Dissertation Days (35): Out, Out, Damn Chapter!

I know I keep saying this, but I think I mean it this time. It looks like Chapter 3 will be sent off tomorrow. I’m finishing a few last-minute things–mostly footnotes and bibliographic entries that eluded me–but I’m so damn close! If I can just push myself over the finish line, and if I can just get this sent in tomorrow, I will feel soooo much better. Then I can take a day to catch my breath and then dive full-on into Chapter 4.

I am very happy to report that that Chapter is really coming along. I’m coming to that part in the process where I’m starting to get into the weeds, drilling down into the details that I really need to make it click. Today, I worked mainly on the section of the chapter dealing with The Bible. For some reason, I really find myself drawn to this film.

Luckily (or perhaps unluckily, depending on how you look at it), there is really only one chapter of a book that I’ve been able to find that discusses it at length. This has caused me to lean rather heavily on that one chapter, which is something of a handicap. On the other hand, it allows me to really negotiate and engage with another scholar’s ideas in great detail, something I haven’t really been able to do.

I also started a new book for research, this one devoted to the icon of Mark Antony. While this particular character is only tangential to my argument, I hope to find a few nuggets in the volume that will help me talk about the politics of the 1963 Cleopatra, particularly the way that it deals with politics, imperial stability, and imperial fall and decline. I hope to have that one finished in the next week or so, and then it’s on to another book that provides some context on the politics of containment.

I’m really hoping that Chapter 4 starts to come along a bit faster. I’ve been making steady progress, but I really want to pick up the pace. I tend to get mired down in chapters if I don’t get them done quickly, so I’m hoping to avoid that. Of course, a lot of that hinges on Chapter 3 and its reception, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Tomorrow may not see a Dissertation Days update, but Friday will be back at it.

Forward, friends. Forward.

Dissertation Days (34): A Glimmer of Light

Well, Chapter 3 is set to be delivered to the adviser on Thursday. I will breathe an enormous sigh of relief once that is finally done. It will feel good just to have it out of my hands. I’m much more confident in this version of the chapter than its previous iterations, so at least there’s that. Now whether it gets approved is another question entirely…

Chapter 4 was in a surprisingly cooperative mood today. I actually spent the entire day working on the section of the chapter dealing with The Bible: In the Beginning. The film has, unfortunately, been largely ignored by both scholars of Huston and biblical film scholars, in large part, I think, because it’s sort of the bastard child for both fields. So, hopefully part of my goal in this chapter is doing justice to a film that has largely been ignored.

I actually managed to produce several paragraphs that I am rather happy with, as they really helped to clarify not only what I think about this film but also how this close reading fits in with both the other readings that I’ve done and with the argument of the chapter as a whole. Still, I’m hopeful.

To that end, I managed to finish 1,000 words in that chapter. At this point, I think I am almost halfway done with this. And, having finished yet another book on research, I do think that the pieces are at last starting to come together. For anyone who has been following this blog, that’s quite the accomplishment. Given these recent breakthroughs, I’m pretty sure that I can get a version of this chapter to the adviser’s desk by the end of August. That might be a bit ambitious, but I do think it’s doable. After all, I do have to keep in mind that this is the year I’m going to finish the diss. Even if it isn’t perfect, there’s no reason that I can’ still defend in the spring.

Tomorrow may not be the most productive day, as I have to get some work done on my car, but I hope to put the final polish on Chapter 3 and maybe even write a bit in Chapter 4. I’ve also begun reading a new volume for research that I hope will add some new layers to the discussion of Cleopatra. We’ll see if I can get that finished by next week.

Onward!

Novel Weekends (3): Back At It

This was an eventful weekend for the Novel. I wrote a total of 5,000 words, mostly concentrated on three chapters. I also managed to revise part of the Prologue into what I think will be its final form. What’s more, I did some revision on a short story/novelette that’s set after the first novel but before the second. Not too shabby!

