Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time to buckle down.

I'm three weeks away from the end of the short spring term I'm teaching right now. I've decided that I'll give myself until the end of that semester to get my head in the book-writing game.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that a well-known scholar in another field was visiting my institution to provide a sort of workshop for faculty with projects in progress. The idea was that all the participants (7 of us, maybe?) would submit a chapter, ideally an introductory chapter, and we'd all hammer on it together, with the main of the hammering coming from this visiting scholar. I submitted what I think is a pretty complete chapter on Crashaw, because (as I explained in an accompanying email) I don't HAVE an introductory chapter yet, and if I DID have an introductory chapter, I wouldn't need the damned workshop.

But I was having a hard time figuring out what that introductory chapter would SAY. Was it supposed to be a long historical survey of exegetical commentary on my topic? That's sort of how I had been proceeding: accumulating lots and lots of cool quotations from Antenicene fathers, from freaky scholastics, from the Gospels, to lay out a historical foundation for this thing that happens in the 17th century. And I can, in fact, explain why all the issues come to a head in the 17th century, as opposed to irrupting into lyric before then. So why couldn't I work up ANY enthusiasm for an introductory chapter that did the work of establishing the historical development of an idea? I could write that chapter, but I couldn't imagine wanting to READ that chapter, and it seemed increasingly to look like a case of an introduction followed by a few chapters of "readings," in which I explained how the idea introduced in the introduction plays out in 4-5 writers. Not exciting. Not sexy. Too dissertationesque.

No wonder I couldn't get myself to write that introduction.

What turned out to be the cool thing about having someone NOT in my field read this pretty solid chapter of mine (and this relates to the conversation going on over in the comments at Flavia's about readers in other fields) is that he wasn't encumbered by a sense of the historical place of my argument, which allowed him to observe (as no readers in my own field have) that my project's priorities aren't historical. That is to say, the energy that drives the Crashaw chapter, and all the other chapters I've written for this book, has less to do with the historical development of a theological principle than it does with representation, the literal, language and its capacity to signify.

Bong! rings the giant gong in my head. Duh.

For years I've been saying, in response to folks who ask whether I'm primarily a poet or a scholar, that the two activities aren't really separable: that my poetry and scholarship work at the same issues in two formally dissimilar literary modes. And, of course, my obsession in the poetry thing is with language and representation and reading and its inherent difficulties. And I knew, vaguely, that the project I was working on involved representation and reading-anxiety, but I let myself get persuaded that a corollary issue about erotics WAS the main issue. I AM interested in erotics, but only insofar as it stands as a function of reading-anxiety, which is an argument I'm TOTALLY prepared to make, excited to make.

(I realize that I'm giving bizarre half-summaries of ideas, in my conflicting desires to both explain my great epiphany and maintain some degree of scholarly anonymity/prepublication proprietariness.)

So now I think I've found my direction, though it will require reading in a field other than the one in which I've focused my reading in the last 5 years. (Upside: the new reading'll be in English!) I feel like I've got this little bonfire starting to burn and churn in my guts, which is a good sign.

Now if I could only carve out some time to read and write.

When I had Thing 1, I gave myself a non-negotiable start-date for my diss, four months after his birth. This time, I'm picking June 1, which will give me time to get the last plants into the garden and paint the kitchen ceiling. After that date, on days when the Things are with their dad, don't even try to call or email me. I'll be working.


Lisa B. said...

Admiration from this corner for your resolve, because I know you, and I know you'll do it. Attagirl! You go!

Flavia said...

Man, that sounds fantastic. Here's to bonfires.

Moria said...

Um, hi. Geek here. I want to read that chapter that you are evidently not going to write. (Do I need to say "You had me at antenicene fathers?")

Enjoy the revelation - even your half-ideas sound lovely.

Inept Poet said...

I'm with Moria on this one . . . antenicene is pretty sexy to me.