Today was a very productive “writing” day, although no formal “writing” happened. I realized that in order to go forward with the chapter that I’m working on I needed to go backward and think about and face the book-as-a-whole. I’ve been avoiding facing “the book-as-a-whole.”
My first book, which emerged out of my dissertation, was a much “tighter” project, even though the shape of it in some ways looks similar to the shape of this one. Ultimately, I had a very narrow scope for what I was trying to achieve, and so I knew where I was going pretty much from the very beginning. Yes, there were “discoveries” throughout the process – threads that I pulled together – but ultimately, in composing each chapter, I was mapping a particular theory onto a particular literary text in order to arrive at an interpretation of what was, really, a very limited thing. And so it wasn’t, actually, scary to look at the project as One Big Thing. I knew what I would find when I did that.
With this book project, my process has been less deliberate and a hell of a lot messier. Now, part of this has to do with the fact that I now understand, in a way that I did not in writing my dissertation/book what a “book” really is. I’ve read a lot more critical books from beginning to end, for one thing, and I also have been through the process of bringing my own book to publication. Another part of why this process has been different is because other than when I first began, during my sabbatical, I’ve had to squeeze the book into my other professional obligations piecemeal: I haven’t had the luxury of time that I had during graduate school, and I haven’t had the luxury of the kind of single-minded focus that one has during one’s graduate training. Let me note, I’m not at all complaining about this: I think it makes my ideas richer, in some ways, that I’m not so imbedded in my original field of specialization, and I think that working in this way is actually allowing me to do more interesting work (at least I have hope that this is the case) than I did in my dissertation/book.
But because I’m trying to work on the “first” chapter, I sort of need to know where I’m going to end up in the “last” chapter, if I’m writing the book I want to write, which I don’t want merely to be a a loose collection of disparate chapters around a general idea, but really a work of theoretically oriented criticism that hangs together as a cohesive and coherent whole.
And because the project has been evolving since I first pitched the topic (having done no work on the topic prior to said pitching) in my application for sabbatical in 2009, I needed to reckon with the fact that what I’ve been writing, and the ideas that I’m most interested in throughout what I’ve been writing, don’t really match what I initially had set out to do. I mean, there is a relationship – this isn’t a completely different book – but it’s not the book I’d initially thought I would write, and probably nobody but me could see clearly how the book I’m apparently writing has emerged from the idea that I originally had.
But so anyway, I faced that particular scary task, and I was able to a) write a paragraph in which I was able to articulate the three linked objectives of the book-as-a-whole, b) articulate – again in writing – the major theoretical apparatuses that I’m engaging in order to flesh out those objectives (and this was tricky as the theories I’m engaging wouldn’t necessarily seem like obvious choices to bring together), c) discover that I’m going to jettison one particular set of ideas, which are super-interesting to somebody, but which don’t actually fit with the objectives that I outlined that I am trying to accomplish, d) finally confront the thing that I’ve known for about two years and have been willfully ignoring: I can’t do what I’m trying to do without Motherfucking Heidegger.
And then I spent about 5 hours reading Heidegger. Which is why I need to shut off my brain. (Confession: I actually really dig Martin. But it is totally possible to dig a Theory/Philosophy Boyfriend and to be afraid of him at the same time, and also to find him overwhelming once you decide you’re going to date him. See my past relationships with Immanuel, Michel, Judith…. Oh god, and SLAVOJ! I mean, seriously.)
But so anyway, I need to stop reading and I need to stop thinking. And yes, I even need not to write anything else down, because frankly, I need to get another 5 or so hours in tomorrow and the next day and every weekday possible from now until the end of summer, and I can’t afford to burn myself out because I can’t shut off my brain and then lose two weeks to those shenanigans. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
In other, somewhat related news: the first chapter focuses primarily on a text on which I wrote my first ever published article. It seems that, 1) this first chapter is about the exact same topic as that first ever published article, and 2) I now violently disagree with the general premise and interpretation that guide my first ever published article. Awkward.
Also: am I only ever going to be interested in like the same three things, in general? I mean, the literary texts change, the theories change, but at the end of the day, it seems that I keep coming back to the exact same questions, with only minor variations.
Finally: it might be another year before I’m ready to actually send this book manuscript out for review. I think admitting that is important to the process, sort of like it was important to my dissertation process to have my adviser tell me off when I wanted to jump the gun and defend 9 months before I was actually ready to do so. At least now I can tell myself off? But man, it sucks not to be as close to done as I want to be.
Whew! Ok, I feel better now. I’m going to go have a glass (or three) of wine.