I also (you may have noticed) published a short essay on the history of the Church in this world, and I began another short essay on a history of the Imperium. Further, I have several more planned. So keep looking for those!

Given my own interests in history–and on using my novel to explore questions related to history–I also started reading a new book on the connected nature of the ancient world. A great deal of both the world-building I’ve done and the plot arc I have designed has been heavily influenced by the work of historian Tom Holland (in particular his book In the Shadow of the Sword), but I have a feeling this new book will also have a large impact.

As I wrote this weekend, I found myself oddly drawn to one of my secondary characters, a Korrayin named Ibrahim. I know that he is going to be a founder of a new faith, but I wasn’t aware that he would play such a big role in this novel. But then, that’s one of the most exciting things about writing; frequently, the most interesting things are the ones that you find by accident.

This week, I fear, will be a bit sparse on the novel. I have to submit a dissertation chapter this week, so that will suck up a lot of energy. Rest assured, though, that I’ll be right back at it next weekend.

Until then!

World Building (1): A Brief History of The Faith, the One True Church, and Heresy

To keep myself accountable on my novel (which I’m determined to finish this year), I thought I’d spend some time writing short pieces fleshing out the world, giving potential readers (who have the patience to stick with me), a glimmer of what kind of world my characters inhabit. For me as a reader, one of the things I always most enjoy when reading an epic fantasy are those parts that fill in the history of the secondary world. Since I’m assuming that there are others that share that pleasure, I aim to provide some of that detail, saving most of the plot details for other posts.

Around 2,000 years before the start of our story, the entire continent was under the aegis of the mighty empire of Haranshar. Since its founding back in the mists of time and myth, however, the empire had always been roughly split into three administrative districts. The core was Haran, wherein were located the capital of the empire as a whole as well as its chief religious sites. These were ruled over and administered by the magi, the priests of the Faith of the Flames. The lands of Korray, the mountainous region separating east and west, were a patchwork of constantly shifting alliances, with various heretical faces emerging at different periods. It was in the West, though, in the most nebulously-controlled territories, that politics and religion both came to take on increasingly rebellious tones.

While the Faith of the Flames had always been the predominant faith in the lands directly under the rule of the Shahs, such had not been the case with the patchwork of kingdoms known as Korray (who remained stubbornly tribal) as well as the western half of the continent. The vastly different administrations in these parts of Haranshar ensured that they had their own ways of doing things that often didn’t take the East into consideration at all.

The mystics who would later dub themselves the Prefects of the One True Church were, at first, relatively minor figures, hardly worth the attention of the provincial governors. Gradually, however, they began to increase their power, and they swayed many of the western nobles to their cause. As nobles have throughout history, these men and women saw in this nascent the opportunity to strike a blow at the overbearing administrative state that was a bane to their independence. As a result, they drew the mystics to them and, together, they began to forge a full-fledged revolution.

It was not long before the mystics renamed themselves Prefects, and the thirteen most powerful of them formed the core of the leadership of the new Church (or “the Faith,” as they termed it). Meanwhile, the nobles elected one of their own to reign as Imperator, a figure that would serve as a counterweight to the political might of the Shah and his nobles. The revolt was quickly far more successful, and the western provinces soon achieved full independence, while the lands of Korray remained as a buffer zone, independent of either the Imperium or Haranshar.

However, shortly after the self-described Faithful split away from the Haranshar and declared themselves part of the independent Imperium, the new faith was riven by a number of conflicts. As is almost always the case with new faiths that arise in times of conflict, once the initial breaking is done, it is hard to stop further schisms from occurring. Such was certainly the case with the movement that became known as the Arkadian Heresy.

The man who would become known to his acolytes as the Blessed Ascendant was, to all appearances, a rather unremarkable creature, certainly not the type that one would imagine starting a religious faith that would continue on in his name for a millennium and a half.

