Friday, June 17, 2011

The fun part.

As I mentioned, the Book and I are on a break right now. I've been working on an article on an entirely different subject, and what has been most amazing to me in this process is how much freaking fun I'm having! I've now finished the article and mailed it off to what I think is its appropriate home (we'll see, whatever), and I felt nothing but pleasure in mailing it off, but not in the way that would indicate a sudden unburdening, a sigh of relief. Rather, the pleasure of having written something good and then, without fanfare or crisis, finishing it.

This sensation has been, a bit, lost for me in the process of writing the Book. I have at various times felt exhausted by the Book, exasperated, overwhelmed, overmastered, and outclassed. I have at times felt like my entire human potential dangled from the Book's thin thread. And it made me forget how much pleasure there is in writing a persuasive argument about something cool you've noticed. There's something exciting about seeing some old text in a new way and drawing other folks' attentions to that new discovery.

I have another essay that I must get to work on, due at the end of the summer. And instead of feeling laden and stressed about writing it, I'm really just looking forward to it. This may be, after all, the fun part.

I may actually have landed in the right profession after all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book report.

So it's now been some months since I posted anything about my book, I think. Perhaps since MLA. I returned from MLA to the suckerpunch of the semester, and since my term ended I've been working on an article, and I have another to write that's due before the end of summer. So my book and I are on a little bit of a break right now. Which is, I think, healthy.

If you read earlier posts, you may recall that I met with an editor from a Big UP at MLA. He was generous, thoughtful, full of both goodwill and evident care for good scholarship. He was what one hopes all academic editors are, and no matter what happens with this point I'm really happy to have had the chance to meet him, because he changed my sense of what a good editor is and does.

Our conversation was helpful, and both encouraging and daunting. What became clear over the course of our discussion of my project's argument is that my book, as it stood back in December, was at a kind of crossroads. See, I had written a book that gestured toward a very big argument--gestured so far as to propose a wildly ambitious concluding chapter that may or may not have imagined itself as surveying the entirety of poetic history to the present time. This very big argument, the kind of argument that, if I did it right, could actually be a game-changer in my field and possibly in the wider field of literary criticism, about the relationship between poetic structures and cultural systems of thought. This big argument was anchored, to that point, by a series of chapters with far narrower focus, examinations of particular writers in a particular tradition. These chapters are strong, solid pieces of argumentation, but their focus is narrow. Really, too narrow to arrive at the big game-changing argument that my proposal promised they would.

The editor in question asked to see my chapters, which was very nice, and I finally got around to sending them his way in late April. But it's pretty clear that he's really interested in publishing the Big Argument book--no surprise, given his press's roster of studies.

And here's the thing: ten years ago, it would have been crucial to my sense of self-worth to write that Big Book, to be a game-changer. But I'm not sure that my psychology requires it anymore. I am really good at textual scholarship, and my project has something very smart and important to say about the poetry I love most, the poetry that, to my mind, does influence all the rest until now. But do I need to aspire to be the Greenblatt of poetic theory? Do I really need to change any games? Really, I don't, especially knowing what it will cost me--both in time and in stress, and in the way that it would trap me in this moment of my life for unknown months or years more. I sort of need to be able to move on with my life, to put this project to bed and start working on other interests that I have, to stop being held hostage to this one set of ideas. Because really, I could keep refining and expanding these ideas--any of us could, I suspect, keep working on the ideas that rock our minds, producing ever wider and more far-reaching projects. Indeed, I can envision the arc of another version of my book, the Big version of it, can see how its argument develops and the conclusions it suggests. I see it. But to write that book would require at least a couple more years of intensive labor. Probably more, given the other responsibilities in my life.

I love this subject, and my future projects will--perhaps inevitably--be informed by the discoveries I've made while I've been working on this book (they are, in so many ways, my pet issues, the questions that drive all kinds of productivity in various genres for me). But I like my modest project. I like what I've discovered. And I'm ready to let it go.


The other press I've been in conversation with is, and has always been, my fave UP. I get a ton of use out of what they publish. I read and learn, and that seems like the kind of company one would want to keep. It's not the hugest name in UPs, but it's certainly very reputable in my field, and I really, really want to place the book there. Like, really. (Like, I'm almost afraid to type these words, not because I might jinx it but because in doing so I am admitting my desire in clear terms, which will make potential disappointment all the more profound.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, the editor there, who expressed real enthusiasm for the project many months ago when it was still in progress, died. The press just named hir replacement a month or so ago. I've emailed the new editor a whole new proposal and indicated the predecessor's interest, but really I'm starting from scratch, and I don't even have a body of existing books to give me a sense of what kind of work this new editor will be sympathetic toward. I wish I knew the magic words. I'll just have to hope that they're somewhere in my writing sample.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stage one of grief: denial.

Went to campus today, after nearly 2 months away, for a grad thesis defense. And thank goodness I did. Got into my office to find that some kind of leak--busted pipe? rain?--had occurred. Don't know when, but clearly the damage has been going on for some time. My office smells like a low-rent English hotel. There's mold growing on shelves. And the books: well, on the upside, very few books were damaged, along with a couple of years' worth of RQ. But those books that WERE damaged: damn sam. The shelves and shelves of replaceable books are fine. What got ruined: every last one of my poetry mentor's books, each one lovingly inscribed, each one infolding all his correspondence to me over the years. And also a 19c edition of Piers Plowman that used to be owned by another dear sorta mentor friend of mine from my PhD program, the Shakespeare Sonnet guy, also lovingly gifted to me with an irreplaceable inscription. Now its cover print isn't even make-out-able through the mold.

I'm sure the library's conservation folks can fix it. Right? RIGHT?