Print Story 2007.06.29: The end inches nearer.
Diary
By BlueOregon (Fri Jun 29, 2007 at 02:06:24 PM EST) (all tags)

In which our hero fears, spins, and speaks. It's all tedious, self-absorbed mumbo-jumbo.

From “films that might be more interesting with a letter or two missing” by Steve Finbow ...

  • Dangerous Lions
  • Aging Bull
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbi
  • Passion of the Chris
  • The Earless Vampire Killers

I have the Polanski at home and have been meaning to watch it. But perhaps I'll stop by 4-Star this evening ... get a movie or two or three or four.

Inside: GPotD.



I

“Tief in den Himmel ...”

Tief in den Himmel verklingt
Traurig der letzte Stern,
Noch eine Nactigall singt
Fern,—fern.
Geh schlafen, mein Herz, es ist Zeit.
Kühl weht die Ewigkeit.

Matt im Schoß liegt die Hand,
Einst so tapfer am Schwert.
War, wofür du entbrannt,
Kampfes wert?
Geh schlafen, mein Herz, es ist Zeit.
Kühl weht die Ewigkeit.

—By Ricarda Huch

II

Prologue
It's time to pull a j3 I sort of feel: disappear, become a hermit, and write write write. My adviser didn't agree in so many words, but recognized that such a process might be productive for my work, my style.

On the way from my side of town to Fair Trade I stopped at my brother's place of employment. He wasn't in but a minion of his occupied the front desk. I think she's yh's clone.

Regarding Salinger's translation of this melancholy little poem, in the second stanza I don't see why he added that comma in the first verse. It's unnecessary in terms of grammar and when it comes to cadence and meter it introduces an ill-timed break. Perhaps he put it there because he does not have a comma, a breath, at the the end of the verse. Evidently he uses “soul” rather than “heart” so it can be paired with “cool” ... except that to pronounced “cool” and “soul” in any way alike would require a mouth numbed by local anesthetic.

A.
I have what some might call an irrational fear of my adviser. It's my own fault; it's not so much a fear of him as much a fear of dealing with him regarding my dissertation because I've been slacking for a long time and have little to show for my “efforts.” When I would hear him in the department I often closed my office door lest he walk by, see me, and stop. On other occasions he was unavoidable, but I tended to talk to him, if I could plan it, in a group setting, and if unavoidable I hoped the novelty of the situation—hey, fancy seeing you here!—would keep us away from the details of my work and matters of “progress.”. We were both at a conference together last fall, for example, but since he was presenting and the topic of the conference did not intersect directly with my work, we could stay off the topic of “me,” and when at a larger function after the first day of the conference, at this wonderfully catered party, it would have been rude for us to talk of us with so many others around.

The “fear” is justified insofar as it's my fault and based on my failings, and my suspicion that he wants an opportunity to take me to task. He lashed out at me once a half decade ago and it nearly came to shouting in my office one afternoon, and that was tied to a semester/year in which he almost tore a colleague of mine, J, a new one a week after pleasant behavior. It was his manic-depressive year, we like to call it, a year in which we could not predict his mood. We had all become dissertators by then, but during our years of coursework he'd been critical and occasionally even harsh when it came to substandard work, but never vicious or arbitrary. We like to think that he needed better meds. We heard rumors that he was having marital issues (wife ill, the distance, who knows?) This impression, even after the behavior faded, never did, and so all of us became a bit skittish around him. Later he remained critical of my lack of progress, failure to meet certain self-imposed and defined deadlines, but at most it was disappointment on his part. Quite rational. But no lashing out, nothing inappropriate. And then a couple years ago, right before I applied for the Fulbright, I met him by accident one afternoon at my coffee shop of choice at the time; he was talking and drinking with another colleague who hadn't yet passed prelims. So he asked how I'd lost all the weight, we talked of applying (last minute) for a Fulbright (which I got), etc. ... it was pleasant. Colleagues and I joked that he had gotten better meds.

