Thursday, September 28, 2006

Almost got it

Almost! I'm almost there. I had a breakthrough yesterday late afternoon and pounded out four pages that weren't crap (I think -- I haven't looked at them again today yet), and I'm narrowing in on a succinct summary of the project.

Remember in high school when you dreaded having to write essays longer than 500 words? Now the prospect of writing anything shorter than that fills me with dread. I swear that the hardest part of my thesis was at the very end of it all when I had to sum up almost three hundred pages in the page-long abstract that goes at the very beginning. And right now, trying to make some sense of the snowdrifts of notes and research I did this summer and synopsize it is like trying to ram a basketball through a funnel.

But I'm almost there. So of course I'm writing a blog entry ... though I find often that a few words on the blog at the beginning of the day can be a bit like stretching before a run. Some times it is genuine procrastination and avoidance, but sometimes it's a little like my morning coffee -- a warm and comfortable start to the day.

I'm not sure what it is today.

My project, by the way, in case anyone is interested (if you're not, now's the time to skip to the bottom and see if anyone has posted a comment) is a book-length study on the Cold War as a recurring theme in contemporary American literature. Or more specifically, it's the way in which certain novels re-imagine the formative Cold War years (i.e. the 1950s) in terms of a betrayed or absent masculinity. I'm tentatively titling it "Spectral Fathers: The Cold War and Postmodern Memory." (Say what you will about the quality of my scholarship otherwise, but I have a damn good knack for titles -- and never mind that my subtitle is sort of stolen from Paul Fussell. It's not stolen, it's an homage, dammit).

I was reflecting this morning on the weird way in which I've arrived at this topic. Not too weird, I guess ... in the course of writing my thesis I encountered a lot of the issues and questions I'm now pursuing, so I guess there is a causal line here. It is odd though insofar as my literary and scholarly obsessions are so often antithetical to my personality. I've never had anxieties about masculinity, mine or anyone else's (well, except for the usual teenage angst), yet here it is as a central theme in what will preoccupy me for the next few years. I'm utterly un-paranoid, yet my thesis was about conspiracy theory. I am fascinated with military history, yet know that not only would I be a lousy soldier, but that actually participating in a battle would leave some unpleasant stains in my pants; as a sub-topic of military history, I went through a phase when I was fascinated with submarine warfare, though I am pretty damn claustrophobic. I have read extensively about terrorism in Ireland, to the point of publishing a paper on it, though I cannot conceive of what would lead an individual to that sort of extreme of violence.

And so on. I guess in the end one of the things that motivates me is a fascination with states of mind and preoccupations that fall entirely outside my range of empathy. Which, I guess, is sort of the point of literature in general ...

OK, this has ceased to be a warmup for the day and is now officially procrastination. Once more into the breach ...


Anonymous said...


Indeed, the title is hellacious.

Anonymous said...

If you are interested in the psychology of why one would "choose" or participate in evil or violent circumstances, I suggest Roy F. Baumeister's book, Evil, Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. It is in the MUN library for sure. It is provides wonderful insight into the psychology of evil, such as terrorism or how individuals find themselves acting heinous. It is not full of jargon either. I'm sure you don't have a lot of time, but it may be worth a peek for your application.

Lesley said...

Yes, very fascinating. Anything to do with the cold war is awesome. Good luck with it. I hated writing 500 word essays because they always seemed so short. Believe it or not. But when I write stuff now, I try to write as much as I can and then whittle it down. It's always easier to start with more and have to reduce than it is to start with less and build up.

I think.