Unmoored

February 17, 2009

The inevitable mid-winter sketchbaggery of grad student life has hit me.  No teaching, just the diss.  No money, no office, just the same four rooms.  Wind chills, cold rain, and now an inexplicably swollen and unbendable knee mean no running. Chapter four is hitting close to home – I’m simultaneously invested in and distancing myself from the material, which makes the act of writing frustrating and upsetting just as the process is becoming more isolating and alienating from that wide world I’m told is out there.  And during the past two weeks my landlords have been renovating the empty apartment below mine, prompting power and water outages, headachey fumes and wall-shaking demolitions that drive the dog and I to R’s house for quiet as well as basic amenities. Maintaining momentum, in either an apartment that feels more cloying each day or one that lacks my library and stacks of notes, is hard. Plus the spine of my trusty notebook has come unglued, so that pages of precious ideas disconnect and slide out.  How melodramatically metaphorical.

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On confession

January 16, 2009

I have a habit of writing things through, particularly questions I’d rather not answer, or answered with the sensation that I left something dangling.  I’m a ruminator (oh how I wish that sounded ominous).  Ideas percolate while I’m on the metro, idly trolling through grocery store aisles, walking the dog.  This isn’t like that Seinfeld episode in which George only comes up with the perfect comeback days later – those are always at the ready.  But the meaningful responses to genuine questions have to actually be thought out, and usually away from the questioner.

I’ve gone so far as to create a separate file in which all of my ruminated and thought-out and scripted responses are kept.  They can be written, and revised, and edited, and re-written, so long as they get saved under the innocuous filename of “emails” (and thus, according to Speech Act Theory, making them emails). They rarely go anywhere, but I keep them because it’s good to know that at some (past the tipping) point I figured out the perfect thing to say, came up with a searing elucidation on what exactly it is that I mean.

I’m now ruminating upon this rumination – in working through Chapter Four I’m messing around with Foucault’s interpretations and uses of ‘confession.’ He talks about confession as a means of producing ‘truth’ (specifically in relation to sexuality; while central to my chapter, that’s not the part I’m interested in here).

…seeking the fundamental relation to the true, not simply in oneself – in some forgotten knowledge or in a certain primal trace – but in the self-examination that yields, through a multitude of fleeting impressions, the basic certainties of consciousness.  The obligation to confess is now relayed through so many different points is so deeply ingrained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us; on the contrary, it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, ‘demands’ only to surface.

Foucault talks about how this act, this ritual, is bound up in and enacts arrangements of power; even if you are just dragging confessions out of yourself into unsent emails there is a virtual or presumed arbiter and a mechanism of forgiveness – an internalized sense not of social propriety so much as an injunction toward individualization (which is, however, bound up in and judged by external shoulds and oughts).  We cannot pinpoint something as a ‘sin’ worth recounting without a sense of what norms we have transgressed.  Confession is recognized not only by its degree of difficulty but also by its implicit potential for exacting change:

…a ritual in which the truth is corroborated by the obstacles and resistances it has had to surmount in order to be formulated . . . a ritual in which the expression alone, independently of its external consequences, produces intrinsic modification in the person who articulates it: it exonerates, redeems, and purifies him; it unburdens him of his wrongs, liberates him, and promises him salvation.

To a certain degree this is a matter of pattern recognition, that one of these things is not like the other.  What I confess, the truths of self I produce, are through the act of confession marked as different, through this process identified as somehow noteworthy, having bearing on how the ‘me’ they narrate fits – or doesn’t, or could, or needs to – into larger structures or forms of social control.  And along the way they’re ideally to tweak this ‘me,’ so that I become fitter, happier, more productive, not drinking too much…

Which isn’t to say I’m going to stop writing faux emails.  Or that I don’t believe something personally valuable can be gained through such reflection (which would invalidate this whole blogging thing).  Just another instance of life imitating theory, that’s all.

So. 2009.

