Dissertation Days (13): Breakthroughs

Somehow, it seems that revision and incremental writing seems to take so much more energy and time than producing new material. It’s one of the bitter ironies of writing a new chapter draft. As a result, it took me several hours to work my way through a mere few pages, but luckily I had some substantial breakthroughs.

This came about as I was finishing the section on queerness and communist subversiveness. It actually provided me with the final piece of the puzzle that I needed, so that I can finally make a compelling and (I hope) original point about the way in which Nero’s queerness in Quo Vadis works as an expression of the pleasure of terrifying history. There’s nothing like a bit of collective queer fantasy to encounter the ineffable nature of history, am I right?

Still, despite the fact that today was a bit of a slog, I made good progress today. The queer section is pretty much done in its broad contours, and the same is also true of the section on colour. A little more fine-tuning might be needed to make sure that that section is ready for submission, but overall I think it does the work that it needs to do.

Since this is a pretty large and complex chapter, I’ve found that I’ve had to use a bit more signposting than I usually do, just to make sure that the reader is able to follow my logic and understand why I’m including the evidence that I do. It does pad out the chapter, but I personally think it’s helpful to have those rhetorical bits when you’re dealing with a 40-50 page piece of academic writing.

I’m quite happy with the way that this day turned out, really. The queer section was a hot mess this morning, and now it feels like it actually works in the chapter as a whole. Not too bad, if I do say so myself. Now I don’t actually feel bad about not doing any work tomorrow.

Yes, you read that right. I am indeed taking off tomorrow. Then it’s back to work on Monday to finish up the close reading sections of both Samson and Delilah and David and Bathsheba. Once those two sections are done, the home stretch will finally be in sight. What a glorious feeling.

It’s going to be a great day. I can feel it.

Dissertation Days (12): No Rest for the Weary

Well, I have to break my habit of taking weekends to do creative writing (so no Novel Weekends this weekend, alas), in order to make sure that I continue the momentum with this chapter. I can still see the finish line in the distance, but if I don’t want to lose sight of it I have to keep moving.

I’ll be honest, though; it feels like this revision is eating up my entire life. Ugh. This is what happens when your first draft is a bit of a hot mess (even though it took like 8 months to write). Still, I just have to remember to be patient with myself. Sometimes, the more complex an idea is, the longer it takes to eloquently and coherently articulate it.

Today was a bit of a mixed bag. While I finished up a few sections, there are still that are a bit glaring in terms of their inconsistency. However, the section on female sexuality is almost complete (should be able to definitively finish it tomorrow), and I aim to also finish the section on sexuality and queerness as well. I might even (if I’m extraordinarily lucky and determined) make it most of the way through colour. I was particularly happy with the way that my discussion of fashion turned out today; hoping for more of that sort of breakthrough tomorrow.

Once again, I managed to trim out a few pieces of superfluous material, which I did through a combination of deletion and relegating things to footnotes. I’m well aware that most people don’t even read the damn things, but there are, I think, little tidbits and supplementary information that can’t necessarily be included in the main body of the text but that you want to see the light of day.

So, tomorrow is going to be a busy day. Sunday, alas, is a bit out of the running for work of any kind, though I might be able to squeeze a few pages of the close reading of Samson and Delilah. If not, I am definitely going to try to get both that section and the one on David and Bathsheba done on Monday.

The chapter is sitting at around 18k words, which is pretty long, but I am determined to keep this under 20k. Anything longer than that, and I fear that it is going to lose focus altogether.

But, onward.

And.

Onward.

Dissertation Days (11): Getting a Handle on Things…

Sometimes, when you’re writing a chapter, it can feel like the vast expanse of time stretches out before you, and you feel like you are never going to be able to get the beast whipped into shape.

That was how I felt a few days ago.

Now, however, after a particularly productive day of revision (despite the dismaying news about the healthcare vote), I feel better than ever about the direction that this chapter has taken. For the first time since I started writing it about a year ago, I feel like it has the coherence that it’s been lacking.

I managed to carve out a few more pieces of fat, condensing a few paragraphs that were a bit repetitive. The first section of context is almost fully fleshed-out. I should have that done by tomorrow at the latest, and I might even be able to get a second full section done as well. I’ve begun colour-coding the paragraphs that I think are in a final form (blue is my go-to for completed paragraphs), which seems oddly appropriate, given that this chapter is all about colour.

