245/1030: some narrative technique 

My main goal for this week is to begin drafting something, produce actual writing for the dissertation (and I’m kind of motivated because I’m going to need a 10 page sample for a workshop June 1), but in the meantime I’m still bogged down by old notes. 

Oh well. These notes are useful, because looking at what Bakhtin may mean with dialogism and what this discourse looks like prompted me to look up narrative technique. I’ve meant to do that for a while anyway, since the Germans are really into describing literature with narratology terms. 

In Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus (which I haven’t read yet, but I’m going to sound like I have), Bakhtin’s heteroglossia and dialogism  are presented as a kind of free-indirect discourse, which is one kind of representation of consciousness in writing. Free-indirect discourse is a mix between psychonarration and interior monologue where we have a dual voice of the narrator and the character whose thoughts are represented sometimes as relayed by the narrator and sometimes by his/her own “voice.” One could say that the mindstyle is replicated, even if the language is not always replicated. 

Ideas of replication and representation are worth challenging as they come up, but that’s the general idea. 

By having a solid understanding of what dialogism may look like in literature (there’s a lot of it in Modernist works in general  and Virginia Woolf in particular) I may be able to identify it more clearly in contemporary works and talk about it more clearly. 

I should probably write more than that, but I think I just od’ed on coffee. 

As a sort of non-sequitur: My Dr.. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde post from over a year ago, which wasn’t even a real good essay, keeps getting looked at by readers. Maybe I should try and write more essays about famous works? Or not. I mean, I don’t really have time for that, but it would be interesting to begin applying relevant theory to popular works of literature. 


241/1030: Theories of the Novel and some reflection

I’ve lost some steam again in posting here everyday, but I’m still somehow working at least 4/7 days for a PhD, so I’m feeling pretty good about that. 

Having an office space to go to has been motivating, since I always go with at least 3 hours to work there and can’t leave unless I’ve gotten done my mini goal for the day, though I don’t think I’ll meet my main goal for this week: I want to actually get to drafting something. Instead, I’m still slogging through all the material I’ve collected, and keep getting distracted by other texts connected to what I’m currently trying to read, and I am lucky when I write something in my notes that finds a cohesion between ideas that can be used for my diss. So far, it’s just a lot of fragements, as the menu on the left of the image may demonstrate. Still, yesterday I figured out a possible organization by starting with the focus on the subject/individual in literature, and then moving to the novel, and then moving to Bakhtin. 

I wish I had more of these breakthroughs. 

Part of the problem is that it takes a huge chunk of uninterrupted time to get to some breakthroughs. For example, yesterday I finally (after paperwork, helping someone, chores, errands, workout) made it to the office by 1500. My soft goal was 3 hours, but I found myself finishing the last of annotations for my 2014/15 notes and didn’t want to leave before I’d done that. Of course, the first 1.5 hours, I was looking for distraction in my emails and WordPress, so had I been more efficient with my time, I may have left at 1800. Still, after spending 2 solid hours actually working with my notes is when I was able to make the connection I did above. This pattern is usual for me, and I know this is my writing habit, but I can’t wait to devote all my time to PhD work rather than half the day (when I’m lucky) as I am now. October 2017 is going to be awesome. 

In other news, as far as theories of the novel are concerned, I was surprised to see that Georg Lukács, whose “The Ideology of Modernism” I reread for today, was also interested in the Novel as a genre and form, and that Bakhtin may have actually been informed by Lucács in his own writings about the novel. Galin Tihanow in The Master and the Slave: Lucács, Bakhtin, and the Ideas of their Time (2000) provides a pretty good overview of how this happened. Noticing this connection made me look at Tihanov and read his introduction, and while there are some useful notes about Bakhtin here, and I may refer back to the book, I don’t actually need it now, and that’s the source of some of my problems in productivity right now.

That being said, Tihanov’s emphasis that Bakhtin had an “‘unreserved trust’ in the unity of tradition” (9) isn’t totally useless. It serves as a good reminder of how to approach Bakhtin despite the tendancy of post-colonial critics or deconstructionist. Bakhtin inherited structuralism and Russian Formalism very well, and while his theories disprove many of these ideas, they are in fact meant to support the building they break down. 

Furthermore, and of even more significance for this blog given the title I gave it, “For both Lucács and Bakhtin, the novel became the pinnacle of their efforts to problematize the connections between culture and society” and in their work, “the genre of the novel is a site of intersecting literacy and philosophical analysis which strives to understand modernity and to respond to it” (7). This is not news to me, since I am very familiar with Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossia, which I understand as a symptom of modernity, but it’s nice to find other scholars who say it better than I can. 

I guess that’s all for today. No idea how coherent it was this time around, but thanks for reading! 

