Monday, December 08, 2008

PhD Reflections #6

In many ways, it has been a semester of theory, and I realize as it comes to a close how much I both enjoy theory and have a vexed relationship with it. For me, theory in its most basic form challenges what I already know. With its capacity to step up a level and out to a larger perspective and interrogate both the why and the how of things in the world, theory is invigorating and exciting to me intellectually. At the same time, given my work in the queer movement and the non-profit sector, I’m always asking myself, how does this theory affect people’s material conditions? The answers are not always clear and that generates the dissonance of theory for me. In my reading this semester, I’ve come to admire profoundly scholars who are able to make strong theoretical connections to daily life. I think in particular of Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions, Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed, and Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas.
A few full days at the library this past week confirmed for me that I want to spend more time doing archival research. At one point, I thought that I might be ill-suited for that type of scholarly work, but increasingly I find that sort of work to be what really excites me and motivates me. The joys of discovery really light my fire intellectually. Archival work also reminds me of the necessity of putting in the time for the work. It’s similar to being a poet; poetry requires time and the discipline of sitting down and writing even if it’s bad, inelegant, and mundane. Each day, that work is important. Similarly, the archival work is reviewing folio after folio, mining for the gems and taking notes and remembering various tidbits with the hope that together they might glimmer as a whole. So one of the things I hope to do during the break and next semester is build some archive and research time into my weekly schedule.
New directions for my thinking are harder this week. I’m aware of the necessity of focusing in on the projects at hand to drive to the successful completion of the semester. Things that I may have explored more fully earlier in the semester are now shunted to a future task list in service to fulfilling the work that is immediately ahead. The one area I’m mulling and struck me especially during my review of GLQ was the importance of transnational frameworks for queer scholarly work. This was affirmed as well by Kathy Davis’ book, The Making of Our Bodies Ourselves. I want to think more about that as I move forward.
My biggest dilemma continues to be balancing that need for broad, expansive, and ambitious thinking with the realities of producing things, whether they are papers or book reviews or bibliographic annotations. I think that keeping that dynamic tension foremost in my mind and my intellectual practice is important and doing it effectively is a recurrent dilemma.
Though I should have known better, there was the image of coming into graduate school as a giant vessel waiting to be filled. That, of course, isn’t the case. Yes, my mind is a giant vessel, but the process of filling it is different than that of a carafe beneath the faucet. Filling the vessel of the mind is an active process; there is the persistent desire to think that someone, some great and prescient person, will take responsibility for pouring in everything that is needed, but in fact, there are many people engaged in that process, and I am an important one in it as well. Ultimately, nearing the completion of this first semester, I feel many of my expectations – and hopes and dreams – about graduate school have been fulfilled and at the same time, I feel very in media res. As though I am in the first act of a Greek play – hoping the elements of comedy and tragedy are all present – before we reach the final scene.

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