Feeling Furious

Reading Kate Zambreno‘s latest brilliant book ( and I don’t use the word brilliant very often) HEROINES I am incensed, furious, livid, at what was (and maybe still is) considered an acceptable attitude towards women’s writing of the modernist era.
I can’t put the damn book down – my PhD – the submission of which is fast approaching, imminent in fact! – sits neglected as I devour Zambreno’s deliciously constructed text.

“He writes I imagine, in the tradition of neurotic men who treat women as objects but are forgiven for their insight and sensitivity, in the tradition of falling in love and into beautiful girls. The entire history of Western literature is dominated by absolute pricks, I realize, pricks that can’t get hard but yet ejaculate with such eloquent language, Beckett was a prick with Lucia Joyce (poor Lucia), Scott Fitzgerald was a prick and how does she get revenge? She is always the minor writer.”

Kate Zambreno, Heroines (2013) p. 228.

The only problem being? Now I want to read EVERYTHING she mentions – all of it – the novels, the biographies, the letters, the diaries, the scraps – THE EVIDENCE of the silenced/othered.

I like to think my own heroine, Rebecca West, survived and was artistically successful because she dumped that pompous narcissist H. G. Wells , who tried his damnedest to control her, squirrelling her and their son off to the wilds of Wales and Norfolk to keep her out of sight and away from her career … just in time!

It’s made me more aware of myself as a female, as a writer, as a fractured identity than anything else I have ever read – it speaks to women in the here and now. Claim yourselves! She seems to be saying. Don’t be negated – don’t be sanitised by male expectations!

This author is inspirational.

In other news – 

Meet Hilda!

We don't all need to be size 0 to look HOT!
We don’t all need to be size 0 to look HOT!

On a more frivolous note – a friend sent me a link to this cheeky little bit of lighthearted fluff … leaving the whole hyper sexualised/objectifications of the female body thing aside for now it’s good to know a fat girl can rock the Pin-up world!

After all I keep saying it so it must be true  FAT is a feminist issue!

Zaftig /zäftig/ adjective: (of a woman) Having a full, rounded figure; plump. Yep – and baby I am not giving up cake for no man!

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Getting Crafty With it …

I had forgotten the therapeutic nature of crafting – so set aside a day this weekend to have a wee fiddle.

A friend of mine kindly loaned me her rather extensive stash of craft materials, departing with a wink and a parting comment of ‘I don’t mind what you do as long as you make me something!’ 

 

So I set to and made her a card … then I made another card for someone I know who was having a bit of a rough time of it, and thought – hey this is procrastination taken to a fine arty level FUN!

The project I was working on at the weekend needs refining and I doubt I am going to be making my fortune out of selling them to  gullible foo other folks, but I did find the process of creating something physical with my hands a great way of relaxing my mind and emptying it of all the circulating ideas that get so confused and tangled.

 

The problem with any such displacement activity is that you just want to to do more and more of it, especially as it brings with it a kind of zoning out peaceful trance like quality that is hard to attain when engaged in academic work! 

 

So what to do? Well perhaps treat myself to craft sessions every time I reach certain goals, like a glorified grown-up star chart! Whilst I can see to the outsider this seems like a ridiculous state of affairs, I will do what I need to do to psychologically get myself through this damn process, and if that includes treating myself like a reluctant toddler in order to get myself to do anything productive, so damn well be it! 

 

Who knows it might work!

Drafts

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

Ok … so what constitutes an introduction? How do I summarise, without necessarily generalising, the objectives of my 80,000 plus thesis; remembering not to go into too much detail, whilst not neglecting important factors. It seems a tall order to me …

I was working on the premise that as the thesis unfolded so would my argument? No?

Apparently not – I need to be far more methodical in my approach so I turned to some tipsters for their advice ..

What is an introduction?

  1. A statement of the goal of the paper: why the study was undertaken, or why the paper was written. Do not repeat the abstract.
  2. Sufficient background information to allow the reader to understand the context and significance of the question you are trying to address.
  3. Proper acknowledgement of the previous work on which you are building. Sufficient references such that a reader could, by going to the library, achieve a sophisticated understanding of the context and significance of the question.
  4. The introduction should be focused on the thesis question(s).  All cited work should be directly relevent to the goals of the thesis.  This is not a place to summarize everything you have ever read on a subject.
  5. Explain the scope of your work, what will and will not be included.
  6. A verbal “road map” or verbal “table of contents” guiding the reader to what lies ahead.
  7. Is it obvious where introductory material (“old stuff”) ends and your contribution (“new stuff”) begins? (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~martins/sen_sem/thesis_org.html#Introduction)

This raises a few questions then – the Abstract – do not repeat it? So what should I say in the abstract?

