227/1030: The productivity of reorganization 

While at the “office” today (if you missed my last post, I am renting a desk for the summer), I spent about two hours just catching up on email and contacting people I’ve been meaning to contact. I also wrote up a report for my local German-American club and took care of business like that. In hindsight, I do ask myself: may I have, perhaps, used my time better? But those stuff were all in my agenda for days now and I figured if not now, when? I wonder how much I could get done if I had that same attitude towards dissertation work. I think I’m slowly getting there, though!

With about two hours left before I’d have to go to my “real life” job, I realized well, shucks. But I think I did get enough work done to be in a better spot tomorrow to actually get some writing done.

The main objective for today was to get a little more of a sense of what material I’ve collected over the year and organize them into lists that I conceivably could then tackle more successfully. I now have five (or is it six?) working bibliographies of articles/ chapters I’ve collected that can be grouped into: subject and discourse, postcolonial literature broadly speaking, intermediality/intertextuality/mediality, voice/language as a medium, and primary sources (okay, so only five).

I also have new dividers in my binder for all my primary authors (ignore the fact that only Monica Ali and Olga Grjasnova have their own divisions, the other eight or so authors are currently unceremoniously plopped together), transnationalism and identity, media reception and use by migrants, and the subject/identity role in discourse.

Finally, I started a list of sources I still have to read and those I’ve read, but still need to annotate digitally (so that I have material I can actually write from). The list is missing A LOT of sources that I’ve sporadically cited in various different working bibliographies, so not only do I still have some organizing to do, I still have a lot to read and annotate. And I’m still working through the pile of messy notes on my desk to figure out where those belong as well. That’s what’s on deck for tomorrow.

This may sound overwhelming, and it is. However, whenever I start to panic, I remember Douglas Adams and press the giant red button. Then I tell myself what I hope to gain from this and where I’ll go from here: once I have my sources organized into categories of relevance, I don’t actually have to read them all before I start writing. I’m actually going to start writing and then draw upon the sources when they become relevant reading/rereading as necessary. I imagine that’s how scholars work anyway, and it should work.

In the meantime, my homework for tonight is taking the small pile of assorted scraps I’ve collected and typing the relevant notes up to be sorted with everything else in the morning.

Sounds good, right? Now I just have to make sure I make it to the desk by 8 AM.

May the force be with you and me.

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27-29/1030: Abstract or Concrete? an incomplete reflection on “The Dead” and the dead

Last week was the first week where I hit a major road-block in writing regularly, but part of my not writing is also because I’ve been giving myself a bit of slack, since classes and the semester officially start today.

While I could write about the first seminar introduction I visited today, I need to finish the post I started on Saturday. A lot ran through my head that day that I need to address in a few small moments, but first I start with a small discussion of James Joyce’s The Dubliners and its last story: “The Dead.”

My first introduction to James Joyce was in a writing tutorial, in the praise of a story which the director of the writing program, my one-on-one teacher, could not praise enough. She said I had to read at least this story if I didn’t read the whole book. I’ll admit that I only fairly skimmed the text that evening, always meaning to devote more time but never found any. But now, I felt as though I needed to read it.

It’s a layered story, and I honestly was waiting the whole time I read for a death. Also, for a while, I thought this would be a Christmas ghost story, like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” or the Russian modernists. But I could also appreciate the third person focused narration of Gabriel and his sensitive observations of the evening- finely literate and politically involved. He gave quite a speech for the hostesses, but he is worried about it beforehand, and embarrassed about it afterwards. Of course he’s fictional- maybe a mirror of Joyce himself, as he imagines himself. I looked for “The Lass of Aughrim,” and decided I preferred some other Irish songs better. But this reading was not about the songs or the happy parts- or, perhaps not just the happy parts. And I can write about the music in “The Dead” at another time.

The reason I was drawn towards this text this weekend, was because of my own experience with the dead. I was asked to help clean out the apartment of a dead man whose next-of-kin had rejected the inheritance. The experience was unique and sad for me- being the first experience of its kind and for someone whom I didn’t know. I cannot imagine what it must be like when I have to do it for someone I know and love, but my time will come soon enough. I guess Joyce caught that impression well enough in words by the end of the story.