The Ascendant preached that the body was not to be transcended but instead embraced, that it was through the sacred nature of the corporeal form that one could actually attain union with the transcendent, spiritual Name. To those who had come to believe that all of the created world was hopelessly befouled, that the Demiurge, the demented spirit of creation was to be spurned and fought against, this was the worst sort of blasphemy. His words found a great deal of popularity with the poor and the downtrodden, who saw in his emphasis on the pleasures of the world a solace in their drudgery.

However, the majority of those who subscribed to the fledgeling Faith denounced the Ascendant and put him to death. He was flayed alive and thrown to the wild beasts, a truly gruesome and terrifying fate, suitable only for the basest of criminals. To the political and religious leaders of his time, however, this was only fitting, as he had dared to pose a challenge to everything they held dear.

Chief among his supporters was the man known as Arkadius, who continued to preach the word of his master throughout the Imperium. It was only when the first Imperator Yishadra and her consort Herklaios turned the full force of the state on the apostle that he was at last done away with, flayed as his master had been. Yet Arkadius had followers, and they managed to secret away some of his most cherished writings, those that spoke of the Blessed Ascendant, that described how his body had been saved from the ravages that had been visited on it so that he did indeed find transcendence and union with the Name.

Since that time, the Prefects of the Church and the Imperator have worked together to ensure that the heresies of the past do not reawaken and weaken the Imperium from within. While this has sometimes necessitated brutal and violent repression, they have undertaken these only with the gravest misgivings and with the full knowledge that what they do is in the service of the greater good. Anyone, no matter how high or low their estate, may be sacrificed on the altar of stability.

Unbeknownst to them, however, there are still many, both in the remaining lands belonging to Haranshar and in the Imperium, who would like nothing more than to see the Arkadian Heresy become the dominant faith, and who will do everything in their power to ensure that such a future comes to pass. For them, the stakes are high. The very world itself might be at stake, as they are all soon to discover.

Dissertation Days (31): Work, Work, Work

Overall, I think this was a better work day than yesterday. I actually managed to go beyond my 1,000 word goal for Chapter 4, and my re-reading of Chapter 3 made me feel like it’s not total dreck after all. Of course, that could be the caffeine talking, but I do like to think that this draft shows significant improvement from its predecessor.

If I have one complaint about Chapter 3, it’s that I think it’s still a bit bloated. If my adviser suggests it, I think that I will take out about 10 pages of excess, both in the context and close readings sections. It’ll work for right now, but there’s no question that the project as a whole can be a bit leaner. There is, though, a certain appropriateness to having a chapter about epics be too long. However, I’m not sure that my adviser, or my committee as a whole, will view it in the same light. There is something to be said, after all, for concision.

Chapter 4 is still coming apace. I felt better about the material I produced today than I did yesterday, both in the section about Cleopatra and about Fall of the Roman Empire. I still can’t quite shake the feeling that this will be the least dynamic and original of my chapters, but I suppose that’s an acceptable thing.

I am also not entirely sure how I’m going to fit my discussion of John Huston’s The Bible in there, though there are moments when I see how it fits. If I have to, I may eventually end up moving it to some sort of conclusion, but for the moment I’m going to keep it where it is and continue to hope that its connection to the other parts of the chapter becomes clearer as I go along.

Tomorrow, I am going to start my final read-through of Chapter 3, focusing on smoothing out any remaining rough edges, as well as making sure that the bibliography I have is the updated one (especially since I deleted some entries for this revision). I’ll also have to make sure that I fill out some of the footnotes that are still missing information.

Furthermore, I think I will only write 500 words of Chapter 4 tomorrow. I really want to get Chapter 3 knocked out ASAP, so I’m afraid that has to be my priority.

Onward and upward, as I always say. Onward and upward.

Dissertation Days (30): Hmmm…

Well, today was a productive day, at least in terms of what I was able to get done. I did feel a bit of discouragement emotionally and mentally, but powered by coffee I managed to power through. I’ve learned that you really can’t let those types of days get you down in any sort of systemic way, or else you’ll never be able to muster the energy to get done what needs done.