  • A good abstract explains in one line why the paper is important. The final sentences explain the major implications of your work. A good abstract is concise, readable, and quantitative. 
  • Length should be ~ 1-2 paragraphs, approx. 400 words.
  • Absrtracts generally do not have citations.
  • Information in title should not be repeated.
  • Be explicit.
  • Use numbers where appropriate. (N/A- Humanities rarely want numbers!)
  • Answers to these questions should be found in the abstract:
    1. What did you do?
    2. Why did you do it? What question were you trying to answer?
    3. How did you do it? State methods.
    4. What did you learn? State major results.
    5. Why does it matter? Point out at least one significant implication.
  • It all sounds so very simple doesn’t it …

So – I have the body of my research done, the majority of it drafted out into chapters, a little muddled in parts and crying out for rewrites, two small chapters to be written (which is normal) and my supervisor wants an introduction, to set out the thesis to help me restructure (makes sense right?)  …

Sooooo – it should be easy! It should! Oh yes it bloody well should!

So why am I sitting here scratching my head, scrabbling for words to describe what I can so “eloquently” (her words not mine) discuss when I am in a session with her?

Oh – the things that beleaguer us are often so minuscule, so inscrutable, so quixotic, what chance do we , mere mortals, stand of ever pinning them down …

Well if they can do it so can I!

Image

From HDR

Your first chapter is extremely important because it sets the scene and the tone for the thesis. It is your first real opportunity to highlight the importance and value of your work and to contextualise it, all in a well-written, clear and interesting manner. This is the first impression that the reader or your examiner will get. It will give an indication of the writing style, the depth of research and content, structure, language and complexity. Examiners indicate that they pay considerable attention to the first chapter, which creates a strong initial indication as to the standard of the thesis.

This first chapter must introduce the thesis with an emphasis on its key components, providing a clear statement of the topic or problem under investigation. It generally includes:

  • Context information
  • Theoretical framework
  • Statement of the problem or ‘gap’ in the research
  • Aims of the project
  • Brief description of your methodology/ research
  • Outline of chapters – Thesis plan

The purpose of the Introduction is to provide a rationale for your research project. It establishes the need for your research within the current knowledge of the discipline, in a clearly constructed logical and explicit argument, clarifying how this work will contribute to knowledge in the field. In addition, the Introduction often discusses why the particular approach taken in conducting the research has been chosen.

To establish the need for your research, you must indicate in precise terms the problem which has not yet been adequately investigated. This is usually done by showing:

  • the limitations of previous research
  • the gaps in the previous research
  • the unresolved conflicts in the field that still require investigation
  • new developments that are required by the current state of knowledge in your field.

You will probably treat these points in more detail elsewhere in the thesis – if you review the literature in a free-standing chapter or in sections of separate chapters, for example – but you still need to present them in summary form in the introductory chapter.

The Introduction generally moves from general information providing background about the research field to specific information about the research project itself, culminating in an outline of the chapters . This finale to the introductory chapter provides a plan of the structure of your project, describing chapter by chapter, the major components of the research and showing how the various threads are woven together. Try to make it interesting and informative as you outline the way the content is organised in each chapter.

Absentminded Blogger

Is it just me or am I the only blogger who keeps forgetting they have a blog?

I start with such good intentions then real life gets in the way and it all goes to pot!

I am clearly the most inattentive and absentminded blogger on WordPress! But I do have an excuse – I have a huge 25k word chapter due – NEXT FRIDAY!!! And I am just scraping past the 16k mark … sloooooooooow progress! So this is an appeal for anyone out there with a spare 9000 words or so – please throw them my way. If they are somehow connected to inimitable Rebecca West or to modernist periodicals so much the better but at this point I am just not fussy!

 

In other news i really should not be sharing this or even playing with it myself – great procrastination can be found playing with Pinterest! Can I tempt you?

Just call me – your bad influence – I have broad shoulders I can take it!!!

I am going back into the word wilderness – I may be sometime … blogging will resume at some point after I have recovered from the imminent collapse of handing in a huge chunk of work! Arriverdecinever goodbye!

The Academic Community

On the back of yesterday’s good news post I began to think of all the times I had been the recipient of another academics generosity. And there have been many.