Work Cited: Tihanov, Galin. The Master and the Slave: Lucács, Bakhtin, and the Ideas of their Time. Oxford: Clarendon P, 2000. Web 

232/1030: reflection on writing, Eastern Europe, and ethnocritique

Today (yesterday), I typed over 1000 words (not including this post)…and I don’t even know if I will use them. I’ve never had a problem throughout my entire academic career in reaching a word limit. Rather, my challenge is that I reach the word limit before I’ve said what I mean to say. So I go back and revise. And revise. And re-vision and revise. I guess some people do that revision in their heads and then spit out the finished sentence on the page, spending another ten minutes to create the best sentence to follow after that. However, how can one know if the best sentence is the one one comes up with the first time? And that it’s not the sentence that comes four or five sentences later? How can one keep track of all the different sentence possibilities? So what I do is just write everything and do the work afterwards. I’ve always been a rather tactile learner, so having the sentences on the page to rearrange is easier for me that doing it all in my head. So there you so, some writing style notes from me.

I didn’t actually get to do all the homework I meant to over the weekend. I covered most of my notes on Eastern Europe and the conception of the region by the rest of Europe and the eastern Europeaners themselves. Surprise surprise, these conceptions significantly differ. Also, ethnic violence and “structured hate” as Olga Grjasnowa puts it, are more complex than made out to be by external media. I have my work cut out for me, then, when looking at Stanišić and Grjasnowa. 

So I came to the office with the rest of my WiSe 2017 notes and primarily looked at James Clifford’s introduction to Writing Culture. It was a productive session. I managed to categorize the reading and considerations of ethnographic writing under “representation politics.” Just realizing this was enough work for the day because, while I did annotate the reading, knowing when to draw upon it in my dissertation is the bigger half the battle. 

Tomorrow (today, since I’m late in posting), I’m beginning the highlighting adventures of notes from 2014/15. Wish me luck? 

228/1030: German Colonialism and other nationalist projects. Oh, and autobiography

The buzzwords in my title are to help me remember what I did at work today at a glace, but they do throw one off guard a bit and need to be explained enough to know what I was thinking when I mentioned them today.

To begin with, German colonialism is not longer “a thing” in the historical sense. Whether they still participate in a kind of globalized and/economic colonialism can be discussed with those in the “post-colonialism is a misnomer” corner. Germany also technically never had colonies, because by the time Togo, German New Guinea, Cameroon were called colonies, Germany had already lost them as a part of the Treaty of Versailles. Until 1919, Germany’s colonies were called protectorates, and Germany’d only had control in these regions for the last years of the 1800s, officially having a Ministry in 1907. So basically, Germany gets excluded from colonials party, which I guess could be said in its favor? I’ve actually written about all this before on day 18 of the 1030 project (woah! so long ago).

But the point is, German colonialism was an extension of the inflated nationalism the country went through since finally becoming an actual unified country in 1871. The idea of colonialism as playing a role in Germany’s nationalism is something I’ll want to address when I get to the German texts in my dissertation.

Another thing I’ll want to remember is that bureaucracy in one of the most well-wielded instruments of nationalism that we’ve seen in the 20th Century, but also in the 19th Century.

Finally, many of my primary texts are fictional, but with strong autobiographical elements. Therefore, I want to consider Paul de Man’s critique of Rousseau’s Confessions and other considerations of the subject in autobiography and how reference (to real people, the author, not media in what has become the regular-for-me sense) works in these kinds of texts.

p.s. I reviewed the difference between metonomy, synedoche, and metaphor today. Yay me. Think crown: authority, wheel:car, and butter:snot

All these notes come from a set of documents from the Winter Semester that I finally finished working through today. The “to be sorted” pile had been visually nagging me since February, and it felt good to get rid of it! I even did my homework… albeit not at home and not in the morning as I planned. But this past week has been a really productive one after a week and weekend of anxiously waiting for scholarship announcements. I didn’t get any actual writing done yet, but starting on a draft for my introduction is firmly on my to-do list for next week.

My homework for the weekend is to collate all my notes from my semesters at the Uni Hamburg and type up the notes that would be relevant for my thesis. A good half of the notes come from my New English Literatures class, so I can expect these to have the most relevance.

I didn’t think I’d make it to the office so much this week, but I actually really like going there and sitting out my four hours. At home, I feel like I never get into the work enough to actually get real work done (I typically spend about 1-2 hours replying to emails and taking care of life first, as well as wandering to the kitchen and back, taking field-trips grocery shopping and the gym), so the office has been a positive change in my life. Of course, I can’t wait to get a desk at the uni and all that, but for now I’m really happy with how things are moving forward.

As you’ve seen, I do have some work lined up for Saturday/Sunday, but also some fun as well. Hope you reader(s) have a nice weekend!

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.

