graduate school · mental illness · Writing

Dissertation Update

I’ve taken a step back from writing, because, as I work through my dissertation it has become clear that I have much left to do and not enough time in which to do it. All semester, I’ve been wanting to have the time to read, to revisit my research and explore the new directions I can go since first conceiving of my project five years ago.

All throughout coursework, I’ve been eager to get back to this project, and now that I can, I feel so much pressure to write it down. But what I really want to do is read more and then write it down. Because that’s my process. I read a lot, I think about it, I freewrite in my journal and notebooks. I talk about the stuff I’m reading. I make webs and bubble charts and lists (most of which I don’t look at again, but it’s nice to have it there), and then I write my first drafts that are often disorganized, but that get me to a point where I’ve figured out my argument.

Then I can begin again.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve written some over the past months, and it’s work that I’m happy with, but only in the generative sense. I’ve generated words on the page, but right now those words have presented more difficulties than they’ve resolved–ideas that I need to sort through, terms I need to define, decisions I need to make. All of this is good, but I’m caught in a rather snug deadline should I actually want to graduate this semester.

So the plan has shifted a bit.

This is good for my project, because it gives me time to do the reading I’ve felt too much pressure to do, over the past months, and it gives me time to explore and really develop the ideas I’m working with. It gives me time to get back into a project that’s been on my mind for months–years, really–and to re-familiarize myself with it. It also gives me a chance to write it as the scholar I am now, instead of as the scholar I was back in 2010.

My first read, now that I have time to step back and refocus, is Thomas Rickert’s Ambient Rhetoric which, in a way, ties into my dilemma. He spends some time in the introduction unpacking the mind-body dichotomy, and in the first chapter discusses the chora. Rickert writes, “A mind needs a body, and a body needs a world. Or to put this in a slightly different form, we do not have a body; we are bodily. We do not have a world, we are worldly” (10). As I’ve tried to work and write over the years, I’ve felt in so many ways as if I’m trying to overcome my human frailties. I’ve thought of myself, romantically, naively, as living a life of the mind. Yet, when my mental health issues hit, suddenly my “mind” wasn’t at all superior to my body. My mind was the problem. The mind/body divide and the infatuation with reason, logic, as if these things occlude all else has always bothered me, in part because of the use to oppress (men are rational, women emotional; people of color are less intellectual, more “primitive”, etc.), and also because of the sheer lack of empathy and the way that rational thinking is often used as a club to beat out compassion and ignore pain.

So, looking at affect, and seeing human beings as bodily is relevant not only to my research, but to my life–which are inextricably intertwined since my research makes up the bulk of my life.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use Rickert’s book in my dissertation; I may not, but either way it’s an excellent text and I look forward to writing about it here, even if it does not makes its way into my current project.

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