10 September 2013

The Potential Doctor Is In


Posting has been nonexistent here for a bit because not only is it the start of a new school year (a time when posting is always light here), but, as I've mentioned before, I'm also now beginning the PhD in Literature program at the University of New Hampshire. This not only involves lots of time in classes, time teaching First-Year Writing, and time doing homework and class prep, but I'm also driving over 300 miles a week commuting to and from campus. And of course there are also the inevitable writing projects — currently, I'm writing an introduction for a new translation from the Japanese of a very interesting novel (more on that later, I'm sure), a couple of book reviews and review-essays and essay-essays, a couple of short stories, and the always very slowly progressing book manuscript on 1980s action movies. And I've got a couple video essays I want to make in the next month or so. And I'm editing a short film I shot this summer. And, well, naturally, blogging is not really at the forefront of my mind right now. But it is there, somewhere, in amidst everything else in that rattletrap of a mind.


Me & my pal Jacques
I've been wondering, too, what exactly to write about the whole PhD thing. For instance, the first question that occurs to people when I say I'm doing this thing at my advanced age: For god's sake WHY? My answer is simple and honest: They're giving me health insurance and a teaching stipend, which is actually a step up for me, since the stipend is a few hundred dollars more than I made teaching as an adjunct, and now I won't have to pay for my own health insurance. So I actually make more money now as a graduate student than I did as a college teacher. (Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of higher ed!) And I only have to teach one class per term and I get to take classes where I get to read a lot and write a lot and talk about, you know, litritcher. What's not to like? Of course, I know as well as anybody that the last thing the world wants is another lit PhD, and there are no jobs, and even if there are jobs the tenure track is disappearing rapidly and adjunctification is the name of the game in higher ed, and all that jazz. I know. Boy, do I know! It's entirely possible and even likely that I will never get a full-time job on the tenure track. But I honestly don't even know if I want a full-time job on the tenure track, or if I want to stay in college teaching at all. I'm very conflicted about that. But I'm not conflicted about the stuff I really do love: I love the research, I love academic conversations, I love reading complex and difficult stuff. And for a little while, that's what I'll get to do. I'm not going into any financial debt to do it, so I figure it's about as good a plan as anything else. I'm still open to marrying a successful investment banker, winning the lottery, and/or discovering I'm the lost heir of a billionaire. But this will do for now.

The other thing I wonder about is how much I should write about the progress of my classes and research. For now, I'm not really going to write a lot about it. This term, I'm only able to take one literature class because I also have to take a course on teaching college composition. I can't pretend to enjoy that part of this. All the Composition & Rhetoric people are lovely and brilliant, but I am very much not a Comp/Rhet person. Really, I think I've got more affinity for mechanical engineering than I do Comp/Rhet. I'm glad there are people out there doing it, because it can really be noble work, but I don't know of another field in the discipline of English about which I am less interested, so surviving 30+ hours of it during orientation and now 3 hours/week of it for class, plus teaching the First Year Writing course, is nearly enough to make me rush home and do math problems for fun.

The literature class I have this term is on trauma theory, which I didn't even know was a thing until fairly recently. I've generally avoided psychological approaches to literature, and so this is an interesting foray outside my comfort zone. I would be deeply, deeply surprised if it makes me more fond of psychological approaches to literature than I have been in the past, but it's a provocative class and I think I will at least get a good paper on Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country out of it. We'll see. First, I have to survive reading Freud, a writer I sometimes find really quite hilarious, but other people apparently take him seriously and therefore don't appreciate my giggles. (Pause for a passage from Deleuze & Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, as translated by Brian Massumi: "That day, the Wolf-Man rose from the couch particularly tired. He knew that Freud had a genius for brushing up against the truth and passing it by, then filling the void with associations. He knew that Freud knew nothing about wolves, or anuses for that matter. The only thing Freud understood was what a dog is, and a dog's tail. It wasn't enough. It wouldn't be enough.")

What I'm most enjoying, honestly, is having access to a nice big library every day. I love Plymouth State's Lamson Library beyond all others, because it was my savior as a child and then over the last five years I've been able to cajole and harangue the librarians into buying lots of books and movies that were of vital interest to me, so the collection now bears quite a bit of my imprint. But Plymouth doesn't have the resources of UNH, and so I already have piles of books on all sorts of different subjects checked out, because I easily get bibliographic whims — for instance, a sudden desire to read all of Donna Haraway. Many of my happiest hours working on my master's at Dartmouth were spent in the library there, a library I still return to at least a few times a year.

Is it any surprise, then, that I'm doing a PhD? The only surprise is that it took me this long to get organized enough to do it. After all, I'm really not fit for any other sort of endeavor!

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