226/1030: Update in work and life 

I’ve been following a blogger (maybe I’ll remember to link him here at a later date) who recently has been posting daily updates of what he accomplished with his dissertation each day. It really is a log of his work in a way that seems more productive than trying to produced polished (barely, if at all) posts each time. I’m probably going to do a mix of what I’ve been doing and what he does.

This new style of logging may become especially productive given the fact that I’ve recently been forced to rent a desk due to a shifting home situation and actually have to commute to work on my dissertation now, which somehow motivates me to get stuff done again. I’ve relocated the stack of articles and notes that have been gathering dust on my desk in the apartment to my new desk. Along with a binder where I’ve already started sorting, a new binder, a hole-puncher (two-hole, as the Germans do), a remote keyboard and my motivation, coffee, tea, and milk, the items I’ve brought have yielded a few hours of work and some organization of old material.

While I have a serious problem to tackle with the large amount of stuff I’ve read and haven’t annotated or organized properly (and the task seems very daunting), I somehow manage to just keep adding new material. But I think if I can have the discipline to start annotating and organizing those right away, I may slowly see a way through the morass.

Most recently, I attended a conference about discourse in public places and the search for resonance, and I selectively attended the one presentation where Bakhtin, my favorite Russian theorist, was the focal point along with Yoko Tawada, Habermas, and a few others. The main takeaway from that session was that a) Tawada would be a productive author to look at for “voice,” b) the difference between voice and Bakhtin’s “utterance” may be found in the body/language discussion, and I’m a Bakhtin pro, or at least more than the academic laymen (this is not to be confused with actually being an expert- I just know more than the basic understanding of his theories, if there even is such a thing). This realization of my position in the academic world is further validated by acceptance into a prestigious research school and the award of a scholarship.

That’s right, the biggest news for my dissertation work is that I’m soon going to be paid more for working on my dissertation than I got paid working a part-time “real” job. Not only do I have 20 hours more a week to work on my diss, but I have more resources with which to do the work (and party afterwards). Work hard, play hard. Life is pretty sweet.

While I am writing this on day 227, I plan to post somehting else today as well, so it’s filling in for the 226th day that I missed .

225/1030 : Levinas, the “Other” and conversation

Oh, hi there. I think this is the longest gap in my writing that I’ve had since starting this project back in the fall. Part of this gap was due to an externally enforced one in the form of the semester break, but that’s not really an excuse. Still, I wasn’t idle! I spent three of those weeks preparing a concise presentation of my project, whittling my ideas down from 15 pages of goals and theories (already whittled down from six months of thinking and writing) to 4 pages.

My contribution today is about Levinas’ Totality and Infinity (1961), specifically “The Same and Other” and more specifically “A. Metaphysics and Transcendence.”

Great titles. As if I’m not already swimming in the clouds around my ivory tower. But it’s an interesting chapter and after all, as I bragged Friday in my colloquium, I can connect anything to my project. That is, everything connects, so of course Levinas connects to my project.

Actually though, something Judith Butler recently wrote using Levinas really does connect, and I’ll save that for a future post.

In the meantime, Levinas. Hmmm. Where do I begin?

Maybe I’ll start with the different terms he uses that I had to look up myself. He provides definitions, but I haven’t been convinced:

metaphysics- “to die for the invisible” (35). Obviously this definition is related to the idea of metaphysics meaning “beyond the physical.” Everything physical can be seen, so something metaphysical will be invisible. The fact that we need to die for that which is invisible connects to the idea that we cannot be in relation to metaphysics, so I guess this definition does make sense, even if it needs to be broken down, first.

ontology- according to the google dictionary, ontology is both “the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being” and “a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them.” The first definition is simpler. It has to do with “being” and the sense of existence beyond the physical bodies that hold the thoughts, emotions, senses difficult to explain in physical terms (even if neurologists and cognitive scientists are working pretty hard to figure this stuff out). While I’m sure the first definition is the one Levinas focuses on, he does seem to include the second one in his considerations, especially in considering the “breach of totality” (35). For example, the ontology of identity as Levinas describes it (and I ascribe to as well) is that “the I is not a being that always remains the same, but it is a being whose existing consists in identifying itself, in recovering its identity throughout all that happens to it” (36).  “I” establishes a point of relation to the rest of existence, even to the other. Yet, while Levinas seems to discuss the other in relation to “I,” he does not consider the other beyond the human, or the physical, and this is what confused me throughout the reading. Ontology here has to do with the being of living, breathing humans and little else, as far as I can tell.

desire- the sensation of lacking something and that something being out of reach. We are only satisfying that desire when we reach the thing which satisfies what is lacked. I understand the striving for satisfaction as a kind of trieb or telos. 

