Thursday, July 29, 2010

Making an intervention

My strength as a writer and as a theorist has typically been in the form of synthesis, bringing together ideas that haven't been considered together, or that have been previously regarded as incompatible. Indeed, the bulk of this book project has been work on the latter: considering alongside one another essentialist and constructivist notions of the individual subject on the feminist stage. That in itself is a critical intervention, but one that is characterized by an attempt at critical harmony rather than dissensus.

The current chapter, however, is one in which I am actively refuting a major critical commonplace, not just on the criticism of one text, but on how we read a whole body of texts. And this is a big one, too. When I presented an early version of this argument recently, the response was measured, and in conversation about the idea, one similarly early-career scholar said only, cryptically, "Oh...Bold." The insinuation there was, "Oh...mind-blowingly stupid and wrong-headed." On the other hand, the reader who reviewed the book proposal and sample chapters felt that this particular argument was "nothing short of brilliant" which is overstatement, I think, but good to hear.

At any rate, while I'm committed to this argument, and find it both logical, compelling, and important to make, I am made anxious about the argumentative strategy. Actually refuting "critical orthodoxies" and "post-structuralist dogma" feels, well, not my style. On the one hand, it feels rhetorically like the kind of thing that overconfident first-year grad students do with concepts they haven't entirely grasped, and so in that way, it feels brash. On the other, it feels like the thing that I should be doing, by making an actual intervention in the discussion, making a real, contestable argument rather than playing the critical peacemaker.

I imagine that in fact much of my writing career will be filling that critical peacemaker role--synthesis has always been my intellectual forte, and frankly, it's what I do in interpersonal relationships, too (ENFJ's are harmony seekers, so the Meyers-Briggs test says). But in this chapter, I'm doing things I haven't done well before: stake out a claim, refute the conventional wisdom, and make some noise.

And honestly, it's making me nervous.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I know, I'm a bit of a one-note blog these days, in part because I'm often writing here as a "cool down" from other writing sessions--it's something of a rewards for writing, rather than a warm-up. Anyway, as you can see from the writing progress bar, pages are shifting from the unwritten italics count over to the red revised count. The key accomplishment is that I've completed a draft of chapter 3, which was, frankly, the most terrifying part of the whole process at summer's start. And now, that shift should continue in dramatic fashion over the next couple of days, as the 20 pages of drafted material in chapters 2 and 3 should be pounded out by next Monday.

Between now and then, and soon after, some other concerns will intervene. We're sending the twins on a weeklong vacation with my folks, which will on the one hand free up some time otherwise devoted to parenting, but will also require trips to and from the ancestral home to drop them off this Friday, and pick them up the following Saturday (any DC folks interested in getting together Friday night?). Then Junebug's beloved godmother is coming in for a visit, which will still allow for writing time, but also provides opportunities for distraction.

Also, I have a book review deadline on August 1, and a very short research trip to NYC on August 4 and 5, so my hope is to do all of those things, and come back to chapter 4 (if I haven't started it already) when I return. At that point it's only 2 more weeks until the semester starts, and so I hope to at least have chapter 4 drafted by then, with only Chapters 6, 7, and the conclusion to polish off in August and September. It wasn't my ideal schedule for the beginning of the summer, but I think it's still doable.

So yes. Writing! it goes.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


I have read, written and revised for two days in a row now, largely working on the chapter whose argument itself needed the most overhauling (Chapter 3, or Section1 chapter 2, depending on how you're counting). I at once feel pretty good about the work I'm doing, even as I cringe at some of the prose I wrote on the subject when I first drafted it. This chapter itself was written in the final throes of dissertation revision (7 years ago, now), and are at once naively composed and wildly out of date. Some of the central argument and most of the close readings remain valid, but damn, so of the phrases written there sound, frankly, like a 1975 consciousness-raising tract. Revision is indeed good.

Speaking of, I've drawn up a revision tracker over there on the right, which shows how much is revised and current, how much is drafted but needs revision, and how much I expect to draft from scratch. According to that, as of yesterday, I had about 105 pages of updated prose, another 75 that will need some kind of revision and polishing, and about 70 left to write from scratch for a goal of roughly 250 pages or 8000-9000 words. So watch me as I write, and I'll try to update that occasionally and at periodic intervals, post tallies at the bottom. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Ready, Steady, Go!

Three processes resume today:

1) Writing: The summer course now done, grades submitted, and comments returned, the time has not come to write. After a tiny anxiety attack this morning (so distracted by it was I, that I sideswiped a mailbox after dropping off the kids. The mailbox is fine, but the side mirror on my car less so), I did some warm up writing on my tenure documents, and sat down with the book chapter du jour. Chapter 1.2 (or chapter 3, depending how you count) actually requires less work than I had imagined, mostly in the form of bulking up the theoretical grounding and stakes, and adding a major final section at the end to account for an extremely important new direction in both performance and in scholarship, that will make this section much more than a retread of existing scholarship or a retread of the dissertation chapter. This is significant work, to be sure, but less involved than, say, rebuilding the chapter from the ground up that I thought I'd have to do. Instead of writing a 35-page chapter with a handful of usable paragraphs, I've actually got to write 15 new pages to accompany the 25 I must revise and expand. Very doable. Moreover, I began the process of polishing up some of those older pages, and identifying a handful of sources to supplement the writing. I'll pick those up this afternoon on a trip to the library with Junebug.

2) Tenure: My external evaluators for tenure have been determined and confirmed, which means that today I am sending out the packet of my published work with a cover letter to frame it. Our department does not require the book for tenure, but in creating the narrative of my scholarly project, I have come to realize that the subject matter of the book forms a center to my work around which other material constellates. Since earlier articles published before I arrived do not count for my tenure case (something I understand is somewhat unique to this institution), but came from the dissertation-turned-book-project there appears to be a large absence that would otherwise tie my work together. I have tried to frame the existing publications within a narrative suggests that they cluster around this bigger project descried under future work, but I sure don't want evaluators to say, "well if only he had that book!" This is my only serious worry about the tenure process, and submitting these packets today (the other thing to do on my trip to campus with Junebug) is the great leap that the tenure process will entail for me. Everything else seems by comparison like bureaucracy.

3) Other great leaps into the unknown: Junebug took two very tiny, very tentative steps this weekend. He will walk all over the place either holding onto a single hand or cruising along the furniture, so full-on speed-walking is mere days away. I tremble. The coming weeks will be an adventure indeed.