I really am reaching that point, particularly with Chapter 3, where I feel like the whole edifice stands on the edge of a knife. Part of me feels like it could use an extra round of revision, and possibly even another draft, but another, stronger part realizes that that would probably do more harm than good. It really is time to simply let it go for now, send it to the adviser and patiently (if anxiously) await his feedback. It’s the hardest part of the process, but it has to be done.

I’m still having a bit of trouble with Chapter 4, and I think that stems from the fact that I’m still in that composition stage where I’m really just trying to get words on the page. I think that there some islands of intelligibility in the mass of prose, but it will take some chiseling to get them into shape. I think that will actually be one of my areas of focus next week (after I submit Chapter 3). Once Chapter 3 is done, I also plan on beefing up my daily word goal. It’s currently 1,000 words, but I’m hoping to be able to churn out 1,500 once I really get my groove going.

I’m also going to have rewatch at least one of the films I’m writing about this weekend. I’m thinking I might do Cleopatra, so I can hopefully get that close reading section pretty thoroughly done by the end of next week. I’m also hoping to finish the book I’ve been reading about the icon of Cleopatra, and then I have to do some more primary research.

There’s a lot of work to be done yet, but I know I can do this. I just need to keep on reminding myself of how much progress I’ve made, and how good it will feel when all of this work pays off.

As always, thanks for reading and liking my posts. It gives me inspiration to continue on!

Novel Thoughts: A Brief Synopsis

So, as some of you know, I’ve been posting for a while about my Novel. However, you probably don’t actually know what it’s about. Hopefully, your interest will be piqued enough that you will want to take a look at it in that far day when I actually finish it and hopefully see it shepherded into print.

The basic plot is this. The cleric Theadra inadvertently discovers a palimpsest that contains one of the heretical gospels that were burned and obliterated during the early days of the monolithic Church. This cannot be tolerated, and her superiors in the Church, including her erstwhile mentor Prefect Antonius and his rival Prefect Eulicia. The latter, having gained permission from the Imperator Talinissia, hires assassins to kill the young woman before the taint of heresy can spread.

Fortunately, Theadra is rescued by the woman known as the Huntress, a half-human/half-Fae youth whose real name is revealed to be Rowena. Together, they flee into the lands of Korray, and after they are captured by a sequence of chieftains, they gradually become lovers, each finding in the other the emotional fulffilment they have long sought.

Theadra’s flight threatens to reignite a long-simmering conflict between the Imperium and Haranshar, the two great powers that occupy the continent. When she flees into the the lands of the Korrayin–who for centuries have served as proxies in the wars between the Imperium and Haranshar–she disturbs the fragile balance that has been the status quo. Soon, the various chieftains, including the Poison King Ibrahim, begin feuding in an attempt to gain custody of her.

In Haranshar, the dubir Osroës, scion of one of a disgraced noble house, serves as the chief minister to the Shah. When word reaches him of the heretic’s flight, he sees in this an opportunity to at last bring the Imperium to its knees. He has long been fostering the Church of the East in the hopes that they would be able to challenge the hegemony of the Church of the West, even as many of his fellow nobles despise them as apostates from the Faith of the Flames. With the Shah’s backing, he sends a group of soldiers to collect Theadra.

In doing so, however, he ignites the flames of war, and the cold war soon ignites into a hot one, and the lands of Korray are engulfed.

This conflict gradually widens until it consumes the Imperator Talinissia, her counselor the Prefect Eulicia, and everyone else. The conniving and belligerent Duke Childerick, aided by his wily aide Count Pepin, manage to leverage their success on the Killing Fields of Korray to a popular uprising against the Imperator who, faced with the will of her people, is forced to resign in favour of her cousin the Duke. Anastatius, along with his lover Trystane, also flee into exile.