I also managed to slice out several of those nagging couplets that I keep writing about, and I’ve also begun to address one of my other pernicious writing ticks: my reliance upon a repetitive way of introducing quotes. I tend to rely far too much on quotes to begin with, and I tend to almost always introduce them with “As so and so argues…” I’ve not only begun to cut down on quotes, but I’m making a self-conscious effort to find new ways of introducing and integrating them into my writing.

I’ve now been working on this revision for about a month, and it makes me feel so much better to finally have a handle on things. I know that this version might also need some substantial revision, but I’m proud that I was able to turn it around in such a short time. If I keep working through the weekend, I should be on track to get this version submitted by May 15 (or May 20).

There is still much to do, but once this version of Chapter 3 is sent in, I can finally turn my full attention to Chapter 4. It’s possible I can have that done by August. It’s a more conceptually limited chapter, so we shall see.

I can do this.

Dissertation Days (10): Bits and Pieces

Well, friends, I wasn’t quite as productive as I should have been. It was a busy day of meetings and such, and that prevented me from working on what I had intended to. I just need to remind myself that it’s okay if I don’t meet my goal every single day. Sometimes, it’s not going to be possible for one reason or another, what with grading, editorial stuff, and just general life.

However, I did manage to chip away at a few paragraphs that were giving me a particularly large amount of trouble. I even managed to craft this sentence about the visual contrast between the Philistines and the Danites: “The color scheme, bifurcated as it is along lines of power and prostration, registers the essential brutality of history.” This, in fact, helped me to clarify some of the issues that I’ve been struggling with, and I think it actually may end up being the linchpin for the whole chapter. As I go on to discuss in the rest of the chapter, the spectacle of color provides an immediate experience of the violence of erotic history.

Also, while I’m thinking of it, I also managed to weed out several of my “couplets.” I have this nasty habit of pairing up two nouns (or two adjectives) to round out a sentence. For example, I almost wrote “the violence of the erotic and of history” above but changed it. I don’t know whyI have this habit, but I’m working on breaking it.

I also managed to revise several of the paragraphs associated with my close reading of Samson and Delilah, so that actually felt good. That particular reading is beginning to cohere nicely, and I hope to have it done by early next week (though that means I might have to work during part of the weekend).

There might be a little bit of productivity left in me tonight, but I honestly rather doubt it. However, I do feel like I can get at least 10 pages revised tomorrow, as well as my customary 500 words of Chapter 4. If I’m really lucky, I might even make it entirely through my historical context section. Wouldn’t that be something?

I have to get a lot done in the next couple of days, before the travel-heavy May and June begin.

Sigh. There is, as they say, no rest for the weary.

So, on to another day.

Dissertation Days (9): Rough Days…

Sometimes, you have a day of writing where nothing goes quite as you want, and you spend hours just sort of agonizing over a few pages, or even a few paragraphs. Hell, even a single paragraph. You flick between different tabs and screens, hoping that the caffeine will kick in and you’ll buzz right through your revisions, carving out something intelligible and witty and dazzling and incisive.

Well, that didn’t happen today.

But then again, perhaps I’m not giving myself enough credit. I did make it through almost 8 pages of the draft I have right now, and I chipped out some bits of fluff, tightened up the language in the intro paragraphs. I also came up with a one-sentence distillation of what this whole damn chapter is about: “History thus becomes [in these films] a pleasurable experience of the destructive power of female and queer male desire, an escape from the tyranny of time and hetero-reproductive historical responsibility.”

It’s still rather buried in a paragraph of other context and theorizing, but that’s the basic message. And it really does convey what I’m hoping to do with this chapter, i.e. make us take seriously the question of sexual desire as a problem for the experience and representation of history, rather than just a sneaky means by which canny directors circumvented the Production Code (though it is that too, of course).

I also managed to eke out 500 words of the fourth chapter, which I think is slowly cohering into something vaguely resembling an argument. I’m going to have to do a little more reading to make sure that all of my ideas fit together, and that I somehow manage to make a convincing argument about the nature of imperialism in the epic that isn’t just warmed-over from what someone else has already written (you’d be surprised how easy that is to do, or to at least perceive that you’re doing it).

I’m honestly not sure how much I’m going to be able to get done tomorrow. Hopefully, I can at least make sure that 5 more pages are in shape that’s ready to go, and that might be about it. Still, at this stage that’s pretty good. I have already made plans to get some good work done on both Thursday and Friday, so there is hope that I can get this done by the end of the month (if not sooner).

Onward!

TV Review: “Feud”–“Abandoned!”

I’m running a bit late with the reviews of FX’s Feud, so in the interest of giving the finale the appreciation it deserves, I’ll have to make this one a bit abbreviated.