Before Berlin I wrote him a chapter, delivered it to him as a stopgap measure of sorts, something to hold the fort until I could write something he'd actually like and accept. I gave it to him, he told me to move on to my content chapters, and I didn't hear back from him regarding that first chapter, my 80–90 page introduction. I got back from Berlin, we talked once or twice and he remained friendly, upbeat. We spoke at the conference and I got nothing but encouragement. Then time, months, passed, and at the end of last semester we met at an author reading and he said, “Let's talk before the end of the semester.” The end of the semester came and I was prepared to “talk,” but the semester (due to grading) ended a couple days later (in my mind) for me than for him, and as a result we couldn't speak; he'd already left for France. I then left for N.Y. Then I returned, and got an email from him with the subject line “Let's talk.” It sounded ominous. He wanted to know about my plans for the upcoming academic year, or rather, he wanted to talk about them. And my dissertation. He said he was leaving around the 5th, so we needed to talk before then, but instead of agreeing to meet right away I proposed today, to give me time to prepare something, another stopgap, perhaps. Perhaps most of a chapter. Who knows? Not I. But while for a day or two I got things written I hit another block and was unable to muster the energy for a huge segment. So I went into today's meeting with a bit of dread.

B.
Prague, the Arthur Phillips novel about which I've been raving the past week, centers implicitly and occasionally explicitly around spin and even prevarication. Some of it is romantic and romanticization. Imre's tale is suspected of being made up or at least embellished. Nadya's is claimed by most—such as by Emily—to be pure fiction, tall tales and fantasies, designed to entertain and to part the willing listener from his or her money in the form of drinks purchased for the teller. After Scott marches off, John, Charles, and Mark make up all sort of hilarious lies for a visiting guide-book contributor. Nicky's list of art works and their missing body parts must go unnoticed by John, but is an act of irony and fabulation for readers in “the know.”

For those who are interested, there is Harry Frankfurt's extended essay and book, On Bullshit.

I haven't been caught in a lie since elementary school, at least not been called on one. I've been able to get away with things at will, but I don't make a practice of it. I'm not even fond of making up white lies and such to please others, to stroke their egos, etc. I'd almost rather become confrontational than answer “does this make me look fat?” but I suspect I'm more likely to give the truth and suffer the consequences than to lie.

But there's always spin. You can accentuate and refocus. Interpret differently. Verbal sleight of hand. Dazzle them with something else, provide a red herring or even a carrot on a stick. Build metaphor upon metaphor so that the starting point is lost. What were we talking about?

I was prepared to spin today, I was prepared to do the equivalent of an analog PowerPoint presentation, give some bread crumbs as if they were the trail to my actual work. Talk about all the work I'd been doing, this new author I'd found, this topic I was struggling to integrate (“H, do you have suggestions for ...?”), and so on. Dress in vertical stripes to make myself appear slender; deck out my work in horizontal stripes to make it look fat with gooey intellectual goodness.

And just as after a bout of binge eating I would have felt ill and ashamed. Dirty. I've done enough spin in my life, convinced enough people of things I barely believed in, if at all, that I know how to do it, but I hate doing it. I would hate being a salesperson. I don't like being insincere. But today I was saved; no spin was necessary.

C.
There is this formulation of introverted and extroverted with which I do not exactly agree. I find too many of these things made up by antisocial and poorly socialized types to justify their behavior, but occasionally I find useful bits that I like to borrow. Not systematically, mind you, but just a bit here and there. And so in this introverted vs. extroverted formulation extroverts are energized by interaction (especially group interaction), whereas introverts are exhausted by it; this particular formulation also tends to turn extroverts into superficial folks with little or no inner knowledge, while it's the poor introverts, traumatized by the noisy world around them and those popular, social extroverts, who are the keepers of reflection-gained self-knowledge. They're deep, you see.

