I'm going to begin writing Housewives and Hussies on Monday. I hit that point today - and a glorious point it is - when I saw the entire project whole and entire, and something clicked in my head, and it became apparent that the time for preliminary research is done (or, well, will be done after a couple more days of reading) and the time for writing is upon me. I Have to say, it's really exciting to actually feel this "click," because the truth is that I haven't felt that since I started my job 7 years ago. Because, quite frankly, I have never written something without having some sort of external deadline (conference upcoming, deadline for an editor, whatever) and so I don't typically get the luxury of waiting for the "click" and feeling ready to write.
Anyway, today I revised my outline, and I've realized that my project can go one of two ways: it can be this wildly successful rethinking of gender and women's social roles and representation and stuff - or it might be lame. Whatever the case, my plan is ambitious but it doesn't feel undoable. It just feels... well, it feels new.
One of the things that I struggle with (and this was actually something I hinted that I would write about in my last post) is that I ultimately do believe that there is something special about literature and I have little-to-no interest in doing the work of a historian by analyzing pop culture of the time or advertisements or whatever. I'm a snob. And I'm a bad poststructuralist. But that's been something that's been interesting to me about the process of reading and research over the past weeks, too - not only do I not want to write that sort of a book, but also I find that I really kind of loathe reading that sort of a book. Not that I think it's a bad thing to do interdisciplinary research - my research is that, actually - but I really hate literary criticism that seems like it doesn't actually care about literature. Does this happen in other fields? Are there people who are biologists who seem totally uninterested in biology? Because I seriously don't know why this happens to so many otherwise smart people in my field.
Interestingly enough, Jane Gallop made an argument not unlike the position I describe in the previous paragraph at an MLA a few years ago, in which she talked about the lost art of close reading. I remember at the time thinking that in my world close reading is still very much a part of what students do in the classroom and that I really didn't understand why she thought nobody did it anymore. But in doing all of the reading I've been doing... I think I see what she means. And the fact of the matter is that since I've been reading outside of my discipline, I feel very comfortable in saying this: Historians write history, sociologists write sociology, geographers write geography better than Literary Critics do. And so no, I have no interest in writing the sort of book where literature takes a back seat to culture more generally. Let people in other fields do that work, thank you very much.
That said, I do realize that my vision for this book is so much broader and deeper than my vision for the first book, and I think that is exciting and terrifying... and also probably a good thing. I have a lot to say about how I think teaching and blogging both have influenced that - because I really do think that both have - but not in this post. I'll save that for another day.
Also, I've been reading with interest the conversations about Terry Castle's memoir over at Historiann's and Tenured Radical's and Comrade Physioprof's... but I'm going to just come out and announce that I won't be reading it because I'm not allowed to read things for fun since I'm trying to write a freaking book that requires me to read about a gajillion things. (As I'm seeing the thing take shape, I realize that I'm going to need to read or reread about 15-20 novels over the next 6 months or so, plus reading theory and criticism on the side, so lest you encourage me to read for fun, I will preempt you to say that reading stops being fun when you're reading as much as I'm reading, which is why graduate school in English is often for many people a soul-killing endeavor that makes them despise literature, but I digress.) But I did want to say something about the following in CPP's review:
"The last part of the book is a rumination on how this romantic/sexual liaison influenced both the development of her personality and her scholarly perspective. The latter I found very interesting: as scientists, we pretend that our personal lives do not influence our scientific tastes and perspectives, while Castle sees it as a truism that her escapades with the Professor would influence her scholarly pursuits."
I think that is a distinction between the sciences generally and people in literary studies (I was going to write "the humanities" but I don't know that other humanities disciplines do take things so personally as we do in English), and I think it's also probably why I don't like to write about my research in a concrete way on blog - it feels very personal to me, and I feel very exposed when I talk in non-work contexts about my work. In a very real way, my cv does tell a whole hell of a lot about who I am and what I was going through at different points. So I can see why somebody outside of my field might find that connection between life and work intriguing, but for me... Yeah, think about it people: why am I so interested in looking at housewives just at the moment when I bought my first home? (I've got more examples than that, but I feel like if I write them here that most of them are way inappropriate and more information about me than you want.) I realize that not everybody's research connects up to their lives in such an obvious and transparent (and, some might say, pedestrian) way, but I know a lot of people for whom that is very much the case. And I also think it's interesting that it's much more likely, in the blogs I read, to see that the people who most frequently will talk about books they're reading tend not to be the English proffie types. I mean, just look at the above conversation: two historians and a scientist. (I know that there are more "professional" style blogs by English types out there, and those do talk about the books, but I find them really stuffy and miserable to read as a general rule.)
So anyway, with that, I must go and return to my reading. While it is true that I won't be reading Castle's memoir, I will be taking a gander at The Apparitional Lesbian. Because as much as I whine about not having time to read anything fun, really, every single thing (with the exception of Habermas) that I'm reading for this project is fun. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing it.
2 years ago