25 October 2011

The Line Must Be Drawn Here

Today I finally finished reviewing everything I had written in that three week period of close readings. Despite knowing that last week put me behind by quite a bit, I can’t help feeling as though that stage of this process took far longer than it should have. Part of why it took so long could be that I did more than simply read entries each day. I sifted through what I thought was usable now and what could be used later or abandoned altogether. I looked for patterns and repetitions of key terms and phrases and highlighted passages. I asked myself additional questions about what I had written: does this make sense?; Do I still think this is valid?; and so on. Having started with something like thirty or thirty‑five single‑spaced pages I now have forty‑one, which means I’ve added quite a bit of new material, since I am not using everything I initially wrote. So I have certainly made progress. I have not been idle. At the same time, however, I can remember reading at least one hundred pages of material on a daily basis when I was still in course work. To have not even gotten that far in nearly three weeks feels very slow in comparison. And yet, I’m not sure how much more I could have done each day. The work isn’t quite the same as it was while I was taking courses. If I was reading one hundred pages a day, it was not all from the same book. It was not even all for the same course. Writing a dissertation, of course, is far more focused. Though I have attempted to categorize some of the topics and subtopics that have cropped up in my writing, everything still boils down to one essential thought: how the practice of translation circulates in the discourses of conquest and domination that pervade the texts I am working with. And it turns out that this one thought covers a lot of discursive space. It informs a host of peoples and ways of thinking about the peoples that inhabit this text, including ethnicity--itself a very complicated issue, social class--perhaps less complicated than ethnicity but still complex, clergy, and so on. About the only way of thinking about people that appears to be mostly (but not entirely) absent from my three texts is gender, since my writers are not all that interested in women. But that appearance is misleading, since the very lack of discussion of women in these texts tells us something important about their translators (not surprisingly all three are men), their audiences, and the way that the issues that arise in their translations are constructed. Indeed, women are so marginalized, so underrepresented in these texts that a study of the roles they are assigned on the rare occasions when they do show up would perhaps present us with the most accurate picture of how the practice of translation works. At least in my experience, it has been easiest for me to see what is going on in my texts when I am faced with that which seems most alien to the discourses that have been manufactured and maintained during the period of history in which I am working.

Everything I’ve just written--and I took my time writing it--feels rather convoluted. One reason for that may be because I am attempting to discuss the last three weeks of review in very broad strokes. Another may be that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about this evening, and I’m not quite comfortable with where this entry has been leading me, by which I mean I don’t feel as though I am entirely in control of its direction. But I think the biggest reason for this is that I can see that my interests in the practice of translation are rather scattered. Which topics and subtopics am I going to write about? I've come up with least twenty and probably a good deal more than that, though many of them are related to one another. Which topics are most important to me? Which am I going to get the most mileage out of? And should I be thinking in these terms? Perhaps those topics that will prove most fruitful are also those that are going to require the most extra research and work, so much so that I would not be able to finish in time? October is nearly gone now, and I feel a little bit panicky despite having made good progress over the last six weeks.

I know that what I’m feeling right now is rather normal. I’ve had enough similar conversations with friends and colleagues who have either finished their dissertations or are working on them to know that dissertation writing hardly ever feels organic. I’m not even sure if ‘organic’ writing is anything but a myth about what writing a dissertation (or any kind of writing) is ‘supposed to be like’. Just the same, it’s not a pleasant feeling when the goal is to bring clarity to a particular topic rather than confuse the issue. But I also know that the issue I am wrestling with is itself confused, diverse, and very much tangled in knots. And it occurs to me as I wrap up tonight’s entry that what we may mean today bringing clarity to an issue--or at least what I mean by it--is to show that reading, much like translation, is not a transparent or innocent process. Something is always left out for unjustifiable reasons. Indeed, so much is left out that is quite impossible for me to cover all of it. Nor do I want to try. But where do I draw the line?

In closing,, I realize that the title of this evening’s entry has very little to do with the topic of discussion. The reference to Star Trek First Contact, for everyone playing at home, simply occurred to me as I was writing the last sentence of the previous paragraph.


those_who_can said...

When I read that line, I am incapable of not hearing Picard's Extremely Angry Voice in my head.

GGM said...

He does sound really angry, but I've always found that scene unintentionally funny