I thought this episode, as a whole, was a fitting lead-up to the finale, in that we see the toll that this whole set of affairs has begun to take on both women. Joan falls deeper into a form of self-pity that eventually becomes destructive, while Bette has to contend with the fact that her daughter has begun to see her as truly the worst sort of mother.

Lange is one of those truly extraordinary actresses who can combine, in one scene, a mixture of vulnerability and strength. Whether that is how the real Joan Crawford would have acted is for me somewhat beside the point. When she confronts Bette after being left behind during filming, one can sense in Lange’s performance that powerful sense that she has endured so much at the hands of a system that really couldn’t care less about her. However, her great strength is also her greatest weakness, for she is prone to seeing sinister motivations, even where none exist. And as the last scene reveals–in which Joan is left screaming in a hospital room, abandoned by both the film studio and by Mamacita–Joan winds up being the worst victim of her own machinations.

The bitter irony of the entire ugly affair, of course, is that each actress possesses the thing that the other desires most. Bette has all of the acting power, the acknowledgment from all of her peers and from the establishment that she is one of the greatest craftspeople to grace the screen. Joan, however, is already acknowledged as the more powerful star and the greater beauty. Each, in a tense exchange, recognizes a piece of herself in the other, and they also acknowledge, in their gestures and their performance, the enormous weight of Hollywood history that weighs on them and on their present relationship. They are both victims of the system, and the real tragedy is that they don’t really have a meaningful way of communicating that to one another.

On a bit of a random note, I’m still not quite sure what to make of B.D. I can’t tell if I’m annoyed by her because the actress is terrible (which I think might be true), or is it a reflection of the fact that the real B.D. was also pretty awful? Maybe, on reflection, it’s a bit of Column A and a bit of Column B. It might even be the unique combination of the two that makes her such an utterly unappealing and insufferable character. However, it’s also worth pointing out that she has a lot to complain about. True, we’re meant to identify with and align ourselves with Bette, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that she really is something of a tyrant–even if she is a benevolent one–to her daughter.

I want to close out with a brief discussion of the best line of the episode (and possibly the series): When Olivia is asked by the interviewer whether she felt that she had ended Joan’s career by taking her place on Charlotte, she responds that no, “Time did that. All on its own.” Wow. If ever a line will go down in the annals of bitchy invective infamy, it will be this one. It comes out of the mouth of Olivia, of course, who has her own subtextual feud with her sister Joan Fontaine. Despite its venom, there is a note of truth to it, one that Olivia was also in a position to recognize in the 1970s.

For all of its flaws, Feud does make clear that time, inexorable, destructive, crushing, is truly the enemy of us all.

Dissertation Days (8): How Do You Turn This Thing Off?

I have this nasty habit. Whenever I feel like something remains undone in my work for the day–a finer theoretical point left un-nuanced, a part of my basic thesis still resisting absolute clarity, a paragraph left ashambles–I can’t stop thinking about it, even after I finish my writing goals for the day.

That’s the case tonight. I made some headway today, both in new material and in revision of what’s already there. Still, my introductory paragraphs, where I set out my essential argument and discuss how I’m going to demonstrate it, don’t quite come together yet. They’re closer than they have been, but there’s still some refining that needs done if they’re going to hold up (and hold the rest of the chapter together).

It stresses me out, I’ll admit, that I still haven’t gotten them where I want them to be. I muse and mull over the essentials until I feel like one more moment of thinking and the whole thing will fall apart (which it does, at least in my mind). Still, I console myself with the knowledge that this whole process is basically like distilling, until you get the perfect product that you want, the finest and purest articulation of your argument. It’s the getting there that’s the hard part.

Still, I am making progress, there is forward movement, it’s just sometimes difficult to see that when you’re in the midst of the process to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaking of progress. I managed to write 500 words of Chapter 4 today, and I think this will actually be a draft that I can submit sometime toward the end of this summer. My goal is to have basically all chapters drafted by the beginning of the fall semester. It’s really the only way that I feel like I am realistically going to be able to defend in the Spring.

Tomorrow, I am going to continue revising, with minimal composition. In fact, I don’t think I’m going to set a specific word goal. I’m getting to that point in the draft where there is a lot of material, and I need to make some tough choices about what I need to keep. So, that’s the goal for tomorrow. At the end of the day, five pages, FIVE, should be in something close to submittable shape.

Let’s do this.

