746/1030 (25/448): actually writing

I never realized how hard writing was until I actually started. It turns out that 50+ pages of collected scraps of writing is worth very little when there’s a chapter waiting to be written. I also found out that when given three years to write something, all that time really is necessary to get something done.

How did I find that out? By actually writing. When I left uni for the semester break end of July, I had an outline of writing completed and the 50+ pages of scraps. I made a deal with my sponsor to submit my chapter by the start of the semester. I set my personal goal for the start of October, and now I am glad I did this, because if I knew I had until the 15th, I would have started 12 days before hand… and I’d be in a lot more trouble right now.

I started with a rereading of the novel Brick Lane. This was done at a fairly leisurely pace during my break, before I got all serious, and I marked passages I knew would be important. I also reviewed some criticism of the novel and reread some of the resources I had collected. This was still while I was in Florida with my family, which was not as conducive to working as I had hoped, even if my family tried to give me the opportunities they could.

It was not until I came to Berlin again where I was able to commit to steady work, starting by typing up and doing preliminary analyses of the novel Brick Lane. While I was doing that, I also collected research directly related to the quotes and even found some new ideas.

Honestly, actually writing has lead me to a lot of new, stronger ideas for the claims I want to make and taking the time to pursue these has, of course, also made the process take longer. However, two days ago I actually finally started Draft VII, which is the first steadily, linearly growing draft of this chapter and I’m 1/3 of the way in, though this first third also features the most new writing where I lay out the context of the novel and the general idea of my theoretical framework.

It’s too late to hope to be much more productive now (2210, and I woke up at 5- took about 5 hours worth of breaks), but I am hopeful that when I actually discuss the ice-skating reference tomorrow, and preferably also the 9/11 Attacks reference, I can reuse a lot more of the scraps I’ve already written.

My biggest concern is that the ice-skating reference discussion follows logically from the introduction and what I’ve written so far. However, the 9/11 reference, while very important, does not fit into the argument I’m trying to make, and so I’ll need to spend some time figuring out that connection and writing it out.

But I am overall excited to see what I am able to create when I actually write. I have the weekend cleared of other work and responsibilities, with a few small things I want to get done as well as some running to do- if my knee allows me- so I am confident I can finish by Sunday! I better finish by Tatort



727/1030 (6/448): “Easter eggs” in Brick Lane

I can’t help but not take myself seriously today. I’m in the phase of the month where I’d rather be creative and let myself get distracted than produce any actual, logical clear writing. Not a good trend with half a month left for a solid draft, but here goes nothing.

Upon looking at the two main television references in Brick Lane, one can tell that they feature two of the classical elements: water and fire. Nazneen’s viewing of ‘ice-eskating’ obviously gives us frozen water and the 9/11 Attacks, to put it cruelly, bluntly involved a lot of fire (as a reminder, visit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation). Fire makes an appearance in the street riots Nazneen has to navigate through as well.

Ancient cultures in Greece, Babylonia, China, Japan, Tibet, and India considered earth water, fire and air as simple substances that could explain all material nature. While it is a bit of a stretch to base Ali’s use of these two references on philosophical symbolism, it is an interesting consideration. It would fall in line with Nazneen’s tendency for fatalism/determinism. At the same time, since the book is especially about Nazneen’s pulling away from this kind of thinking, it would be too ironic to have the element references actually make sense.

What does make sense is her use reference to the British Olympic figure skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean on page 112. Having won the figure skating competition in the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics with a nearly perfect score (perfect score in artistic impression), Torvill and Dean became household names. Their performance was broadcast to over 24 million British households (“1984: British ice couple score Olympic gold”. BBC On the Day, 14 February 1984. 14 February 1984. Retrieved 14 September 2018.) via television, speaking to the widespread use of live broadcasting for building communities since the 50s. The fact that they were British and became household names, even for Nazneen, speaks to her slow integration into British culture and society through the television. By this point in the novel (still the first third), Nazneen can’t say more than four or five words in English, but she can name these two.

More on this laters…



723/1030 (2/448): a little more Brick Lane, first third

I didn’t finish writing yesterday, and I won’t be able to finish today, but I do think it’s important to try and stick to the goal.

Allow me to start with one thing: it is, perhaps, the link between the various novels I’m working with in the use of televised sports events. Television as such has played an important role in the second half of the twentieth century, but while a lot of the television programs can be found in other venues and ways, such as movie theaters, theaters, newspapers, etc., sports rely on a live broadcast and instantaneously create communities that extend beyond the walls of the private personal spaces.

For Nazneen, this becomes especially important, as I’ll illuminate further (hopefully) tomorrow

722/1030 (1/448): an update and some Brick Lane

Hi there! It’s been a hot minute… more like a hot summer.

