Posted by: HAT | December 29, 2010

Cleaning Up

Hi, Gang!

The office desperately needs cleaning. It is so bad, it’s hard to know where to begin. The stacks have begun to grow stacks. So one of my immediate goals is to make a dent in the office clutter before the new year.

Today, I took down the accumulated notes that I had taped to the wall over the computer during the course of writing my dissertation. If I keep them they will be clutter — and I’m trying to reduce clutter! – but they have sentimental value – so it doesn’t feel quite right just to throw them away – so I’m archiving them here. They include:

  • a flow chart of the chapters, with subsections, that bears very little resemblance to the finished version [in particular, it still has a ch. 2 that deals with suffering & threats to utopia; what makes utopia seem hopelessly impossible; the extent to which the problem of ‘fallenness’ is transposed into a secular key in the axiom of no prelinguistic consciousness of objectivity, the problem of constitutive subjectivity, alienation, etc.]
  • a short statement from approximately the middle of the project summing up a perspective on utopia (“utopia intrinsically constituted out of suffering and imaginative resistance to it; because of this, ideas about the possible config. of utopia – like art works – contain traces & effects of social forces and ideas abt. their overcoming”)
  • an insight about Irigaray I had written in an e-mail to my director, that I was afraid I would forget (“I want to say that Irigaray is working out a specific Bakhtinian chronotope that is ‘between-two’, where the ‘two’ are irreducibly different subjectivities not separated in themselves from their specific objectivities. This differs from, though it is related to, Adorno’s ‘no-man’s land’ and ‘non-Being’ — specifically in the explicit incorporation of sexually different subjectivies. (Of course, this — the sexually different — is Irigaray’s whole project in a nutshell. But it relates to utopia in that it is the source of the constitution of the utopian space-time she envisions — although she explicitly says it’s NOT utopian. Lucky me.)
  • a statement about discourse: “Utopian discourse is a discourse of imaginary overcoming — the assertion that an alternative is at least thinkable, and if thinkable, then potentially potential — the potential to not not-be that becomes critical, that brings things and arrangements into existence, that differentiates. It could be, or not: but can it not not-be?
  • a set of questions about suffering: How do we think about the end of suffering? — in what terms, in what images, on what time scale, in what practices, in what place
  • a definition of utopia: “utopia: a representation of a world of suffering overcome (that representation might be literary, linguistic, ‘conceptual,’ visual-artistic, poetic, etc. — eventually it’s conceptual and imagistic, imaginary — that makes ‘utopia’ a pretty unstable symbol

The big one is the one I typed up in large print and printed on colored paper when things got very bad one day:

I’m actually pretty smart. I’m also capable of working very hard.

I care about this very much.

I am reasonably confident I know more about the topic of my dissertation than anyone on the committee, although there is much more to know. I am not claiming to know everything, or even to be 100% correct; I’m reporting my current level of understanding and observation.

This topic is well worth caring about. It seems abstract, but it is related to a practical, everyday issue that affects me and many others. It is directly related to how people begin to think of how to ‘change the world for the better,’ whatever the context.

My work may not be perfect, or THE BEST, but it is what I can do. It’s a decent start. Interested others might be able to advance it.

Eventually all of it went unconscious. At the time, every one of those sentences was a direct rebuttal to something going on in my head that I had to fight off daily (or more often) before I could get any work done. In the end half the project, at least, was overcoming the conviction that I couldn’t do it, and that if I did manage to do it, it wasn’t going to have been worth doing in the first place, or was going to be so INADEQUATE that anyone who actually knew the difference between good and not good would roll their eyes in contempt. The adage that the best is the enemy of the good (or perhaps more precisely, “the good is the enemy of the done”) definitely applied in my case.

Number One Daughter, her BFF, and I went to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last night. In that film, evil takes the form of a pervasive green mist (maybe someone’s idea of “the powers of the air”?) — or, it takes on the form of whatever concretizes some frightful imagining. Its modus operandi is to confuse, distract, dishearten, terrorize — so that its opponents will give up the fight. Not giving up is the critical factor in the triumph of good over evil.

I don’t imagine The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is “really” about finishing one’s dissertation. Knowing C.S. Lewis, I suppose it might “really” be about “the Christian life.” Nevertheless, it seems to dramatize a relevant insight or two with respect to dissertations and other projects of that kind: One’s own fantasies can be one’s fiercest opponents, and not giving up is the critical factor.


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