Monday, July 30, 2007

Fucking and/in Books

I met my friend G. at a conference when we were both 24. Or I know for certain that I was 24, but he may have been 23. I have a problem with remembering how our birthdays fall. At any rate, we were both working on our Ph.D.s, and I begin at this point because it is at this particular point that I first realized that talking about my work might send a message that might be... embarrassing.

Now, G., he's a true scholar. He did his dissertation on a single author, and he seriously knows just about every single thing about that author and that author's oeuvre. His approach also relied on much historical and archival material, and philosophy, and, well, if you were to have a conversation with G. and I, you would definitely come out of that conversation thinking that he was the more serious of the two of us. The smarter and the more well read. (In part because he's all of those things.) And then there's me. And I don't work on a single author, and I suck with knowing the historical stuff, I've never done serious archival research, and, well, you get the picture. And I'm not being falsely modest here, it's just that while I know I'm "bright" and I have original ideas and such, I'm not terribly... encyclopedic in terms of what I know about, and my memory is for shit.

And so flash forward to my recent journey to the ancestral home of G., as well as to his current home and to the home of his Ph.D. work. As one might imagine, people asked how we met. And, as one might imagine, it was revealed that we met at a conference in 1999. And then people said, "Oh, you're an X person, too!" and I had to reply, "Well, sort of, but I work on other things as well," and then the conversation would veer to talk of X, and G. would wax poetic. But then, in spite of my efforts to deflect, the conversation would turn back to me (often because G. would promote the fact that I've got the book thing going on, which means he's very sweet but which also makes me feel quite sheepish). And they'd ask what the book is about.

One would not think that I, having worked on this for 7 or 8 years, would feel reluctant to reveal the topic. And yet I do feel reluctant. Why? Well, because what I work on is fucking in books. Yep, that's right. I don't work on desire, and I don't work on obscenity, and I don't even work on pornography. I actually have made it my work to work on the fucking. Well, I pay attention to the other bases around the baseball diamond of sex as well, but yes, my specialty is fucking in literature. And at one and the same time it makes me feel not very scholarly (I'm not off searching for obscure references because what I'm interested in is looking at the sex that is right there, in the published text) and also a little bit whore-y (I mean, how does one say that this is one's primary intellectual preoccupation, as a straight, young-ish woman, without coming off like a bit of a nympho?).

Now, depending on the situation, this can work in my favor. I mean, talking about my work has served as a pick-up line of sorts in various situations. And it works in my favor as a feminist scholar because ultimately what I'm doing is celebrating the sex scene and marking it as aesthetically valuable, which very little feminist scholarship does. And it works in my favor as a teacher, because the fact that I'm a straight, young-ish woman means that the students at my fairly conservative university are more willing to engage with these things in literature when they get it from me than they might be from a lesbian woman or a man, whether gay or straight. I'm less threatening, somehow.

And I really do think that what I'm working on is interesting, and worthwhile, and all of that.

But still, when the light is shone on it, I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed because when I embarked on the scholarly path of the dissertation and now the book, I didn't really believe anybody would see what I was up to. I thought that I'd dazzle and confuse with jargon and the sophisticated turn of phrase, and people would respond to it as they do to most writing about gender and sexuality in literary texts. In getting the reports about the book back, what I realize is that I've not dazzled and confused but rather that the readers see exactly what I'm up to, and yes, they think it's fabulous, but it makes me feel quite vulnerable. And in explaining to G.'s friends about what I do, I also felt quite vulnerable, because what I do seems so frivolous in comparison to his interests. And then I feel vulnerable when I think about what I'm teaching in the fall, because I do teach at a comparatively conservative sort of place, and I feel like one of the novels in particular that I'll be teaching may horrify and alienate my students, leading them to evaluate me in ways that are unkind at best.

But so yes. My name is Dr. Crazy and my main scholarly interest is the representation of fucking in literary texts. And I'm entirely embarrassed by that fact, but the only thing for it is to rock it out.

(And yes, I'm also embarrassed because I don't feel like anybody should really be paid to study this sort of thing, etc., but really, it's the topic that's my biggest problem.)

11 comments:

Nik said...

It is very good to know. I'm glad that you know what you're doing, that others know what you're doing and that you told your blog folks what you're doing.

Sisyphus said...

Rock on, you! You know that I love everything about your topic. And screw the whole "Topic X or Y or Z is so frivolous compared to what The Menz are doing" crap --- I mean, acknowledge the feelings of embarrassment and awkwardness 'cause they're there and academia/certain individuals still promote those feelings, but then tell them all to get over themselves and just flaunt what you're doing.

PS you got your reader reports back? I hope they were awesome.

Sisyphus said...

PPS I don't know if you ever work with German lit but I had to read Elfriede Jelinek a while back and found her wonderfully foul and disturbing.

Jill said...

Oh, awesome! And how HONEST! I mean, fuck all this desire and stuff, and yes, pornography (we have an old geezer at our lit dept studies pornography), they're all just ways of getting around the main point, the sex.

Does it all lead to interesting new revelations? Like - well you know, desire for an ending and little death and all that as metaphors for literature and novels. If you think instead about the enjoyment of sex and fucking and the kind of, well, often constructiveness of that you might, I suppose, end up with rather different ideas of literature. Brilliant topic. Now I want to read your book :)

Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

Awesome.

Terri said...

i'm with sisyphus: embrace your way of "doing" research and forget the wise man in the archive shit. the whole discipline--academia itself really, is structured on the masculine, rational, chronological, single-authored, blah blah blah. . . .a model most would say has been somewhat dismantled, what with post-post-post-. . .. -isms and all, but really has an unbelievably long shelf life.

on your topic: i do spanish lit, and i wrote once about an erotic novel that refused to narrate the, er. . . . . fucking parts. do you deal with such things in your study?

Anastasia said...

dude, that's awesome. I'm totally going to read this book.

I identify with the feeling that your research isn't that serious. I have a friend who just graduated who did a lot of really intense philological work, reading whole works in greek etc. while some of my stuff has been difficult, I also know that I mostly rely on translations and only look at sections in greek/latin. And yeah..that makes me feel like a big lame loser. and like I want to explain to people that no, I don't do exactly what he does. anyway, point being that really resonates with how I feel about my own work.

Unsane said...

heh.

kfluff said...

Oh god, I totally love you!! The importance of analyzing the fucking came (snort.) for me in a creative writing class in college. Try to write a sex scene. Impossibly hard (double snort.)to do right.

I suppose my fear would be about the assumptions people would make about who the person was who got interested in this topic. But, you know, screw them.

Doctor Pion said...

Has anyone approached you with a movie offer for your book?

EdSmithers said...

has anyone approached you with a sock full of pennies?