metaphysical desire- “desire beyond everything that can simply complete it” and “toward the absolutely other” (34). It is a “desire without satisfaction which, precisely, understands [extend] the remoteness, the alterity, and the exteriority of the other” (34). The way I understood this was as a desire for something like God, which, along with Levinas’ evocation of transcendence brought the Romantics to mind. However, according to the discussion in my colloquium, God is not really part of this question and instead we are striving towards a sort of abstract structure with this metaphysical desire. On the other hand, if that structure is some kind of love, as was also proposed in the colloquium, then Levinas really is just an evolution of the Romantics. Or am I blinded by Levinas’ use of the word “transcendence?” Apparently, he did redefine it.

transcendence- “back” in my MA years, I learned what transcendence could mean for the Romantics through Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde, where love could take the physical and spiritual beings and help them reach a level of being wo/man could not experience before. This level of being would be in tune with nature and through that, the ultimate being. Based on that understanding, Levinas does not seem so different. For the Romantics, language and working through its structuralism was one way of reaching transcendence as well… still not so different from Levinas. However, I guess what makes him special is that he claims that this transcendence does not lead to a unity or universality, which the Romantics did believe in. Instead, “the metaphysician and the other cannot be totalized” (35). That is, the same cannot “establish its identity by simple opposition to the other” (38).  

Transcendence designates a relation with a reality infinitely distant from my own reality, yet without this distance, destroying this relation and without this relation destroying this distance, as would happen with relations within the same; this relation does not become an implantation in the other and a confusion with him, does not affect the very identity of the same, its ipseity, does not silence the apology, does not become apostay and ecstasy. (41-2).

Granted, I had to look up ipseity (selfhood; individual identity, individuality.) and apostay (the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle) myself. What I get from this definition is that transcendence allows for a totality of being that acknowledges the alterity of  the other without denying itself.

Um, so I guess this is where my interpretation of how this is an argument either for or against (couldn’t decide) cultural relativism comes in.

the other- in being distracted for so long by the definition of other as including non-humans, it took a while for me to return to the other as it also is used in the postcolonial sense, the other human who we cannot accept as ourselves.

The metaphysical other is “other with an alterity that is not formal, is not the simple reverse of identity, and is not formed out of resistance to the same, but is prior to every initiative, to all imperialism of the same” (38-9).

So far, I could deal with Levinas’ ideas and they mostly make sense, especially in working through them term by term like this. Still, I got/get confused when he brings in ethics.

ethics- according to my friends on Wikipedia, ethics (especially from a philosophical sense) “involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.” It does have something to do with morality, and I get that, but it also has to do with systematic concepts, and culture/society is what systematizes these. Yet, throughout my reading of Levinas, I thought culture/society was supposed to stay out of it (I haven’t been able to work through that reading yet. Maybe I am wrong)? I think what mostly confuses me is that ethics is set by Levinas in opposition to freedom, and that this freedom “comes from an obedience to Being” (45). But then, when I remember that ethics has to also do with that which separates man from animal, in the classical sense, then the idea of ethics being that which can take us beyond the physical is that which Levinas would support.

freedom- “Freedom does not resemble the capricious spontaneity of free will; its ultimate meaning lies in this permanence in the same, which is reason” (43).  It is “to maintain oneself against the other, despite every relation with the other to ensure the autarchy of an I” (46).  This brings me back to transcendence, and therefore transcendence is this kind of freedom.

All  of this writing so far, was just to help me work through Levinas. Now that I have, there are some potential ways to bring Levinas into my discussion. First of all, there is some mention of media/medium, but it’s a bit removed from the contemporary discussion. However, he also raises the the significance of conversation as precisely gaining the kind of freedom he advocates, and this is how I do think I can incorporate Levinas into my project.

Conversation, from the very fact that it maintains the distance between me and the Other, the radical separation asserted in transcendence which prevents the reconstitution of totality, cannot renounce the egoism of its existence; but the very fact of being in conversation consists in recognizing in the Other a right over this egoism. (40)

The autonomy of two utterances in the same conversation, the same one thing, reminds me of Dostoevsky and therefore of Bahktin and dialogism. If you’ve been following my project and arguments, you’ll know Bakhtin’s theories of dialogism, polyphony, and heteroglossia play a large role in them. So, I could extend Levinas to help explain what is meant by his heteroglossia and the way in which an individual, subjective utterance can emerge. I could also use Levinas to support the idea of the how “thought consists in speaking” (40).

So, um, again, yeah. These are my takeaways from Levinas’ chapter on the Metaphysical and Transcendence.

I’ll return soon with a look at what Butler makes of this. Thankfully, she helps bring him more productively into the 21st Century.

Work Cited:

“ethics.” Wikipedia. Web. 28 April 2017.

Levinas, Emmanuel trans. Alphonso Lingis. Totality and Infinity. Pittsburgh: Duquesne                UP, 1969. Print.

“ontonolgy,” “ipseity,” and “apostay.” Google Search. Google. Web. 1 May 2017.