According to my counter, I have less than a year left–about 10 months– to submit the dissertation. However, since getting the scholarship and having a new set of requirements and occupations for the PhD, I actually added an extra year to the counter. But because I don’t want to be a perpetual student (believe it or not), I’m just shooting for half a year longer than originally intended. This puts me with a new goal of December 2019, and while this looks a little friendlier, it’s just as intimidating.

About 3/7ths of this remaining time will be spent abroad, in Cambridge. I’m confident a lot of my writing will be done then, but the next three months should actually see me do about half of the work.

Urgh… work. I’m obviously very good at figuring out logistics of what I should be writing, but as typical for a PhD student, the follow through looks much less successful. I recently saw a TED talk about procrastination (d’uh, of course while procrastinating) and the point was that most procrastinators allow impulses in their minds, named the instant-gratification monkey to take over the rational decision maker. In Freudian terms, this is the Id taking over the Ego (wonder why Tim Urban didn’t include that? Freud is out of style, I guess) and my Id is pretty strong when it comes to getting my work done. My monkey also take me down internet rabbit holes where I’m convinced what I’m reading is actually research or building contextual knowledge of contemporary politics and culture. Or I complete stalkerish online searched to see what others from my past are doing with their lives. Maybe it’s a way of telling myself “eh, they’re not doing so much either, why do I push myself so hard?”

But I know why I push myself hard. In 1 1/2 years I want to be able to say I’ve finished writing, defended, have the PhD and I can move on with finding a full-time job with a retirement plan and insurance. I want to not have these constant internal deadlines that I miss. I want to build m relationships with people. I want to be able to train for another marathon without missing the 10 hours of training it takes a week. I want to be able to read the 20+ unrelated-to-the-PhD-books I’ve procured over the last few years. I want to have a chance to figure out if I really should pursue something in political writing versus literature. But I guess all that wanting is motivation to get done. It’s only 448 more days!

On that note, I am going to get back to posting more regularly about my reading and research. I, of course, have done diddly with the notes from the last 50 blogs or so, but I did organize them and file them. When I open the appropriate section in my notes, they are there. They just remain to be integrated.

Right now for the first chapter of the dissertation, I’m working on Monica Ali’s Brick Lane . So here’s some of my thinking:

Let’s start with the structure. While the quantitative facts are the easiest about a book to gather, and also seem unimportant compared to the quality of the words, they do reveal something. Writers, after all, are planners. A plot and characters do not appear without design. And writers like their symmetry too- especially the realist novelists. Brick Lane, being a novel in the style of realism does a lot less experimentation than some of the modernist and postmodernists of the early 21st century and becomes clear when one looks at the distribution. In this book with 21 chapters, there are clear breaks between the first, second and third third. Chapter 6 ends with the death of Nazneen’s and Chanu’s firstborn, Raqib, and Nazneen’s subsequent silence. The seventh chapter consists of a series of letters from Nanzeen’s sister, Hasina, which mark the time and the major events in Nazneen’s life, albeit as a negative in the replies to the letters Nazneen must have sent. During these thirteen years, Nazneen bears two more children (both daughters) and her husband Chanu takes on a loses a few jobs, giving up his plans to repair the broken chairs he has collected.

This last chapter, however, also serves to create a strong foil for Nazneen and her life in London. Hasina is described as being the more beautiful of the two sisters, but she is also infinitely more disadvantaged. “Made to suffer” it says, several times. “Such beauty could have no earthly purpose but trouble” (34).

I need to look up that line again.

This part of the book Nazneen is just getting to know Chanu and that they are not as different or ill-matched as she originally thought.

“He was looking for the same essential things. But he thought he could grab it from outside and hold it against his chest like a shield. The degrees, the promotion, the Dhaka house, the library, the chair-restoring business, the import-export plans, the interminable reading. They were his self-fashioned tools. With them he tried to chisel out a special place, where he could have peace of mind” (94).

She is also getting to know herself, her hopes and desires, and it is these I need to look at more closely in the next days.

To consider are:

  1. The description of machines. Their anthropomorphism but also their exoticization
  2. The role of the television in the apartment complex, in their house, and the house of Dr. Azad
  3. The description of ice-skating from a feminist perspective
  4. The description of ice-skating from a Bangladeshi villager’s perspective
  5. The 1984 Olympic, Dean and Torvill, and the role of ice skating in Nazneen’s life
  6. Nazneen’s desire to learn English
  7. Nazneen’s desire to work
  8. and finally, sounds, voices, and the way people talk

Work Cited: Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. Scribner 2004 paperback edition

I didn’t get to do as much today as I wanted to, but I did finish reading the first seven chapters. Tomorrow, I will try to finish addressing these thoughts as well as complete another, unrelated task on stand-by. If I can start reading the second-third, that would be great, but we will see.