SO here is my list of things that have made my life as an academic easier

  • My supervisors never fail to respond to emails promptly – which as any fraught student will know is invaluable. Their feedback can bite sometimes but I know when I do submit that my thesis will stand up to any scrutiny as it has already been seen by the most invested and thorough of eyes!
  • Support staff at my institute and others are usually the most accommodating, usually bending over backwards with the skill of a contortionist to provide the help and support I have needed.
  • When attending conferences I usually find the discussions are unrestricted and unguarded – information is freely shared and whilst some academic reticence is necessary there seems to be little jealousy. More a kind of shared enthusiasm for the subject.
  • Librarians – now libraries are usually a source of contention in any HE or FE institution. Book provision has to be the no.1 talked/complained about matter at any student/staff council. But setting that aside I have found librarians (the proper qualified kind with expertise knowledge in your field) to be the most patient  and generous with their time and knowledge. Our specialist librarian once had me in for a one to one session on how to search for information and locate archives. This was of a great help to me when I was floundering. Her name will be included in the acknowledgements to my thesis because it was as important to my research at that time as my supervisor’s feedback
  • National Libraries – busy busy places that deal with all levels of enquiry yet never fail to come up with the goods – they are like specialist librarians on speed – is there anything they don’t know?
  • Archives and repositories – the best place to get in touch with someone as enthusiastic as you are – the curator of any archive that relates to your topic! It’s a reciprocal relationship because you can learn from them but they can also learn from you!
  • Department faith in students – ours recently handed over book ordering responsibilities to the student. This means we can access our Coutts account and order books that we need in order to carry out our research effectively. They may be subject to approval but simply letting us be responsible is a great sign that our faculty trust us to behave in a grown up fashion.
  • Other academics inc. fellow students and bloggerstudents – Apart from yesterday’s wonderful gift I have also been given book chapters before they were published, as well as articles and information relevant to my work. One in particular involved other academics talking to each other so I got an advance copy of a seminal text that was not going to be complete for another 6-10 months – Thank you Peter Brooker and Jean-Michel Rabaté  for you utter selflessness … I bought the book!
  • Family and friends – last on the list maybe but never least. None of us could manage this without their unstinting support.

Sometimes in life it is just the right time to stop and smell the roses and realise things are never as bad as they seem – that in the darkness of that blinking black cursor and vastness of the empty white screen there is always a glimmer of light

Have a good Wednesday – I am off to write!

UPDATE ON SCRIVENER: it was so good I bought the license – I cannot imagine writing without it now. It just organises all the information you need into these neat little split windows – it shows you any view of the document you want and is adaptable for academic and non-academic writing. Well worth it. Even though I would say it still has a lot to offer that I haven’t tapped into and it is not glitch free or perfect, the forums are fantastic for tips and the software creator is constantly trying to improve the product with regular updates. If you are serious about writing it is well worth downloading the FREE 30 day trial! 

Pecha Kucha

This is a very new idea to me and I have just received a CFP for a 10 minute presentation based on the Pecha Kucha style.

My immediate response was to google the term and see what it threw up. Started in Japan in 2003, it is an innovative presentation style consisting of a 20×20 presentation lasting 10minutes; you show 20 images lasting 20 seconds each, talking about each one. This is an unique and concise way of getting people to present their research in a fast and dynamic way.

I am intrigued and am contemplating submitting an abstract (it is being run by my Undergrad supervisor so I am familiar with the folks on the panel) but not sure how I can fit it into my PhD research; though I have some ideas… I also think it would be interesting to put a presentation like this up on my public academic profile at Academia.Edu

So that is my new challenge for 2012 – firstly to learn how to pronounce Pecha Kucha

AND – to submit an abstract for a Pecha Kucha Style presentation, get it accepted and actually survive the experience.

Any advice welcomed!

My other challenge is to finally learn how to use colons and semi-colons with efficacy and precision! Apparently according to Lynne Truss

“The main reason people use [the semicolon], however, is that they know you can’t use it wrongly — which, for a punctuation mark, is an uncommon virtue” (Truss 122)

Virginia Woolf may have wholeheartedly subscribed to that dogma but unfortunately  my supervisor doesn’t!!! I would like at least one piece of crit that doesn’t berate my use of the colon and semi-colon! Tall order me thinks!

Geeks’ Corner

What do you call a gathering of Geeks … a conference. Boom Boom

Ok! so my career as a stand-up comic is still never going to happen developing but yesterday I was inspired to write about my support network after reading the lovely Jacqueline’s post ‘Calling all Dreamers’. She hit on something that has underpinned my entire academic career – that of support.

I have been the beneficiary of so much support, from my family from my friends and most importantly (in some respects) my fellow Geeks – the number of which totals two. These two people provide me with a very important outlet – the space to talk shite! about what I love to talk about most – literature, politics, gender dynamics, feminism, history. I know I can drop the odd quote into the conversation without sounding like an utter freak. I can spout forth about Nietzsche and there isn’t a single eyebrow raised or a glazed over eye. It is so important to have a context like this in which you can feel, well how shall I put this, normal. 

 

My aspirations are shared with these friends (only one of which is still in academia, the other is now in retail but still has the heart of a true Geek). When I whine about want to discuss my supervisor they don’t groan and tell me to change the record, they can often share some sympathy, if not empathy and horror stories of their own. Like fellow academic bloggers they can offer me the correct panacea for my troubles, inste

ad of scrabbling around for relevant platitudes …

most importantly ~ They GET my jokes!