 The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades.  (Gutenberg online edition of The Dubliners)

One by one, we are all becoming shades. But we know this, despite our daily endeavors to continue as if we would live forever. It’s the other truth Joyce captured that answered why I wanted to read this:

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

What bothered me about cleaning out this man’s home, was that his death was removed from love. I saw the reminders of his relationship with his children, with his girlfriend, and I pieced together these relationships. He had hot chocolate mix for kids, an Advent set with Christmas decorations, books from his French girlfriend signed “de moi, a toi.” Why weren’t these people who loved him doing this work? And why could I separate the objects from the man one moment, and then in the next despise my packing up a useful supply or item for my personal use? I was missing the feeling of loss that should accompany this kind of sorting- the loss is intertwined with love.

He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love.

To love someone more because one knows s/he will die one day I have experienced before, but what Joyce describes, the falling into nothingness by fading and withering versus going boldly “in the glory of some passion” is what I’m worried this man did, and that I was witness to this. I fear this fate for myself and yet I know that the vast majority of us will die of old age, faded and withered, than with some great passion.

All these feelings flowed through my head without words and I yearned for some way to express them. I looked for “The Dead.” Now, Joyce has given me words, but it made me wonder- does writing make our ideas more abstract, or more concrete? I wanted the script to read to verbalize my pain and fears, and in a way, they brought them closer to reality. However, at the same time, I’ve made them more abstract. By bringing these feelings into a system of signs, I’ve removed the primal feelings from their primacy. I suppose this is one distinction Walter Ong refers to, when he talks about verbal versus written language. Perhaps that is why music is so important to the story, because they connect the primal and the abstract- and Joyce would be very much aware of this. Maybe I should have avoided the words, but at the same time, they help me. I feel like I’ve worked through my feelings- that I’ve been productive in them by going through the logic of putting them into words.

Still, I can’t deny the magic of Joyce and his writing. There is no question that he proves the power of literature, and I feel grateful to have had the time to read the story properly this time in light of what I was going through.

The question of abstract versus concrete is something I want to return to, but in the meantime, I am content with these last words:

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

I can feel the snow as it falls.

Work Cited: Joyce, James. “The Dead.” The Dubliners. Project Gutenberg: Ebook, (2001). Online.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.

What kind of (academic) writer are you?

When you look up “what kind of writer am I?” on Google, most of the results come back with quizzes designed to tell you what kind of fiction you like to write. I haven’t found anything talking about academic writing styles in the sense of what kinds of methods we use in producing a text.

If you’re someone who follows this blog, chances are, you write a lot of essays or articles. You may even have written an undergraduate thesis, a Masters thesis, or even a dissertation (go you!). If you’ve ever worked very long on a writing project, you probably already figured out how you work as a writer. If you have, and especially if you haven’t, here are some good things to take note of about yourself:

  • Are you productive in the morning, or the afternoon? Or in the later hours of the evening?
  • When you write, do you like to brainstorm for hours and then writer in one go? Or do you like to collect all the information and material, write in small sections, and then organize it into a quilt like this?:

Check out Judy’s sewing and needlework!: http://www.chainsawartist.com/GDJudyRainbowQuilt.jpg

  • You may also be a writer who collects research material while you write, and then incorporates it right away into the section you’re working on.
  • Do you like to revise as you go, section by section? Or do you like to complete all the parts of your project and then revise in one fell swoop? Or both?
  • When you have a large writing project (over many days, weeks, months, or years) do you find yourself writing entire days and taking entire days off? Or do you schedule writing time for each day, and try to stick to it? Or do you write exclusively on the weekends/during the week?
  • Do you like to write in the same space every time, or do you have to move around to different locations to stay productive from day-to-day?
  • Do you like to listen to music? Are you adamant about not listening to music? Does it depend?
  • Do you work exclusively on the computer? Or do you like to print drafts out and work on them with a pen, returning to the computer when you are ready to make changes?
  • When you revise, do you try to keep everything and make connections strong? Or are you more likely to cut out something that does not make as much sense at first glance, dedicating more time to the things at the core of your argument?
  • Do you have a support team? People you can talk to about your project and who usually listen with a sympathetic ear, but are willing to tell you to shape up if they see you floundering for the sake of floundering (not to be confused with actual problems that come along -panic or anxiety for example). When actual problems come along, do you know who you would go see for help?
  • Do you have someone who will read your texts for you as you go? Or only at the end?
  • Do you set deadlines for yourself that are earlier than the final deadline? Or is the rush of the hard deadline all you need?
  • Do you have anti-procrastination/motivational quotes around you on your desk/in your room?
  • Do you like writing? If not the project as a whole, think about the parts of writing you do like: the research, the integration of quotes, transitions, introducing topics, conclusions, revisions, the feeling of productivity itself…