The second part of the book follows the fortunes of war and those whose lives are affected. Eulicia, now ensnared and in service to the new Imperator Childerick, helps Talinissia escape imprisonment, hopefully to find sanctuary with the Fae and possibly reclaim her throne. Osroës and the Shah, each working on their own designs, manipulate Theadra into taking up the crown of the Episkopa of the Church of the East, an elevation that strains her relationship with Rowena, who eventually leaves her.

Meanwhile, the Alchemists at the Academy reveal to Childerick that they have recovered the lost Art of Binding from a captured Korrayin and that, using an athame made from the blood iron found in Korray, they can bind the spirits of the daimons–entities of fire and air–into the bodies of human beings and thus forge a powerful weapon.

This radically changes the course of the war, but I won’t go into too much more detail. I have to leave some surprises, right?

At a larger cosmic level, the entity known as the Demiurge, long banished from the material world, yearns to return an reclaim his hegemony. He also seeks to bring together the many worlds that were shattered during the conflagration that erupted between the Name (the male and female godhead) and the Demiurge. To do so, he employs men and women known as Strangers, one of whom wanders this world manipulating those who are in power, hoping to bring the old systems and institutions crashing down into ruin, thus setting the stage for the bringing together of the shattered worlds into a terrible and primal unity.

That’s basic idea of the project. I really want to engage with the larger philosophical questions that motivate the best fantasy. How do people make sense of their historical worlds? How does the body impact one’s ability to move into another realm? Are those who are defeated really the villains that history–and often religion–makes them out to be? How do great powers that bestride the world like colossi come crashing down into ruin? How does love in all its forms–agape, eros, etc.–influence people and even gods to do things that might prove dangerous and destructive, both to themselves and others? Is there, in the final analysis, such a thing as true evil?

Of course, I’m also drawing on some historical parallels, both recent and ancient. In particular, the Imperium and Haranshar are based on the Byzantine/Late Roman Empire and Sasasnian Persia, respectively. However, to be quite upfront, this project was influenced by the 2016 elections, too, so take that for what it’s worth. Note that I’m not intending to write an allegory, but instead a reflection on what it means to live in perilous times.

More details of the project will come as I make my way through the chapters that I’ve already written. The broad strokes of the book are laid out (thank you NaNoWriMo!), and I am pretty happy with it. I envision the project a whole as a a tetralogy but, given how other fantasy epics have worked out, I’m hesitant to make those kinds of limitations.

Stay tuned for more updates as I continue working on it. Though my dissertation must always occupy the front burner, that doesn’t mean that I’m not also going to give my novel the attention that it deserves.

Dissertation Days (29): Good Feelings (Mostly)

Today was a very good day indeed in terms of revision and writing. Though I am rapidly approaching the point in Chapter 3 where I’m not hugely fond of my work, a part of my brain still recognizes that the chapter as a whole is much stronger than its earlier iterations. However, I also know that it’s just about time to get it submitted, before I pull one thread too many and the whole piece falls apart.

That being said, I like how the close reading sections have turned out. There are a few blips here and there, with both conceptual issues and prose, but those (I think) can be safely pushed off to a further round of revision after the adviser sees it. I think that the whole thing is hanging together pretty well, but I fear I’m becoming so enmeshed in the midst of it that it’s a bit hard at this moment to see it with an unjaundiced eye.

Chapter 4 is also in a strong position, stronger in fact than at an any other point. Part of this is due to the book I’m currently reading about Cleopatra’s iconography that has really helped to add some contextual heft to my analysis. Fortunately, there isn’t a huge amount of work on the 1963 film that takes it seriously as an engagement with history, so I think that will probably be the strongest part of the chapter.

At some point soon, I am going to have to go back to Chapters 1 and 2 and undertake some of the outstanding revisions there. I don’t think that will take that long, necessarily, but I’d like to knock it out before it gets too much later in the summer. After all, while I have several months left to finish it, I know full well they are going to speed by much faster than I’d like. But, such is the nature of the world alas.

