Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to school

Now is the time for modest goals. I've been on a three-month hiatus from work and am beginning to dread trying to start back up next week. Classes (and teaching) start next Wednesday. Maybe it's a function of the change in the academic calendar (i.e. three weeks lopped off the end of Summer) or maybe it's because I decided not to feel guilty about not doing work for a while (that was a nice change) but I'm not having any of the traditional excitement about the start of a new year. Maybe it's just the nature of post-coursework life. I've just got this monolithic project looming ahead of me and I don't know how to cope with that.

Anyway, here's what I'm thinking. The first week (or two) of classes will be crazy, so I'm unlikely to get a great deal of outside work done, but I'll try to get started before then. I'm envisioning a plan of doing dissertation work for two hours a day on normal days (M-F) until my schedule settles. Then, I will attempt to have one day each week when I can do at least four or five hours of work on the dissertation. I'm going to try to read and take notes on/react to one pertinent article each day as well as starting to (re)read my primary literature. Also, once a month I'm going to try to go to the library: If it's a Widener day, I'll browse the new periodicals; if I feel like Houghton, I'll spend time with archival materials and landscape stuff (Humphrey Repton's Red Books, here I come!).

Most important will be the note-taking and writing. I need to get good at that if I'm going to churn out a dissertation in the next two years. (Three?)

Wish me luck, at any rate.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Prospectus, Part the second

Reading, revising, reading, revising, reading, revising. Time well spent, I hope.

It’s exciting, actually to be on the brink of beginning to become intimately familiar with a writer’s entire work. I also think it will become necessary if I’m to make any kind of serious statement about the poet’s relationship to the phenomenon of space/nature/landscape. I need to begin (in the summer, probably) undertaking a survey of Rilke's works, particularly the prose ones. I feel like I'm skootching closer to a project that I'll be happy spending my next few years thinking about, which is thrilling and dizzying.

Anxieties still abound, though. A brief list:
  • I really bristle at the idea of getting caught thinking too much about author intentionality.
  • I bristle even more at the idea of finding myself arguing along Freudian/psychological lines.
  • I also sometimes wonder whether I'm cut out for this work. I'm reminded of an old adviser's words: "If I had it to do over, I would definitely have chosen career over family." Do you have to have that unwavering devotion (obsession?) with work to succeed in this field? I've always thought that academia was a field that was specifically well suited to balancing work and life. Hopefully I'm not wrong? Can you be a 40 hour a week (and occasional weekend) academic?
  • I feel like I've actually gotten less smart since I came to grad school. That would be counterproductive, wouldn't it?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Without comment

"So hatte man den Menschen empfunden zur Zeit, da man ihn groß malte; aber der Mensch war schwankend geworden und ungewiß, und sein Bild floß dahin in Verwandlungen und war kaum mehr zu fassen. Die Natur war dauernder und größer, alle Bewegung war breiter in ihr und alle Ruhe schlichter und einsamer. Er war eine Sehnsucht im Menschen, mit ihren erhabenen Mitteln von sich zu reden wie von etwas ebenso Wirklichem, und so entstanden die Bilder von Landschaften, in denen nichts geschieht. Leere Meere hat man gemalt, weiße Häuser in Regentagen, Wege, auf denen keiner geht, und unsäglich einsame Wasser. Immer mehr entschwand das Pathos und je besser man diese Sprache verstand, in desto schlichterer Weise gebrauchte man sie. Man versenkte sich in die große Ruhe der Dinge, man empfand, wie ihr Dasein in Gesetzen verging, ohne Erwartung und ohne Ungeduld. Und still gingen unter ihnen die Tiere umher und ertrugen wie sie den Tag und die Nacht und waren voll von Gesetzen. Und als der Mensch später in diese Umgebung trat, als Hirte, als Bauer oder einfach als eine Gestalt aus der Tiefe des Bildes: da ist alle Überhebung von ihm abgefallen und man sieht ihn an, daß er Ding sein will."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Prospectus, Part the first

I'm beginning to try to write my prospectus. How is one meant to express in ten pages, the work one hopes to accomplish in the next two years, not knowing yet exactly where that work will take you?

I'm beginning to see that my topic is good if you take for granted the importance of my theoretical framework. If you don't, however, it looks amateurish and unacademic. So, what I need to do is demonstrate, really convincingly, that my mode of thinking is relevant and intelligent enough to merit those two years' work. Alternately, I need to find a way to conceive of my theoretical frame as a genre and undertake the project as a study of that genre. So, this is what I need to do in my introduction (of both the prospectus and the dissertation itself).

One way of establishing relevance is to illustrate my topic's historical trajectory. How far back do I reach in pursuit of this goal? Certainly back to Goethe - Die Wahlverwandtschaften is an obvious choice - but do I attempt to go further? And if I don't, do I have to come up with a rationale for starting with the Goethezeit? Is my topic a phenomenon of the Enlightenment? If it is, why am I focusing on the 20th century? Too many things to think about.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Semester coming up...

As noted, I'm not really very good at keeping resolutions and I'm only inconsistent at making them. My birthday falls perilously close to the holidays, so resolutions made at that time are generally derailed by New Years. New Years seems an arbitrary day to start a new leaf and starting either 1. Hung over from the night before or 2. Depressed from holiday let-down never seems like a good idea. So, maybe a list of new-semester resolutions?

I'm thinking a lot these days about how to structure my time so that I'm productive as well as relaxed and balancing work with life. I'm also thinking a lot about how to have a life outside work, but that's a topic for a different blog. The challenges I'm facing are these.
  1. Not taking a full load of classes = less structured time, no discrete tasks to finish. This means no instant gratification.
  2. Prospectus due at a stupid time (February 27 - three weeks into the new semester)
  3. Adviser leaving the country at an even stupider time (January 25 - one month before Prospectus day)
  4. Danger of TFing duties eating up spare work-time.
  5. Danger of procrastination eating up all remaining time.
  6. Lack of concrete direction in Dissertation research/writing threatens to derail entire project from the beginning.
  7. Losing precious office space due to changing teaching duties. This is combined with:
  8. Inability to be productive at home.
So, how do I deal with these things?
  1. Try to keep my office. Failing that, create a good space for working at home (try to make the desk in the bedroom workable).
  2. Try to schedule sections carefully. I have a teaching commitment from 5:30-7:30 Thursdays and lecture 1-2:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Depending on when the Professor ideally wants sections to happen, maybe I could schedule them for Tuesdays after lecture - back to back? Then I would (theoretically, unless something else comes up) have MWF free.
  3. Budget time carefully and stick to that budget. I.e. spend no more than 2-2 1/2 hours prepping for Extension School each week. Plan specific times and tasks for working on Prospectus/Dissertation.
  4. Institute a system of goals/rewards. Set benchmarks to be passed before allowing myself to do something fun.
  5. Institute weekends and stick to real days off and real days working, rather than half-assedly doing both all the time.
If anyone here does read, do you have any tips on dealing with unstructured time and nebulous tasks? Do share.