Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Laziest Scholar Struggles with an Article

Maude has asked for tales from France, but I'll put those off for a bit, because I feel that I should at least gesture towards some sort of scholarly content on this here blog. I know. Blog as source of guilt? Wacky, huh?

Anyway, here's the problem with this article. Or the two problems, more precisely.

1) I quite simply do not feel motivated to work right now, and frankly I think that, despite my extreme non-workiness over the last week, that this laziness is somewhat justified. I do have a book contract, after all. Have I mentioned recently that I'm the first person at Field to have such a contract in, oh, forty years or more? No? Well, here I go, mentioning it!

1b) Oh, and I am GETTING MARRIED in nine days. Shouldn't I be doing something about that?

2) While I think that I do have some interesting ideas that I'd like to develop in this article, I started it a really long time ago. Thirteen months ago, in fact. So I have this draft, which I think sort of sucks, and some interesting ideas, and I am not the sort of scholar who decides to rewrite things, so I'm stuck with attempting to revise in my new, interesting ideas. During the course of "revising in" I typically wind up rewriting, but I don't like to think of it in those terms. So I have this 33-page lump of text into which I occasionally inject a couple of sentences before shutting my laptop in despair.

Allow me to walk you through the genesis of this "article."
  • In working on my dissertation, I read a bunch of visionary texts and lives of medieval visionary women. I come across this one, about whom not too much has been written, and, while the narrative in itself didn't captivate me, there was an interesting paragraph in the prologue where the biographer essentially tells his readers that they'd be crazy not to trust him. This paragraph winds up in my last chapter as an example of a phenomenon. It is not discussed at length.
  • This chapter, because it's about Chaucer, becomes the basis for a conference paper and a couple of job talks. Interesting Paragraph is mentioned in all of these later incarnations.
  • I see an interesting conference CFP (Hi, MW!) and think, Hey, I could write a paper for that, and use IP as an example there, too! In the course of writing the paper, I re-read the Vita in question, and ultimately it becomes the focus of Conference Paper 1: the phenomenon occurring in Interesting Paragraph occurs elsewhere in the text, too, and I'm interested in that.
  • Months and months go by. Last summer I decide to write an article based on CP1. I read the Vita for the third time. Phenomenon might be part of a larger technique for structuring how the audience reads the text. An article (which I actually think is okay at the time) gets drafted.
  • Then I get readers' reports on my book MS (in September), and the article languishes. In the meantime, however, I submit a proposal for a Leeds paper on the Vita and a much more famous quasi-saint's life.
  • Months and months go by.
  • In June, I finally write the Leeds paper. I am ashamed to admit that I do not read the Vita for a fourth time. The paper is largely drawn from the slovenly article draft (I no longer find it to be quite so okay), although I manage to refine and develop a few ideas somewhat in the process of writing it up.
  • On the plane from Paris to Leeds, I decide that I really ought to reread the Vita in case I get any questions or anything. (I don't. Get questions, that is. Or at least, no questions that require an in-depth knowledge of the text.)
  • Obviously I do not finish the Vita before my paper. I wind up reading it (fourth time!) in France and when I get back. I finished it over the weekend.
  • This time, I see LOADS of interesting things. All kinds of stuff about reason and unreason, inner and outer experience, harmony and conflict between body and soul. Fascinating asides. I start thinking that I could, like, theorize something here about subjectivity and the divine. Fantastic!
  • I start revising. I write about two sentences. I read blogs.
  • I start revising the next day. Work well for about an hour. Am confronted with hideous block of text.
  • Open document the next day. Hideous block of text remains intact.
  • Repeat yesterday.
  • And today.
  • Yuck.
  • Can I just work on syllabi, or something?
And, you know, I really don't want to read this Vita again. I mean, it has interesting stuff in it. But, like all Vitae--and these seem to be my main focus of scholarly interest from now until forever--it is frankly rather dull. At least, I think so. I find them simultaneously fascinating (conceptually) and deadly (in the details of the reading). Does this make me a bad medievalist? Or is it a sign of Scholarly Character that I only work on books that I don't actually enjoy reading? (I do enjoy thinking about them, however. I'm not so dreary as all that.)

I did fall in love with a visionary Vita-type text, once. Book 2 of Gertrude of Helfta's Legatus Memorialis Abundantiae Divinae Pietatis. But I was a green young prospectus-writer back then.

On the plus side, I took really good notes this time around (insofar as I ever take "really good notes")--so maybe I won't have to slog through the whole thing again anytime soon. Maybe?


Sisyphus said...

I hereby grant you permission to not think about the article at all between now and your wedding --- go freakout over wedding freakery!

PS those last few bullets are exactly how I write _everything_. All the time. Drafting, revising --- whatever. So, um, you are not alone?

(it sounded better than we're fucking crazy for doing this.)

Maude said...

Sisyphus is right! About everything! (Isn't she always though?) Look, I don't even know who you're even thinking about an article right now. I kind of admire it, actually. The only thing I was doing 9 days before my wedding was cleaning, freaking out about the wedding, cleaning, freaking out about the wedding, running to get rid of stress leading to freaking out about the wedding, and yeah, freaking out about the wedding! Enjoy this time, as stressful as it is. This whole experience should be fun. It's supposed to be fun, not marred and clouded by academic responsibilities. You'll have plenty of time to get back to those. Enjoy yourself! So here you have two people granting you permission NOT to think about the article at all for at least the next nine days!

I know how you feel, too, about texts that you will be engrossed in for forever--two of my authors in my diss, while theoretically I love them, I do NOT love reading them, at all. Sometimes they make my eyes cross.

And though she *didn't* want to say it, it's true. We are fucking crazy for doing this.

Maude said...

um, instead of "who you are thinking of the article," that should be "HOW you are thinking..."

Phul Devi said...

I'm intrigued by your comment about working on texts that you don't really enjoy, because I have ended up doing the same thing. I mean, I can get very excited by the ideas they give me, and interested in working through those ideas with snippets from more texts, but I almost never identify strongly with my texts and their authors. In fact, sometimes I find them quite dreadful! I always thought that was an unusual stance, so I'm interested to hear that you share it.

And, as Sis and Maude said, I'd enjoy the lead-up to the wedding and leave aside the article stress. You've got a book contract, for heaven's sake!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I'm quite fond of my texts, but when I started thinking about the people who were their likely original audience, I realized I probably wouldn't like any of them. This makes me uncomfortable.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hey there, lady! I have a close connection with someone who works on medieval visionary women, albeit in History, rather than Lit. If you want, drop me a line, and I'll do what I can to hook you up.

undine said...

What Sisyphus and Maude said: You're getting married in a few days--take the week off!

The good notes (and, okay, the "hideous block of text") will still be there, but the block will become fascinating and reveal its secrets in time.