Dissertation Days (55): Where We Are Now

Well, it’s been a hot minute since I posted an update. I guess I got caught up in, you know, actually writing my Dissertation. Imagine that! So, I thought I’d give everyone an update that’s a little longer than usual, in order to tell you how things are going and how they stand now.

Fortunately, the revisions for Chapter 3 are moving along at a brisk pace. I’m actually enjoying slicing out the bits of extraneous material that don’t move my argument forward. For someone who is as word-conscious as I am, that can be quite a liberating experience. Hopefully, by the end of this week (or next week at the latest), the contextualization sections–both historical and theoretical–will be ready for resubmission. Then it’s on to the close readings. Luckily, I think those are in pretty solid condition, though of course a little pruning won’t hurt. That should be done by the end of the month (at the very latest).

Chapter 4 is also coming along surprisingly well, considering this has been the chapter that has given me the most conceptual trouble. Right at the moment I’m sort of toggling between the historical context section and the close reading of the film Cleopatra. I hope to continue making some solid progress on that for the rest of this week. I had to start yet another document that is misleadingly titled “Final Version of Chapter 4,” but hopefully this time it’ll actually turn out to be true (at least until the revisions from the Adviser are handed back).

I had a bit of a panic moment last week, when I sort of forgot what it was that I was saying about Fall of the Roman Empire that set my own interpretation apart from what’s come before, but I think I overcame that little struggle. If I maintain the focus of my chapter on the tensions that I am locating, and on the affect that such tensions seem intended to create, I think I can push the existing discourse in some new and interesting directions.

My Dissertation Days posts may be a bit more sporadic than normal this month, since I’ve basically got my head down trying to finish all of this. Still, I’m going to try to remain at least somewhat consistent, since it does help me keep to my writing schedule if I know that other people are also keeping tabs on me.

So, basically, we’re holding steady. Had some productive conversations with my Adviser about both the Dissertation and the job search, and I feel at least somewhat confident about both of those (as confident as one can be about the job market, anyway). I just have to make sure that I stay disciplined, and that I also learn the necessity (and value!) of pruning my very wordy prose, and I think I might actually have a career ahead of me.

This week is going to be a busy one, but I’m confident that I can meet the goals I’ve set for myself. It just takes a bit of determination.

So, onward we go. Much to be done, but it CAN be done.

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Dissertation Days (53): A New Day, A New Office

Well, I finally moved into my new office at the Humanities Center here at Syracuse, and I have to say: I LOVE IT. It’s really quite a nice space, and it makes me feel like a genuine academic.

In that spirit, I was able to get quite a lot of work done during the hours I was there today, including 1,000 good words of Chapter 4, some perusal of Chapter 3, and a submitted SCMS proposal. I also started (finally) working on a book chapter that needs revision.

Chapter 4 continues apace. I’m now at the point where my momentum keeps me moving forward. There are still a few gaps that will need filling, but I see no reason why I can’t have a draft of this to the Adviser by the end of September, if not sooner. I have to say, this chapter is coming along much more smoothly than the previous one, ad I’m not sure yet whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. Hopefully it just means that I’ve finally hit my stride and the whole project is finally starting to gel.

Sometime soon, I’m going to have to both get down to brass tacks in terms of revising Chapters 1 and 2 and start working on my Introduction and Conclusion. Now that I’ve got a firmer grasp on what Chapter 4 is doing, I think that sounds like a good idea. Some parts of Chapter 4 may get bumped into the Conclusion, but that remains to be seen (as it depends on how the rest of Chapter 4 shapes up).

I may not have a chance to get much done tomorrow, but I am going to come in to the office on Saturday to carve out a bit more writing. I also have a book chapter due Monday, and I have to make sure my job materials are in order. It’s gonna be a bit of a working weekend, but that’s okay. I’ve had enough fun time in the past couple of weeks. It’s time to really buckle down.

Today, in other words, is one of those days where I feel really good about life, about writing, and about my scholarship. I’m sure there will be some rough days ahead, but I have to remember my motivation. I want to finish, get a TT-job, and start building a life with my Beloved Aaron.

I can do this. I know I can.

Dissertation Days (52): How is it Almost September?