Short-term goals for the rest of the semester break are the organization of a workshop in November or December, the completion of Chapter One of the dissertation, an article submission, a paper draft for a writing contest, and an abstract or two for two conferences to attend over the next year.

536/1030: TBT White Teeth

It’s just a coincidence that today is Thursday. I wasn’t planning to do a throw-back, I was just looking to see if I can clean out my drafts folder a bit. Then, I found this entry from August 2014. It’s the start of a review from when I was preparing for my MA oral exam, the main impetus for starting this site, and it’s kind of interesting to see that I’ve been carrying around Zadie Smith’s story in my head for 3.5 years. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

“While continuing to slog through Tristram Shandy, I picked up Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which I had ordered since it was on my reading list. It turned out to be much less work and more pleasure than the other works on the list so far. It actually seems like cheating to count it as academic studies, mostly because the language was much simpler and there was less close-reading that needed to be done. Plus, I had read a very similar book”

And that’s where it ends. I can’t remember for the life of me what the other book was that I’d read that was similar. Maybe… nope. Can’t remember.

But clearly I never got to write anything of substance about this book. One can see what I have to say about Smith’s other books here and here. But White Teeth? In reviewing my blog archives, I actually wrote a response on German Unity Day, because there is a passage in the book discussing the Fall of the Berlin Wall, which is a major discussion point of mine. So I didn’t completely neglect the book. Of course, there remains a lot more to be said.

In Zadie Smith’s much-celebrated debut novel White Teeth, the reader sees several events in intermedial references to television, but one significant event is the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, referred to very shortly, but rather effectively, near the end of Chapter Nine (which is also near the end of the second part, which precedes the section devoted to elucidating Irie’s character). Here the event is used as a backdrop to characters Millat and Irie asserting their opinions in the face of their parents Archie, Samad- though mainly against Samad. Millat’s assertion is quite simply to express his disinterest in the event. Irie’s, on the other hand, is worth examining further.

Irie Jones, “[a] stranger in a strange land” (222), speaks in textbook and Newsnight English.

“That’s totally your problem, Mill. No interest in the outside world. I think this is amazing. They’re all free! After all this time, don’t you think that’s amazing? That after years under the dark cloud of Eastern communism they’re coming into the light of Western democracy, united, […] I just think democracy is man’s greatest invention.” (198).

Before getting into the way that Irie emphasizes the word “amazing” and what she thinks about democracy, one should note how Smith frames her protagonist’s (often considered by critics to be a sort of autobiographical figure for Smith) words by pointing out that she is “quoting Newsnight faithfully.”

Newsnight, started in 1980, is a BBC Two currents affairs program that runs for 45 minutes  every evening and provides analytical reports of current events.

Yet what is it about the language Irie uses that makes it not her own? The criticism is that Irie cannot express herself in an individually persuasive way. She relies on the formulations of other people. However, in using it, it does become hers, to some extent. On the other hand, the question of anything becoming hers, of her having or laying claim to anything is challenged by the way she is inscripted by fate. My use of the word inscripted is not coincidental, since I mean to highlight the medium of writing, but I also want to point out the comments about Irie (obvious through the end, “you can only avoid your fate for so long” (448)) that she is one of those stuck by fate, which is parallel, but runs opposite to, history. This is the truth Smith seems to have and wants to highlight, that one will “race towards the future only to find [one] more and more eloquently express[es one’s] past.” One cannot “escape [one’s] history anymore than you yourself can lose your shadow” (385). Interesting about this point is the way the authorial voice suddenly transitions to second-person, speaking to the reader directly about her personal shadow.

So, in short, the event becomes significant- not because of the event itself (or how it is depicted), but what it creates as a narrative space for the other characters to do and interact. In a book that is very much invested in a realist style- in specific details and dates and specific details about dates-, one cannot ignore the reference to the Berlin Wall, how Irie interacts with the event as a medial event happening on TV that they are seeing together expresses something about her identity and her mode of expression.

And that’s what I have to say today.

In writing news, I finally made it to the Uni and am able to devote all day to cleaning up the mess of an outline (but at least I have an outline!) so that I can give it to my sponsor next week. Aaaaahhhhh!

Oh, and happy International Women’s Day. I support the women who are striking today to show their work communities what a day on the job would look like without their contributions. Unfortunately, me not being on the job today wouldn’t make a perceivable difference, since all I’m doing is sitting alone in an office typing on my computer.


522/1030: a structure

Lo and behold, I’ve finally managed something. At least it looks like something. I have yet to decide how useful this thing really is.

IMG_0969 (2) (1)

What I have here are all my key words mapped out in some sort of cluster map showing which ideas are closely related and the degrees in which things are related. From this, I am currently building my working outline, so that I know how I want to organize all the fragments I mentioned last time.

So no real information here today, just an update on the organizing work I’m doing, for the 50th time it seems like. But each time, I’m one step closer to an actual usable structure!