Monday, August 16, 2004

Late Night Blather

It's a bit past my regular bedtime, the World Poker Tour has on the Challenge channel has finished, and I'm still unable to sleep. I thought I might sit down with a book, but everything that's not been boxed up (this, despite the fact we're not moving for another couple of weeks) has been read and is ready to be returned to the library. I then thought that I might, you know, actually get something written for the thesis. But, as has been the case for a couple of weeks, I'm dry. One of the more interesting things you learn when you're writing a thesis (dissertation, for you Americans) is that while it's really damn easy to write during the first year, by the time you've hit your third, you'll have more luck getting a tan in Glasgow than getting any words on a page (sure, it happens from time to time, if you happen to be outside when the clouds break, but you're better off staying inside a pub and watching football). I think this is because, to be very simplistic, you really have no clue what you're talking about most of the time during when you're getting started. I know I didn't anyway. You get accepted with an overly ambitious proposal -- say, the philosophical linkages between the 'fractured texts' (so pomo!) Pascal and Herman Melville, you realize it is overly ambitious within one month of actual research, which you never bothered to do when writing the proposal, but you're far too stubborn to admit this to your supervisors so you plow ahead, amassing loads of false starts and rabbit trails that total some 40,000 words, only to realize later, when reevaluating your status as a student due to financial constraints, that you've spent a year talking a bunch of shite, making connections that really ought not be made outside of a footnote or a cultural studies journal that you at this point hold with the utmost derision and scorn, and that while humanities research in general is kind of wanky in itself, you're threatening to cross the boundary into a level of autoeroticism that is not only intellectually unhealthy but, due to the alcohol and various illegal substances that would be necessary to make it through the endeavour, very likely physically debilitating. Thus begins year two: but you're still not quite ready to throw away those 40,000 words. That's a lot of work, after all. Surely that section of notes on Andy Warhol's car crash paintings will fit somewhere! You opt, instead, to 'set aside' most of year one for 'future reference', and decide a different angle of attack, sans Pascal this time. The next thing you know, you're in the middle of the third year, you have amassed several massive binders of notes, each with faintly apocalyptic messages of doom etched onto the covers, a wall of post-it notes referencing books whose titles, if you can read them, no longer ring any bells, and at least three burned CDs of miscellaneous manuscripts, all of which are different but in ways you can no longer divine, and a vague clue growing more ominous that you have absolutely no idea what to do with it at all. To top things off, by the end of the third year you've come to realize that you actually did have a good idea back in year one -- if only you'd followed through on all that Pascal stuff. Silly cow. By year four, the writing-up year you've been waiting three years for, if only because you don't have to pay full tuition, you're resorting to whispering to yourself half-hearted analogies from your everyday life for inspiration and insight, which prompts your new wife to suggest 'If you're not busy, maybe you could take the trash out for me.' Tonight's analogy: maybe I could enact some kind of typical Windows malfunction, like a blue-screen memory dump. How, I asked myself. Suggestion, to nobody in particular: 'See those two big black binders over there labelled Everything You Need to Know About Hegel, could you please be so kind as to put it in the oven? I can't bear to do it myself.'