January 7, 2009

I have resolutions this year, unlike last year.  Simple ones, like flossing and washing my face before going to bed, rather than just haphazardly swiping with toner.  “Completing the diss” isn’t a resolution, though, as that has to happen regardless, and if it comes to it, I’d prefer to look back and think “Yeah, I still didn’t floss.”  But since 2009 is now in full swing (i.e. I’ve already finished grading and gone back to writing), not much more needs to be said about the new year.  Or about the holidays for that matter – spent some time with R.’s family, he spent some with mine, everybody liked everyone, I ate a ton of shortbread in defiance of the gift certificate I received for The Running Room.

About the grading: my students’ take-home exam was to pitch their own Canadian film or television series, and to justify their creative decisions by referencing relevant class material.  This made things much more interesting for them, they said, and definitely more so for me.  My favourite line was from a pitch for a zombies-in-Montreal thriller, in which the student was discussing the use of hand-held cameras and linking it to Canadian film’s roots in the realist/documentary tradition: “In keeping with this realism, the zombies will be of the ‘sprinter’ variety . . . ”  Excellent.

It’s been snowing continuously all day, which pleases me more than others.  Each time I pop Alice out for a pee she spins herself in excited circles then dashes headlong into the nearest drift.  I’ve kept a pot of coffee warm for hours, decreasing in inverse proportion to the snow delicately building on my porch railing.  I think both are now nearly done, but as this is January in Montreal and as I’m writing my last major chapter, there will be more tomorrow.

New look

December 15, 2008

Yep, the only thing I’ve done with my blog in a month is change its look. I’ve been marking my students’ most excellent essays, and am about to turn around and grade their final exams.  I’ve been writing (seriously!) my fourth chapter and getting excited about it, I’ve been applying for jobs and post-docs – cross your fingers.  I’ve travelled for R.’s parents’ 40th anniversary weekend, played with Alice in the snow, and then the ice, and then the snow, and then the ice. The blog has sadly been an afterthought in all of this – a guilty afterthought, as pithy observations will occur and I’ll think “I should blog about that!” but obviously never do. I’m hoping that this winter, with my writing groove on, I’ll come back to this more often as an outlet for the thoughts that just don’t fit elsewhere.

On my mind:

August 14, 2007

‘I’ could not be who I am if I were to love in the way that I apparently did, which I must, to persist as myself, continue to deny and yet unconsciously reenact in contemporary life with the most terrible suffering as its consequence.
-Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power.

I know it must be hard to fathom that a girl doesn’t care what a smart man thinks about the thing that she cares most about in the world, or that there’s a movement that exists that doesn’t much take into consideration what men have to say on the topic. I know I’m supposed to 1) nod thoughtfully as I process your wisdom, asking clarifying questions about your points just in case I don’t immediately understand something you say, and then 2) offer up some powerful and intelligent argument on why feminism is important, and then 3) try to prove my point with examples from women in politics and a few stories about my grandmother, but of course, in the end, 4) concede that yes, you have some very good points that I will certainly think about, and thank you for educating me about feminism and correcting me on those things I didn’t fully understand about women and the world.

Well, that conversation has been had before and is a bullshit boring ass waste of time that does absolutely nothing for anyone. Pretending to be open to the possibility that I’m a fool for believing what I do is wrong, dishonest, and disrespectful to everyone involved. Being polite and feigning interest, when I’m really thinking “Holy crap, what an indoctrinated, privileged prick he is. Where’s my beer?” is simply no good.