My rather social and social-butterfly friends from college (no such people in my grad program, really, neither students nor faculty) would say that I, someone who is fine being alone and doing things alone, fine going too a party and not making the rounds, and so on, am an introvert. I'm a shy enough person as well, as those who know me can attest, I suppose. I don't like being the center of attention because I know that when I am—and it's easy enough to become the center—I am taking that attention away from more worthy and interesting people. And I don't like being a fraud. But I spend so much time around the truly antisocial and asocial that among and compared to them I come across as positively outgoing. Another type of fraud, perhaps, one that is hard to avoid.

I organize things, I ask questions and for directions, I chat unprovoked with cashiers and baristas, I get to know the people in the corners at parties, especially my parties. But I won't approach random strangers; I consider that bothering them. Pretty standard stuff.

While I'm clearly not an extrovert, I do suffer from, one might say, the law of increasing returns when it comes to talking.

My 11a.m. meeting at Ground Zero with my adviser finished four hours later. While the content of the conversation (conversations?) was interesting (what an empty term) and promising (a further funding possibility, enthusiastic remarks on my work, and a likely invitation to an international conference in August), I realized as I walked down Willy, up King, through the capitol, and down State that it wasn't the content but the form that was making me feel so good. The act of talking, and talking some more, and listening and discussing. As the hours went on I grew less tired and the only problem I had toward the end was that my voice was starting to go. But I was energized, ready to go another round or two, and in the mood to get to work, right then.

But it was not to be, so I sit here instead, typing verbiage, spewing digital bits at unsuspecting and innocent intarweb victims.

Epilogue
I got my share of ego-stroking today from my adviser. I try to avoid reporting such crap because it's annoying, but since this is already an annoying boiary I shall not refrain any further. I intended my first chapter, about which I didn't hear back for the longest time, as both an introduction (duh) but also as a sort of stopgap. It's not that the chapter itself contained filler, but I didn't know whether, in terms of content and style, it would satisfy my boss. The first draft of the first part confused my colleague, C, when I first showed it to her two years ago, for she was used to me using specific and technical terminology in my speech, and was thrown off by the casual and almost conversational nature of my academic work. So I rewrote it in a slightly more formal style. My original intent for it was, after a brief introduction to the topic and before a likewise brief outline of the chapters to come, to contain an extended literature review, a rather dry summation and analysis of all that had come before in the relevant discourses. But this middle part, three separate “short” essays on the respective histories of aesthetics, analogy and rationality, ended up highly synthetic and even syncretic. I feared my adviser would say that it was too broad, not focused enough, etc.

Not true at all, it turns out. In his original email he wrote “One item is of course the part of your thesis that you sent me long ago. It is a nice piece of research and work.” But in person he was full of more praise, mixed with criticism not of me but of colleagues and the quality of material others are producing, work that's satisfactory but not creative or significant. Of course, I have to finish the thing, first, but evidently the first chapter made him very happy.

I'll stop now.

III

“Deep in the Heavens”

Deep in the heavens grows pale
Sadly one final star;
Still sings a nightingale
Far,—far.
It is time to slumber, my soul.
Eternity blows cool.

In the lap, the hand lies tamed
That held the sword tight.
Was all for which you flamed
Worthy the fight?
It is time to slumber, my soul.
Eternity blows cool

—Translated by Herman Salinger
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2007.06.29: The end inches nearer. | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden)
Best wishes... by ana (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Jun 29, 2007 at 03:12:27 PM EST
for a successful dissertation, whatever it takes.

Power up your flaming yo-yos already! --StackyMcRacky

Awesome! by toxicfur (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri Jun 29, 2007 at 03:32:27 PM EST
I'm glad the dreaded talk with the adviser went well. I was in the position of having a new one ripped by an adviser when I was a grad student. It was completely deserved, and I took it without making excuses (about the only thing I can be proud of at that point in my life). It was still one of the most unpleasant things I've ever dealt with as an adult.

Also, it is utterly unsurprising to me that your adviser loved your work.
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If you don't get a Bonnie, my universe will not make sense. --blixco

2007.06.29: The end inches nearer. | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden)