Crunchy Sweet

Because 1.) dissertation jokes are funnier to me these days than they will ever again be for the rest of my life and because 2.) I had a floaty-full bowl of whole grain Cheerios for lunch today, check this from McSweeney’s, “From My Unfinished Doctoral Dissertation on Breakfast Cereals,” by Dave Frye:

In Linnaeus’s rudimentary typology, all cereals were divided into two broad categories: those that float and spill all over the place when you pour the milk in and those that sink and harden into something like cement if you forget to rinse the bowl. Linnaeus’s work was greeted with broad enthusiasm in the 18th century, particularly in England, where Dr. Johnson adjudged his work “crunchy sweet,” and Gibbon was inspired to begin work on his magisterial Sinking and Floating of the Roman Empire.

Plus, who doesn’t feel overjoyed at the prospect of reading from an unfinished dissertation?


Here is a piece of mail that arrived today: a postcard from a thoughtful, support-for-when-you-really-need-it company
called Academic Ladder. The absence of a bona fide postage stamp makes me think this
came to me via
bulk mailing, but in case it was sent to me alone, I share it here for posterity’s sake. 
Also, these are some of the design elements that might powerfully reach out to
other late-stage dissertators:

  • "STRUGGLING", all caps and in a blood-curdling font you probably don’t
    have installed on your home computer (my guess: TrueType Chainsaw
    Massacre Smear Italics 48).
  • Why don’t you have the font installed on your home computer? 
    Apparently, you are writing the dissertation using a steno notebook and No. 2
    pencil.  Getting started involves tearing off and crumpling whole
    sheets of paper that you keep on the desk as you work–the origami of
    unshakeable frustration.
  • The offer: A "free" toolkit with everything a late-stage dissertator
    needs to know about "How Academia Messes with your Mind (and what to do
    about it)" and "Find out if you have Ph.D. Imposter Syndrome!"

What’s that? No, in fact, it’s nobody’s business whether I
ordered a toolkit. That’s not what this entry is about. Anyway, it’s my CCCC
presentation I’m struggling to complete today.

Second, Subsequent Streams

Revisions have been challenging. Having resolved myself to more
drafting before squaring with revisions, the commented drafts of my
dissertation’s introduction and first two chapters tend to taunt me. I haven’t
figured out how to fit it in, how to make room for it given the other regular
paces. I’d been meaning (for a couple of weeks) to get through some of the
first-stage directorial comments to those early chapters, mostly because I want
them to be ready for the rest of my committee sometime in Marchpril and also
because I have at least one other reader who I’m trying to get them ready for.
So I took a leap head-long into the "When will I revise?" problem on Saturday,
and spent most of the day with it.

The introduction was fairly easy. It’s elastic: short, overviewy, and
without glaring needs. It was manageable to get through all of the
comments, and make appropriate adjustments, leaving aside the summaries of the
last two chapters (5, 6) because are yet unwritten. But working through
Chapter One was somewhat more daunting; I expected this since it is much thicker
than the introduction. I got through all of the superficial stuff, and ended up
with a list, indexed by page, of what is left: two placeholder notes (no work
required), four easy changes (citation adding, a one-sentence gloss on this or
that), seven moderately difficult changes (almost all of which require some
re-reading of sources), and one major change (a section that I will probably
re-write from scratch with a slightly different–simpler–focus). It is
helpful to have the index; but I don’t know when I will get to it. Perhaps
in Marchpril. Or Mayune. (Ay, clearly, we need a better vocabulary for two-month

I am not in panic mode about the demands of revision, the frequency or scope
of the changes due (I know because I have not been tempted to add exclamatory
emphasis to any of this.). But I still don’t know how to work those
revisions into what has been, out of necessity, a fairly compacted daily
schedule. In this room-for-revision conundrum there lingers a problem of
rhythm-breaking, and it’s difficult to embrace that challenge when it’s been so
challenging just to establish a more or less even writing rhythm (the dailiness
of dissertating, call it). Perhaps as much as anything, blogging has prepared me
for the dailiness, but I still feel somewhat spun-around (i.e., vertigahh!) by
the prospect of taking revision very seriously while drafting. To say
nothing of other projects needing attention. So maybe if I stack all of it
in a tidy pile on the deepest corner of my desk, it will still be there when I
get to it in a couple of weeks.

Doubling Back

I emerged from Netheruary break on Monday still in a bit of a haze from the
weekend. Did you see that the Giants won the Superbowl? Enjoyed
every minute of it.

But this is an entry about the diss. I expected that I would bound back
into my daily paces on Monday, resume the 9-noon sessions, aiming for roughly
two pages each day so as to have a draft of Chapter Four by the end of February.
But I fell into a slump. I couldn’t see the chapter. I knew vaguely what I
wanted to do. I had an outliney plan, a few notes, a bottle of Vitamin Water. I had the graphs I
painstakingly built day by day throughout January. And I remain fond of the
graphs. I think they’re quite good for getting at what I take to be the aim of
the chapter. But! I couldn’t grasp the chapter; couldn’t sense it,
couldn’t begin it in a smart-enough place. And, therefore, piling them up 2 p.
by 2 p. by 2 p., I typed nearly seven pages of rubbish between Monday and
Wednesday. I would excerpt some of it to win my point; then again, I would
never subject you to such inhospitable treatment.

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Writing Feverlets*

Curious about her critique of Derrida’s Archive Fever, I picked up a
copy of Carolyn Steedman’s Dust: The Archive and Cultural History from
Bird Library, recalling it from another patron who had checked it out (v. sorry
about that). I deal briefly with AF in Chapter Three. Steedman
makes the point that AF is less about archives than about Derrida’s
concern for the slippage of origins (a theme in his other work) and the
inseparability of psychoanalysis from Freud (and also Judaism). She
writes, "The Foreword [to AF] carried the main argument, about Freud’s
Jewish-ness, and the contribution of Jewish thought to the idea of the archive,
via psycho-analysis" (7). Basically, Steedman is suspicious of Derrida’s
characterization of the fever (as a frenzied pursuit of origins which do not
properly exist). She complains that the concept of the fever is degraded in
translation from Mal d’Archive, and then she enthusiastically claims the
sickness Derrida mocks: "Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about
Archive Fever!" (17). Dust undertakes this "all about-ness" at fever’s pitch;
Steedman, all the while, works to correct (or tune, at the very least) Derrida’s
glancing consideration of the archive left behind in his treatment of other
concerns (psychoanalysis, Freud, and so on).

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Cirrus Uncinus

Because some flaws are more glaring when the paint is fresh, before it has dried.

The first word of chapter three’s draft: in. The last word: hence. The last word winks at me and smiles. Why? I don’t use the word “hence” often. We both know it is not the last word but instead the word that comes–for now–at the end.

I thought I would use something from Everything Is Miscellaneous (Weinberger) or Ambient Findability (Morville), but I have not. They are relievers–back-ups for coming revisions.

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Swimming a Little

On this, the Barthes of September (so
I am left with no choice but to post an excerpt. But which one? Something
apropos to this afternoon’s mood (any respite from Why does this over-warm
office where I sit working on my dissertation smell like shit?
94F–record-setting heat in CNY. A dead squirrel in the eaves? I refuse to
climb in the small, hot, unlit nooks to inspect them. Tactic: wait it out–in
the office, curious, resting on hope alone that the unbearable stink resolves itself).

RB (from RB) on "My Head is Confused":

On a certain kind of work, on a certain kind of subject (usually the ones
dissertations are made of), on a certain day of life itself, he would like
to be able to post as a motto the old-wives’ remark: My head is confused
(let us imagine a language in which the set of grammatical categories would
sometimes force the subject to speak in the aspect of an old woman).

And yet: at the level of his body, his head never gets confused.
It is a curse: no value, lost, secondary state: always consciousness: drugs
excluded, yet he dreams of them: dreams of being able to intoxicate himself
(instead of getting sick right away); anticipating from a surgical operation
for at least once in his life an absence, which was denied him for a
general anesthesia; recovering every morning, upon waking, a head swimming a
little, but whose interior remains fixed (sometimes, falling to sleep with
something worrying me, upon first waking it has disappeared; a white minute,
miraculously stripped of meaning; but the worry rushes upon me, like a bird
of prey, and I find myself altogether back where I was, just as I was the
day before

Sometimes he feels like letting all this language rest–this language
which is in his head, in his work, in other people, as if language itself
were an exhausted limb of the human body; it seems to him that if he could
take a rest from language, he could just rest altogether, dismissing all
crises, echoes, exaltations, injuries, reasonings, etc. He sees language in
the figure of an exhausted old woman (something like an antique cleaning
woman with worn hands) who sighs for a certain retirement…. (176)

Why not this? While there is no relief from the odor (decomposing flesh, I am sure of it),
there is a little relief for my head. It is a couple of pages less
confused than it was yesterday.

Moon: Green Cheese

Whether or not the moon is made of green cheese is of no concern to my dissertation. Because I make other claims, however, Latour’s account of the performance of statements and things in Science in Action (1987) applies:

[W]e have to remember our first principle: the fate of a statement depends on others’ behavior. You may have written the definitive paper proving that the earth is hollow and that the moon is made of green cheese but this paper will not become definitive if others do not take it up and use it as a matter of fact later on. You need them to make your paper a decisive one. If they laugh at you, if they are indifferent, if they shrug it off, that is the end of your paper. A statement is thus always in jeopardy, much like the ball in a game of rugby. If no player takes it up, it simply sits on the grass. To have it move again you need an action, for someone to seize and throw it; but the throw depends in turn on the hostility, speed, deftness or tactics of the others. At any point, the trajectory of the ball may be interrupted, deflected or diverted by the other team–playing here the role of the dissenters–and interrupted, deflected or diverted by the players of your own team. The total movement of the ball, of a statement, or an artefact, will depend to some extent on your action but to a much greater extent on that of a crowd over which you have little control. (104)

Must every statement be written as if it will endure the perpetual jeopardy Latour names? Not necessarily. But–and this gets at the challenge of making statements–“the total movement…of a statement” should be, to the extent possible, anticipated, even if this requires granting too much clout to the crowd (i.e., audience in action).

Passive Observation

Earlier this week, I took a look at the
TED Talk presented by
Jonathan Harris
, creator of the programmed-art installations
We Feel Fine, and
several more, including his most recent
project, Universe. Universe, like
most of Harris’ work, presents a more dynamic and aesthetically lively interface
for encountering large samples of texts, such as news feeds from all over the
world, collections of blog entries, or the British National Corpus.  No
question Harris’ projects stand apart from nearly everything else I’ve seen
online where sizeable corpuses are rendered visually. I mean that these projects
are created in such a way that they lead with artfulness, enriching data
visualization with aesthetics.

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