If I come unstuck in my research I can seek out their

advice. When I am feeling insecure about my work I can get one of them to give it a quick glance over and say ‘aye that’s ok’ (he’s a bloke and very succinct in these matters). But most of all I can relax, laugh and be so utterly geeky in their company and not be embarrassed. I don’t have to justify what I do (which even with very supportive family can be a bit of a bone of contention). The same things rock our boats. Sharing discoveries about our research is met with shared euphoria and you don’t feel as though they are doing it just for your benefit.

The Thesis Whisperer blog today issued a post about collaborative work and this kind of fits in with what I wanted to say as well. Because, it may be a cliche, but a problem shared really is a problem halved. Working in isolation, as we inevitably have to, we need these points of contact with fellow like-minded people to sustain our energy and enthusiasm. It also kind of plays into my posts about Conferences, Forums and Symposia acting as a sort of ‘living well’ of community and inspiration. It is important to sustain contacts and relationships of this mutually supportive and understanding nature.

What follows is an example of the consequences of eschewing this kind of mental support – albeit an extreme one and one taken from the early part of the Twentieth-century, but , still in my opinion, one worth re-telling.

***GEEK ALERT*** What follows is also related to my Phd and may provide the cure for insomnia should you choose to read on! To any one interested in Suffrage and Women’s Rights it may be of vague interest. 

‘A Brave and Beautiful Spirit’

 As human beings were are designed to live in a community (even if it doesn’t feel much like it a lot of the time). Mentally it is proven that bouncing ideas around ‘brain storming’ and taking part in collaborative work can have enormous benefits to our own personal intellectual development. This already acknowledged fact was  given  further credence recently as I read my god help me if I lose it, damage it, am late returning it British Library Book ‘A Brave and Beautiful Spirit’: Dora Marsden 1882-1960. Marsden was an intelligent and remarkable woman, who began her intellectual life at 13 when she became a Teacher-Apprentice. She worked as a teacher and attended, via scholarship, Owen’s College at Manchester University receiving a BA. Manchester was one of the first colleges to accept women and confer them with degrees.During her time at University she became interested in the hot topic of the day Suffrage becoming friendly with many women who would later become synonymous with the Woman Movement of the early Twentieth-century. In 1908 she became active in the WSPU whilst still a teacher  ~ there is a strong affiliation between women teachers and the suffrage movement which began life with Mary Wollstonecraft’s assertion that women should be educated back in the 18th century. She quickly rose to prominence and carried out some incredible stunts to draw attention to the movement and the rights of women to secure the vote.  Not least was The Winston Churchill Affair which has become legendary in suffrage history briefly recounted here from Spartacus.

4th December, 1909, she joined Helen Tolson and Winson Etherley in attempting to disrupt a meeting in Southport that was being addressed by Winston Churchill. According to the local newspaper “the security for the meeting was unprecedented in the history of the town”. While Churchill was speaking he was interrupted by Marsden. Emmeline Pankhurst later recalled that Marsden was “peering through one of the great porthole openings in the slope of the ceiling, was seen a strange elfin form with wan, childish face, broad brow and big grey eyes, looking like nothing real or earthly but a dream waif.”

Dora Marsden provided an account of what happened next in Votes for Women: “A dirty hand was was thrust over my mouth, and a struggle began. Finally I was dropped over a ledge, pushed through the broken window, and we began to roll down the steep sloping roof side. Two stewards, crawling up from the other side, shouted out to the two men who had hold of me.” Despite being arrested the local magistrate dismissed all charges against them.

Disaffected with WSPU autocracy, she and fellow members Grace Jardine and Mary Gawthorpe left and began a small periodical called The Freewoman: A Feminist Review in November 1911. It was a notorious and controversial publication which eventually was banned from distribution by W.H. Smith and in it Dora Marsden was to pursue her continued interest in Philosophical academics. Her life is one of tragedy. So brilliant a star was dimmed by a series of events which led to her moving from the hub of literary life, London, to a small place called (ironically) Seldom Seen, near Ullswater, ostensibly to get the peace and quiet she required to ‘think clearly and work industriously’ … it was the beginning of a very slow and sad decline, which Les Garner believes culminated  with an attempted suicide in 1935. She spent the last 25 years of her life in an asylum for the mentally ill in Dumfries, still continuing ‘her work’. Like many great thinkers (Descartes for example) she believed that isolation was the key to clear and lucid understanding, when in fact what she most likely needed was the discursive community she had striven to create  within the pages of The Freewoman/ The New Freewoman. Once she withdrew from this ‘living debate’ her mind lost its ability to relate philosophy to reality and as a consequence it drifted towards insanity instead of brilliance.

So sad, so tragic and (albeit a rather  extreme) a salutary lesson to anyone who thinks they can’ go it alone’ .