Well, here we are, at the very cusp of September. I’ve managed to get quite a lot of writing done this summer. This, despite traveling and whatnot. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the process I’ve undertaken, and I’m happy with all of the progress that I’ve made, both on Chapter 4 and in the Dissertation as a whole.

Today was a productive day. True to my word yesterday, I made an effort to get some of the historical context section done today. It was really productive, actually, and it has helped me to see where the gaps are in my logic. Again, I just don’t want to fall into the trap of disconnecting my historical context from the critical readings of the film that I provide.

I also saw the glimmerings of a way to connect the two contexts that I’m examining: the decline in religious faith and the crumbling of empire, both of which, I would suggest, structure the sensibilities of the later epics. That’s part of what I like about studying the epics of the 1960s; they are just so different in tone from their predecessors.

I also managed to scratch out some revisions on Chapter 1. Not quite as much as I would have liked, but still a good chunk. There aren’t really deep revisions that are needed (I don’t think), though there are some places where the writing could use some tightening. That will be one of the projects I’ll be undertaking next week.

The same applies for Chapter 2. Luckily, I’m also in the process of revising a segment of that chapter for the journal Material Religion, so that means that a lot of the revisions they asked for will probably make their way into the article as well (especially since they echoed the comments made by my committee). All in all, I feel pretty confident about those first two chapters, and they should be in final shape by the end of September.

Well, I’m back on the road again tomorrow and headed back to Syracuse. I hate to leave Aaron! That also means that I won’t be writing in the Diss again until Thursday, when I’ll be coming to you from my new office. Expect some great momentum once I have a dedicated space to work in.

The finish line is almost in sight! I have to keep that in mind as I move forward.

Dissertation Days (51): Good Days

Today was a good writing day. I managed to ingest just the right amount of caffeine, so I was ready and able to get going on the production of good writing. I really hit my stride, and I’m really happy with the way that the theory section is coming together.

I’m still a little concerned about the historical section. There’s still a bit of beefing up I need to do with that section, but I think I’ll be able to accomplish that in the next week or so. I really need to get that piece wrapped up soon, but I’m confident in my ability to do so.

Speaking of that context…I realized the other day that there was an important node of context that I had overlooked but which needs to be folded into the analysis. I’m a little worried that it might derail the discussion that has come so far, but I’m sure with a bit of determination I can make sure that the pieces all start to fit together in a way that makes sense and that lead naturally to the discussion I have on the films. That’s always been a weak spot, but at least I’ve gotten to the point where I can see it and (hopefully) effectively address it.

I really think I’m onto something with this discussion of spectacle and narrative and the relationship between them. I’ve always been a little frustrated by the way that people talk about spectacle, almost as if its’ one of those things that is just there and doesn’t need explanation, still less any kind of sustained analysis as a container of meaning. There has been some really interesting work done on this lately, though, so I’m very much looking forward to nuancing and developing that work to produce something compelling about the films I’m looking at.

So, tomorrow I’m going to keep on as I have been with Chapter 4. There’s still some way to go, but it’s definitely getting there. I feel more confident about this draft than I have any of the previous ones, so that’s definitely something. What’s more, I’ve been able to keep on track with this one in a way that I haven’t with any of the previous ones.

As I always say, any progress is good progress. I can do this. I just have to keep reminding myself of that central fact.

Onward!

Dissertation Days (50): Nothing Motivates Like a Deadline

Well, today wasn’t the best day writing that I’ve ever had, but I still managed to write over 1,000 words, most of which are ones that will make it into the submission version of the chapter. I also worked on my job letter (I didn’t get to revising Chapter 1, alas, but might get to a very little bit of that tomorrow).

I also broke my rule about writing in chronological order. I was just having as sluggish day today, and I just wasn’t feeling the historical context. As a result, I focused mainly on writing a bit of the theory and some of the close readings of Cleopatra. It wasn’t ideal, I know, and I really should get in the habit of writing things in a sequential order, but at least I was able to write material that I was happy with, so that is really the most important thing. Once I return to my office, though, I’m going to really focus on that.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to get much work done this weekend. I’m headed to DC again for a bit of relaxation, and I probably won’t get able to get a lot done until Monday. Still, I’m happy with my progress so far, and being on fellowship this year means that once I return to Syracuse I’ll be able to devote a pretty substantial part of every day to doing nothing but researching and writing.

