m at a little bit of a loss on where to go with my research. I think I’m going to have to dig a little deeper on the historical context, and luckily I have a few places to turn to. Still, I know that it’s far too easy to get so mired in the contextual research that you lose sight of the chapter as a whole. That being said, I do want to make sure that I include as much detail as I can about the geopolitical context of the early and middle 1960s, so that my readings of the films will make sense. I do think that I’ve got enough

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get to revising Chapters 1 and 2 today. Tomorrow, though, I will definitely got on that. Honest!

Dissertation Days (38): A New Beginning

Well, I finally had to break down and start a new draft of Chapter 4. The one that I was working on, that I ambitiously thought was the final version, was getting a bit unwieldy, and I could tell that I was started to repeat myself. Once it gets to that point in my composition, I usually find that it’s a little easier to start a clean draft, while leaving open the possibility that I can import bits from the earlier ones.

Fortunately, the one I produced today was one of the most clear-headed that I’ve made so far, largely because I really forced myself to write in a mostly linear fashion. I’m getting to the point where I need to do this in order for the whole thing to make sense, and it actually proved a good thing. It really forced me to drill down into the nitty-gritty, that part of the chapter process that I have always found to be the most forbidding and the most difficult.

I’m really, really hoping that this version of the Chapter will indeed be the one that I end up submitting. I’m going to hold myself accountable to the 1,000 words a day maxim, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are 1,000 good words. If it all possible, I’d like to avoid the type of deep revisions that I encountered with Chapter 4. I think, if I really hold myself accountable, that I can do that.

Incidentally, I’m also working on a few other side projects, notably a conference paper about the role of women’s historical fiction in shaping contemporary understandings of antiquity. It’s not directly dissertation-related, but it’s adjacent (and I’m thinking that it might even be the makings of a second book project).

Tomorrow, I hope to finally take a deep breath and start the revision of the first two chapters. They probably won’t be that deep, as my committee seems to think they’re in good enough shape to pass muster, but I want to make sure that they are as polished as they can possibly be.

Finally, I wanted to note that I finished one of my research books today (the one on Mark Antony). I don’t know that I’ll use it, but it was a good read nonetheless. I’m thinking I might read Peter Brooks’ Reading for the Plot next.

Well, onward we go.

Dissertation Days (37): Back to Work

After a very rough weekend, I got back into the swing of things today with some decent work on Chapter 4. I only wrote 500 words, but I do see the entire chapter starting to cohere in a way that it didn’t before. I’m still not entirely certain that the pieces are all knitted together as tightly yet as I would like, but that should arrive soon.

Nowadays, I’m not so sure that the version I’ve been writing will be the absolute final version. I think it may take one more to make sure that everything appears as I want it to, and a great deal of how I proceed will stem from how much my adviser likes (or does not like) Chapter 3. Still, I am confident that I can have a draft of this chapter fairly ready for submission by the end of August, though I can also push it off to the end of September if need be.

Overall, the chapter is standing at about 9,500 words, so I would say that it’s about 3/5 done (I’m aiming for a 15,000 word limit). This will be one of my shorter chapters, but I’m happy with that. Sometimes, it really is better to focus on writing concisely rather than expansively.

In terms of what I produced today…well, I sketched in a few blank spaces in the historical context section. It wasn’t anything terribly complicated, to be perfectly honest, but hopefully those sentences will be the seeds for future development. More promising was the material I produced about Cleopatra. The more I reflect on this film–its industrial context, the plot, the formal elements that it mobilizes–the more fascinating it becomes. As I’ve said many times before, it seems to me that this film is critically undervalued, and I hope that my analysis of it helps others to see that, despite its weaknesses, it really tries to engage with the historical questions and pressures of the time.

At some point in the near future, possibly as later this week, I am going to go back and start revisiting my earlier chapters. I honestly haven’t looked at them that much since they were approved, and I want to start the revision process on them before it gets too late.

Given that tomorrow is a holiday, I might take a little time off to clean and work on the Novel. Then on Wednesday it’s back to work.