There are of course many more aspects of being a writer, and many more things to cover, but in answering these questions, you can find some of your writing habits. All of these habits make up the kind of writer you are. Knowing about your habits can a) help you explain yourself to your supervisor or adviser, so that they can suggest changes that may work better for you/the project you are completing, and b) help you become realistic about your habits and time management so that when you find yourself unproductive or worried about completing the project, you can look at your situation and compare it with the things you’ve noticed about yourself. For example, if it’s the second day of writing and you’ve worked non-stop, when you normally work a few hours and take a few hours break, then you can see maybe that a break is in order and you should return to your habitual method. If you’re struggling to revise online and usually like to work with paper, print it out.

I guess success in a longer writing project comes down to knowing your options. That way, when one way doesn’t work, you can try something else.

Also, remember practice makes perfect. And like many other things that become better with practice (like running), it may make sense to keep a sort of writing  log – not a journal or log for stories, ideas, or how you felt when Susan looked at you that way, but a log in which you assess what you were able to accomplish and how. Which hours did you work, when were your breaks? How did you start writing that day? What materials/methods did you use?

Could be interesting to hold onto that for any future projects. It’s something to look back at.

So, while I didn’t tell you what kind of writer you are (sorry, kids), I did suggest some ways to figure out what kind of writer you are… less fun than the quizzes online, but probably more accurate.

Cheers, and happy writing.

La Petite Mort- Hozier

Am I the only one who feels like I’m listening to a 17th century English poet when I listen to Hozier sing his 2013 song “Take Me to Church”?

Birth of a Buzz: Behind the Scenes as Hozier Goes Viral

Maybe not. After all, song lyrics are some of the only poetry our generation reads regularly. But for anyone who wants to give the man credit (or burn him) for relating love to a religious experience, or make sex something holy, they should go back a few centuries and look at the real poets: Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Andrew Marvell, and of course, John Donne.

Not that I’m saying Hozier’s lyrics aren’t canonization worthy themselves, to some extent. There are some beautiful metaphors and phrasings here:

“Take Me To Church”

[…]
“Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner”If the heavens ever did speak
She’s the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week

“‘We were born sick, ‘ you heard them say it

“My Church offers no absolutes
She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom.’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you—

“Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

“If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice

“Drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful

That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

[…]

No Masters or Kings
When the Ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin [am I the only one who hears “genital” here?]

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am Human
Only then I am Clean
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.
[…]

That’s all nice, you may say. Makes for good radio (and LGBTQ rights discussion). But what about this makes you think of 17th century poetry?
It’s this line:  “Offer me that deathless death”
But, to make your education complete, I ask you to look at something you may not have seen since 10th grade English class: John Donne’s

The Canonization

For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love,
Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five gray hairs, or ruin’d fortune flout,
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his Honour, or his Grace,
Or the King’s real, or his stamped face
Contemplate ; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.

Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?
What merchant’s ships have my sighs drowned?
Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill
Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.

Call us what you will, we are made such by love.
Call her one, me another fly,
We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us ; we two being one, are it.
So to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms.
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love:

And thus invoke us, “You whom reverend love
Made one another’s hermitage;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world’s soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes
(So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize)
Countries, towns, courts:  beg from above
A pattern of your love!”

Specifically, I ask you to look at these lines of the second to last stanza. .

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms.
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love:

What is this thing we can “die by,” and “live by”? Is it similar to the “deathless death”?