Overall, though, I’m feeling pretty good about this chapter. Whereas before the clarity came in fits and starts, at this point it’s starting to be more consistent. What’s more, I actually feel pretty confident in the way that this chapter is working (which, you might recall, was rarely the case with Chapter 3). I don’t know that the argument here is as complicated as the one set out in that earlier chapter, so perhaps that is what has made it so much easier to write now that the block I early experienced has been dispensed with.

One last thing. How is it August already? How is it possible than an entire summer has already gone by? At least I can be content knowing that I managed to achieve quite a lot. The next few months, indeed the next year, are going to be quite hectic, but I suppose that’s for the best.

It’s definitely is true that nothing motivates like…a deadline.

 

Dissertation Days (48): I’m Tired of Thinking About Cute Titles

Today was an extraordinarily productive day. I was able to churn out 1,500 words of Chapter 4 (most of which was quite good, I think). I focused mainly on the historical context, though I wrote some introductory material for what will eventually be the theoretical section.

Overall, I think that the historical context is a strong section, perhaps the strongest and most cohesive that I’ve written since Chapter 2. I’m looking at the ways in which the postwar political order that was so desperate to attain a measure of stability was always thwarted by the tensions of the postwar period, whether it was the escalating conflict between the US and the Soviet Union or the growing independence movements with all of the violence that entailed.

As I move forward, I just have to make sure that I continue drawing explicit connections between the context I’m laying out and the readings of the films. This has been my Achilles’ Heel since I began this dissertation, but I would like to think that I have avoided it (or at least addressed it) with this chapter. That, however, very much remains to be seen.

I also continued my effort to make some commentary on Chapter 1. I’d prefer not to wait until the last minute to do that, even though I have to admit that it is my least favourite part of the whole dissertation-writing process. It’s quite remarkable, though, to see how very different this chapter is from the ones that followed it. I do think that I am onto something, but the writing is a bit clunky at spots, and I can see there are points where what I really mean isn’t expressed as clearly as it should be. Of course, I just have to remind myself that that is what revision is for, to gradually distill one’s ideas down until they emerge in their clearest and most coherent form.

Tomorrow, I’m going to continue making progress on Chapter 4, and I hope to make my way through 10 pages of Chapter 1 (and make the appropriate commentary). At the pace I’m currently keeping, I should have a draft of Chapter 4 ready by the middle of September (which is my very ambitious goal). I just have to stay focused.

I can feel the finish line growing closer and closer. I just have to remember that I can do this.

I got this.

Let’s go.

Dissertation Days (47): Back to Work I Go

Well, we returned back to work today. The Dissertation is coming along quite nicely, and I am actually confident that I can produce a workable, submittable draft by the middle of September. Not, mind you, that that will be the final version, but I want the Adviser to have seen all of the chapters in some form before I start sending out applications.

And, what’s more, I finally found that missing piece that’s been eluding me for so long. When I wrote this sentence, I knew that, at last, the pieces were sliding into place: “I then turn to each of the films, beginning with Cleopatra, moving to Fall, and ending with The Bible, showing how each can be understood as a form of melancholy utopia, mourning a world that might have been but can never be.”

It’s that last bit that I find to be the most useful, as it helps me to make clear that what I am working toward is an understanding of these films and their affective charge. I have to say, this is the clearest expression yet of the central claim that I’m setting out in this chapter, and that is an amazing feeling.

Tomorrow, I am going to work on setting out some of the important contextual material, particularly the (failed) promise of the United Nations and the increasing disintegration of the old imperial powers and the United States ascendancy. With a 1,000 word goal per day, I think I should be able to knock this section out of the park within the week. What’s more, I might even be able to move into the theory section. We’re picking up steam, folks!

As I’ve said before, I think I’m going to aim for 15K words on this chapter, possibly a bit more. I think that will be enough to do justice to the complexity of the argument. And besides, I really just want to get this thing out of the door as soon as possible.

The Adviser has suggested that I might do a Chapter 5, and…yeah. That’s not happening. Gotta get this shit done!

Also, I’ve been working on job materials, and they are coming along quite well. I am surprisingly excited about being on the job market. It’s a good feeling.

So, tomorrow is definitely going to be a tremendously productive day. I can feel it.

And I can do it.

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.