Ornamenting Away

Uncomfortable

June 22, 2007

Nothing says solstice like a speculum. And the discomfort was only aggravated by the doctor attempting to distract me by asking about my dissertation; what an odd thing to be championing when someone is scraping your cervix. “Lookin’ good” was the cheerful unofficial diagnosis (not the most glowing review I’ve received – I once had a doctor tell me “Your vagina is fabulous!” Such things I wish I had in writing).
What else is happening, you may wonder, abstractly, when it occurs to you. Not much, and everything. The diss is behind unofficial schedule and yet, as my supervisor informs me, it’s coming together. Constructive criticism at this point (note the qualifier) is largely structural. I’m knee-deep in masculinity studies, trying to understand ‘men,’ which is ironic – not so much work imitating life as paralleling it. As usual, I’m sure to hit theoretical rather than empirical paydirt. I’m taking vitamin D pills. Despite the heat I’m inching back to my winter running time, clocking in lately at 70ish minutes. There’s a road trip for a wedding soon, and I desperately long to go dress shopping yet lack the capital (c’mon, Marx, some praxis here). I sidetrack myself with the biggest novels I have on hand (currently Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and next Perdido Street Station, Infinite Jest having been read enough already and Underworld out on loan). I’m about to relive for the umpteenth time the bane of my existence as a grad student: bidding geographical farewell to a dear friend. Travelling across the city I stare blankly at my reflection in the metro window pondering the possibility of patterns and of mistakes; I wake in the middle of the night instinctively reaching for bodies that aren’t there, and can’t decide whether I’m okay with that or not. Sleep comes later and later. Neighbourhood cats wander in and out of my house with an undeserved but endearing sense of entitlement. Time passes – writer’s block, doubt. Summer.

The fresh smell of rain wafted in this morning as I sat down to write. I was turning lights on at 9am, like I’d never gone to bed at all, hadn’t left the computer. Writing again. It’s coming in fits and starts – some sentences trail off while some spring out fully formed. The gears are sliding into place, I can feel it. Or at least I think that’s what I feel; maybe it’s the new coffee.

UPDATE: Most likely not the new coffee (though I’m sure it helped) – I have just had an excellent and exciting epiphany. I can see both where this chapter’s going and, now, a really good way to get it there. Huzzah!

Time.

May 1, 2007

I have it now. No lectures to prep, no essays to grade, no student emails to return. Unstructured time! The novelty will wear off shortly but for now I’m enjoying the aimlessness. I haven’t switched gears into dissertation mode yet, so for inspiration I’ve come up with my summer resolutions:
1. Write. And write. And write some more – drafts of two chapters by the end of August, and a journal article to shop around for publication.
2. Migrate the blog, and then update it more regularly.
3. Drop another pant size. I’ve shed four since August, and while I’m coming to terms with the hereditary belly I’m not convinced it’s a lost cause.
4. Read at least one book a week (fiction).
5. Take a tiny trip. Quebec City for a weekend, perhaps. Something that fits my financial straits but also gets me off the island.
Crap. That’s a lot to do. I’ll start tomorrow.

My department’s shiny new online journal – avenue – launched today. Yours truly has a column about television (no surprise there), which will be regularly updated. Ideally. Check it out – it’s a little more erudite than this. Ideally.

Hot damn!

November 9, 2006

So the topic’s been changed for the lecture I’m giving on Monday. It’s now… wait for it… Canadian television! Woohoo! Sure I can talk about film and make it interesting, but Canadian tv gets me gesturing excitedly. I’ve only got an hour, which isn’t nearly long enough, but I suppose that’s why MISC gave me an entire course next semester. As an added bonus, anything I say could make its way onto the quiz the students have at the end of next week, which is one of the things that still startles me about teaching – seeing my own words spit back in short answer form. The students also have an essay due in two weeks, which means I’m now constantly fielding questions that up the intrigue about the kinds of things they’ll be writing on. So far it looks like I’m getting one on Tim Hortons and one on Canadian Bacon.
My own writing is taking awhile to come together. I haven’t been able to keep my mind focused enough to get more than three or four pages a day. It’s frustrating, knowing I’m coming up on a semester with no time for my own research, and I’m afraid I won’t have a substantive draft of my first chapter before that happens. To try and clear out even a handful of the cobwebs I’m thinking of taking off next weekend for a quick and dirty trip to Hogtown. The liminal space of the train often gives me a greater sense of perspective, not to mention the therapy of a late night out and long lazy morning in with dear old friends. I haven’t left Montreal since last Xmas, and while I love this city I could really use a day or two somewhere ghostless.
What a completely unenlightening post. Blah blah minor and irrelevant excitements, blah blah allusions to emotions, blah blah. I do have thoughts about important things like the midterm elections, like Parc Ave and patrimoine, like the fascinatingly honest Canadian Armed Forces ads on tv lately. But like I said: unfocused brain. It’s spent all day trying to be cogent and will spend all evening catching up on course material for seminars the next morning. It needs a break.