Yup, in my mind, same thing. Both can refer to the orgasm.  If you’re interested in the pun on orgasm as a “little death,” or “la petite mort” as the French say, I encourage you do do some research on your own. 🙂 If you’re interested in a poetry analysis of “The Canonization” let me know and I’ll send an essay I wrote on it your way.

Die Ratten- Gerhart Hauptmann

Oh geez. I am really bad at updating this blog. But I guess it’s because it’s the most challenging one since I try to post more than just observations, I have to try and put some analysis in these posts…

Sigh.

At any rate, I’m trying to take advantage of the UniFreiKarte while I can, so I went out on a weeknight and saw Gerhart Hauptmann’s Die Ratten. Again, this was in the Deutsches Schauspielhaus and again, this was a brilliant performance.

The obligatory picture of a rat taken off deathandtaz]xes.com

It was very different than Wassa Schelesnowa or any other play I’ve ever seen. It was just as much entertainment as it was a commentary on theater theory. I struggled to keep up with the events showing on stage while trying to understand what Hauptmann (and the director, Karin Henkel) was telling me about early twentieth century life, the naturalist literary movement, and the role of theater in our lives.

This literary commentary was perhaps given special significance because of the hasty stepping in of one of the roles. Due to an injury one of the actors (who played a double-role) experienced during rehearsals the morning of the performance, two roles were left unplayed, with little time to find a replacement. Yet, the Schauspielhaus managed to find a volunteer actor who had played one of the roles before, but had little experience with the other one. But the show went on, even though the actor played on book, that is, he had the script in his hand. The audience was asked by Frau Henkel to excuse this, and of course I think all of us were relieved to have the show go on. In fact, the young actor who stepped in was from the Thalia theater in Hamburg, and many theater-goers seemed to recognize him and cheered him on.

I initially thought it would annoy me that there was an actor on book, but when the play was in progress and I realized that there was play-within-a-play going on, and even scenes during which the character had the script on hand, I learned to go with it. The acting overall was superb, and they all worked really well together.

I could write a lot about this play, but I’m going to restrict myself to one observation and analysis: the use of Macbeth versus Schiller’s The Bride of Messina. In the third act of the 5 act tragedy (the play followed the traditional Aristotelian model in many ways, while breaking the rules in many others [working class protagonists and breaking of walls, for starters]), the director of the theater (in the play) is training a few pupils on how to act, and they are rehearsing The Bride of Messina. However, in the Henkel inzinierung, the actors in the first act refer to Macbeth and the reference is continued through Acts 3, 4 and 5. I was especially surprised by the use of English throughout the play and wonder why an English Elizabethan play was preferred over a German Weimar Classic one. My limited conclusion has to do with the subtle commentary on gender and power within gender. Much of the play has to do with the fatal “flaw” of the protagonist, her desire for a child. This desire is the Trieb that drives her actions, but her actions don’t really make sense in a traditionally Christian moral world and that may have to do with the fact that this moral world doesn’t really exist. I think Macbeth works in a similar way and perhaps that’s why it was chosen. It may also be more recognized by contemporary audiences. I personally only recently learned about Schiller’s Braut von Messina and it’s two quarreling brothers, and maybe the stuff happening in the play (an attempt to combine antique and modern drama) was not the angle Henkel wanted her audience to focus on.

At any rate, again the stage design was impressive. But really, really impressive was the acting. It included actors fluent in the spitting Berliner dialect that took a while to get used to and a lead actress willing to slap herself (hard) in the face over an over. It was shocking in authenticity and violence. I  am getting spoiled by being able to attend these plays for free! I don’t know how I’m going to feed my drama hunger (which has grown since I’m taking a course on Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and actually understand some of the literary work being done) once my FreiKarte expires…

The Hauptbahnhof by night. Maybe one of the reasons I like the Deutsche Schauspielhaus so much is because it's so easy to get to! Right across the street from Hamburg's main station.

The Hauptbahnhof by night. Maybe one of the reasons I like the Deutsche Schauspielhaus so much is because it’s so easy to get to! Right across the street from Hamburg’s main station.