Novel Weekends (2): Looking Backward and Forward

Well, I met my word goal for today, so that’s good. Started a chapter that I think is going to be somewhere close to the end, when basically all of the characters have had their ambitions thwarted in one way or another. It’s a pretty dark moment that I’m portraying here, since I’m attempting in this work to convey a sense of what it might feel like to live in a moment, a fleeting period of time, when the entire fabric of the world order unravels right before your eyes (sound familiar?)

The prose is still a bit clunky, though I do think that the more I write and the more I focus, the better and more natural it sounds. I’m revisiting the Prologue that I wrote some time ago and…it could use some work stylistically. I like what it’s doing, but I really need to make sure that the prose is more polished.

I also tend to be a bit heavy on the dialogue, but I think I’ve broken that up in this chapter from today. There’s a lot of action, since it entails a coup and the breaking down of old orders, as well as the feeling of desperation one gets when the tide abruptly turns against you. It’s one of those feelings of utter terror, when you know, you just know, that things have slipped, irreparably, beyond your ability to control. That’s what I’m trying to convey in this chapter, as well as how you cope with the aftermath of such a defeat.

Overall, I like how the novel is coming along. Its conception seems strong, but I need to continue working on its execution. That’s always the hardest part, regardless of what I’m writing.

But, I know I can do it.

I am determined.

Novel Weekends (1): Piece by Piece

Because I have found it so useful to talk about my Dissertation process daily, I’ve decided to do the same thing on the weekends, when I work on my Novel. Except this time I’m limiting myself to 300 words. Brevity and concision are virtues I have to work on.

In sum, the book is essentially a fantasized version of the war that brought about the end of the Sassanid Empire and the prostration of the Byzantine Empire before the Arab/Muslim onslaught. It’s precipitated by the discovery of a palimpsest containing a heretical tract, which ignites a long-simmering war between the two great imperial powers of this world, the Imperium and Haranshar, with the tribes of Korray stuck in the middle. There’s also a cosmic element, with an entity called the Demiurge attempting to forge a new faith among his mortal adherents and gain a new place in the material world.

It started as a NaNoWriMo project, but has been developing since then. I have an outline, and several chapters are almost done (though they’re patchy in places).

I managed to meet my Saturday goal of 2500 words today, mostly in a new chapter focused on my queer character Anastasios, along with his ally/enemy Eulicia and the scheming Count Pepin. The chapter is probably about half done, and it does some stuff to move the plot along, so we’ll see how it fits into the whole shortly.

Ultimately, I hope to be done with it by this point next year, and hopefully start querying an agent by next summer. If I can average 5K a weekend, with a final goal of 120K (standard for an epic, so I’ve heard), I can basically get a very rough version done in 6 months.

So, today was good, and tomorrow will be even better.

Dissertation Days (7): Free At Last (For the Weekend)

Given that I’m utterly exhausted this evening, I doubt I’ll say much.

I did, however, meet my word goal for today. It was a modest 1,000 words, but I’m happy to say that I have almost finished the contextual and theoretical sections. What’s more, I don’t think I’ll have to do a lot of editing/revising to get those 1K I wrote today in submittable shape. I say that now, but who knows what I’ll think when I look at them again.

finally found a way of making a reference to the fact that statues from antiquity always appear to us as blank white marble rather than in the garish colours they once appeared in. I do think it says something about how we understand our cultural heritage that we quite literally project whiteness and all of its connotations onto everything. Which, to my mind, makes it all the more extraordinary that the epics of the postwar period were so consistently shown in lurid Technicolor (or a related process).

I did some drawing in some stuff from this absolutely batshit book called Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, from 1947. If you ever want to get a glimpse of what nutjobbery women of the postwar period had to put up with, look no further than this book. Seriously. Check it out sometime.

I’ll be taking the weekend off of Dissertation writing, so don’t expect any updates until Monday. I make a firm point of giving myself the weekend to work on other projects, i.e. my novel, non-writing related blog posts, watching films, taking hikes, etc. It keeps me sane (no small task, I assure you).

When I return, though, I really am going to start working on Chapter 4 again. I promise. I really want to feel like I’m making progress on that front again. I think it’s going to be a chapter about…something about imperialism, utopian narratives and spectacle, and the impossibility of political stability. I’ve already written a ton of stuff; I just need to get it into something coherent and cohesive.

When I get back to work on Monday, I also need to start moving into the direction of submission. I’m aiming for mid-May (end of May at the absolute latest), which I think is doable. I just have to stay focused.

Stay focused.

It’s one of the hardest things to do, but…I can do this.

I have to.