27 September 2011

Non Praescriptio

This evening’s blog entry will be a fairly short one. I also can’t come up with a meaningful title. The short version is that I’m pretty exhausted and don’t have much left in the tank. I also don’t have a strong sense of what aspects of my process I would like to work through at the moment. However, I did have a bit of difficulty writing dissertation pages today, so I’m going to focus on that.

The difficulty I experienced in my dissertation writing session this morning is fairly straight forward. I wanted to do a close reading of a passage in one of my primary sources that refers to Arthur’s use of foreign mercenaries to fill out his invasion force. Part of what I am interested in looking at in passages like this is how the foreign is constructed ‘in translation’. I am also interested in how the practice of translation in my texts plays into our understanding of ‘traditional’ Arthurian elements. One of the elements that I am working on is the role of the knight in my primary texts. I feel as though we take a lot of what the knight represents in any given text for granted. In much the same way that we are prone to generalize about race, gender, class and what have you (always, of course, to the detriment of our understanding of these ‘categories’), I think we generalize about the knight in Arthurian literature as men of ‘honour’, ‘virtue’, ‘courtesy’ and so on rather than focus on what knights actually do in the stories they inhabit. Some of the more sophisticated Arthurian tales do call these knightly characteristics into question, but I’m not convinced that we see a radically departure from these ‘core values’. And I think the practice of translation often underscores some of these problems.

To return to the difficulty I had in writing this morning, I do not always easily manage to articulate how components in my texts, such as the role the knight plays and the practice of translation, work together in the argument I am trying to put together. When I started writing this morning, I fixated on this problem. I had been thinking about the practice of translation in a different way over the last few writing sessions, so I couldn’t make sense of where that intersected with what I’ve written above about how I am coming to see the role of the knight in the passage I wanted to write about this morning. As a result, I felt like today’s writing session was going to be a slog and not generate any meaningful ideas. Nonetheless, since I am trying to form writing habits that are based on reaching obtainable goals rather than on what comes out of a particular writing session, I went ahead with writing anyway. And I decided I might best be able to stop worrying about my thoughts not coming together like I wanted them to by going back over two recent writing sessions for thoughts about how the elements I have been looking at fit together, if they fit together at all. I also considered the possibility that I was barking up on the wrong tree.

Going back over earlier writing proved to be a good move. I don’t want to go into much detail here, but I discovered there is a connection between the elements I have been looking at, though not the kind of connection I had been trying to force into today’s writing session. The short of it is that I think the practice of translation and the construction of the knight are deployed in the same discursive system, a system that, in my view, validates conquest. Once I was able to get past this difficulty, I had a pretty enjoyable writing session in which I was able to pose questions to myself and begin contemplating what these types of questions tell me about how I might look at the passage I chose to write about.

As is usual in these blog entries, there is no ‘mind blowing’ revelation here. In fact, I’m not entirely certain that the way I chose to solve the problem I was having today is the best method to employ. And I’m okay with all of that. What I do think is important, however, is that the habits I am trying to form are having a positive effect on my writing process. I did not panic or become irritated, upset, or anxious about my writing today, which is how I think I have typically responded in the past when writing has seemed difficult or overwhelming to me. I simply worked through the problem in a manner that felt intuitive. I also think it is a good idea to begin looking for patterns in my writing not just on a particular day but also over successive days. That, too, is hardly a significant insight in one sense. But in another sense I am learning that this entire process forms a kind of pattern that tells me how seemingly disparate pieces of information are going to fit together. And I take comfort in knowing this when I have often felt in the past that my ideas for chapters and what I envision my dissertation looking like in the end are a jumbled mess of ideas rather than a coherent and organic composition of those thoughts.

Well, I thought this was going to be a short entry, but it turned out not to be. I’m definitely okay with that, too.

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