Tomorrow, it’s more work on Chapter 3. I am hoping to finish that by the end of the week, let it rest over the weekend, then submit early next week. Chapter 4 will require 1,000 words tomorrow. I’m hoping to get all of that done early in the day, but we’ll see how that turns out.

There’s much yet to be done, but I feel good about my progress. If only that damned Chapter 3 will get approved…

Wish me luck, friends!

 

Dissertation Days (28): Chipping Away

Today was a remarkably productive day, considering the fact that I just got back from traveling and that I had to take Beast for a vet visit. I managed to chip away at Chapter 3, getting rid of some extraneous sentences and other bits of fluff that were clogging up the works. I am still not as happy with the prose as I would like to be at this stage, but I’m also realistic enough to know that at some point you just have to move on. As one of my committee members always says, the best dissertation is a finished one.

Fortunately, I’ve been in an editing frame of mind lately–thanks to an editorial project I’m still interning for–so that has really helped to hone my instincts in terms of chopping out bits of Chapter 3 that aren’t necessary and finessing some of the clunkier bits of prose. Despite the challenges, it actually feels good to be at the point where taking stuff out is actually a good thing rather than an absolute pain.

Chapter 4 is also coming along much better than I had expected it would, given that I have a few key concepts that are forming the core of the chapter. The historical gaze has actually proven to be more central than I had realized, and it fits in pretty seamlessly with my dissertation’s emphasis on the unknowable and inexorable power of history. I’m still fleshing out the links between the various parts of the chapter and how they work together, but today for the first time it felt like I was really making some genuine progress.

To that end, I focused most of my writing energies today on the close reading portions. I’ll get back to the historical context soon, and I still have to figure out how exactly I’m going to work in a theoretical context, but it’ll get there.

Tomorrow, I need to make sure that I stay a little more focused than I did today. I sort of was writing all over the place, but I want to start writing enough in each section that it begins to fill out. That way, I’ll have a stronger sense of how each part will look when it’s fully developed. Now that it’s the final draft (hopefully), it’s time to get really serious about this.

Onward and upward friends. As the lady says, tomorrow is another day.

Dissertation Days (27): Progress?

Today was a very successful day when it comes to Chapter 4. I met the goal of writing 1,000 words again! I am really excited about the historical context section. There’s something really compelling about the late 1950s and early 1960s, given that they marked the ultimate nadir of colonial and imperial ambitions, and I really think that there is a profound imperial anxiety in the films produced in this period.

I do want to avoid doing an allegorical reading of these films. While I think that’s one useful way of thinking about them, ultimately I’m more interested in how these films engage with the question of imperial history and the telescoping of temporality. It’s a rather complex and slippery set of concepts, and all the reading I’ve been doing has really helped to clarify what I’m aiming for in this chapter. There’s a long way to go, but I know I can do it.

Still, there’s no question that this is the most difficult chapter that I’ve written so far. I’ve known from the beginning that it’s the most challenging one. In larger part it’s because it’s actually a vestigial reminder of an earlier arrangement of the dissertation, one that I’ve still managed to incorporate into the revamped version. However, it’s precisely the fact that this chapter is such a strange beast that it’s taking so long to carve into some measure of intelligibility.

Despite all of that, I’m pretty proud of the progress that I’ve made over this last year. This time last year I had just submitted Chapter 2, and now I have at least some version of Chapters 3 and 4 done. It’s not as far along as I might like, but it’s still good progress.

I fear that I didn’t get as much done on Chapter 3, and I only made it through it through a few pages of actual revision. Nevertheless, as I make my way through it, I have to say that I’m pretty happy with how it ended up conceptually. It’s probably still a little rough around the edges, and I’m sure that it will need a bit more revision before it’s truly ready.

The next couple of days will probably be a little less productive. I’m headed back to Syracuse on Sunday, so I’m spending tomorrow with the BF before headed northward. Once I get back, though, I’ll be submitting Chapter 3!

I can do this.

Onward!