gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,
gillpolack
gillpolack

Women's History Month: Dianne de Bellis

Dianne De Bellis went back to study as a (very) mature student. Her PhD at UniSA is on finding, constructing and using stories of Australian soldiers in World War 1 who were sentenced to death for desertion. These contribute to revisionist Australian history and are used to interrogate the myth of Anzac as a foundation of the Australian identity.

Musings on the (non)-progress of a PhD

It does not matter whether the world is conceived to be real or only imagined; the manner of making sense of it is the same (Hayden White, 1978).



One day in the middle of my candidature….
OMG its March and the year is marching on. SP2 has started and I feel like I am still doing the same old thing I was at this time last year. I know I am not but it just feels like it. Am I any further on? I just want some coherent writing. I seem to get stuck in 2-3,000 word chunks.

Another Day
I am trying to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate (then and now) in the creation of a perceived social reality. It involves looking at the ways the social phenomena are created, institutionalized, and made into one way of thinking, then and now. A socially constructed reality is one that is seen as an ongoing, dynamic process that is reproduced by people acting on their interpretations and their knowledge of it. So how will I use the stories in this? Maybe I should just drop one in when it seems appropriate, or a bit of one anyway. Is it a case of show, don’t tell? Or is that a bit ingenuous when trying to explain complex concepts? I think there needs to be some ‘tell’, even if I just write it and take it out later. I think the ‘show’ is the individual story but the ‘tell’ is the thesis. I think I have actually done something! Is it original? Maybe. It will certainly do for a start. And I have done my word quota for today. Yay!

Another Day
Now I am bogged down again in going over same ground. Should I read more? I am trying to talk about social construction. Well so what? Is it too simplistic? I need to spell it out more. I think I have the bones, now I need to flesh it all out—if only I could add electricity and create a living body (to really stretch the metaphor)—wait, then I would be Dr Frankenstein, not Dr Di! Well I don’t think I’ll ever get to Dr Di so maybe Dr Frankenstein would be OK! The theories of ID creation are the skeleton, the stories as the flesh and muscle and my analysis as the electrical current. That means my supervisor is Igor and the markers and the academic community are the angry villagers who brandish flaming torches at me in outrage.

Another Day
Well I suppose I will get it done somehow, sometime.

Another Day
I am getting nowhere. But at least I am getting there fast. That is a strange expression. I have to figure out exactly what I am saying and how it relates to my topic. I am keen to get to the next bit and I am sick of reading. Maybe the weekend will help. I am boring myself so that is a sign I need to move on.

Another Day
Still stuck, but at least I am doing keyboard practice—big deal! There must be a way of getting through this. How long can I have this block? Its not writer’s block its more concept or ideas block. What am I doing and why? Do I review everything up to now or is that a waste of time? Do I need help? Do I need to talk to someone? I feel like I should be able to cope with this by myself—I am an intelligent self-sufficient knowledgeable person. Aren’t I? I know my topic. I have a clear plan. I have a clear structure.

This a list of proper intellectual activities towards care of the self proposed by Hadot taken from the Hellenistic and Roman exercises in learning to live.

research (zetesis), thorough investigation (skepsis), reading (anagnosis), listening (akroasis), attention (prosoche), self-mastery (enkrateia), indifference to indifferent things, meditations (meletai), therapies of the passions, remembrance of good things, and the accomplishment of duties

I wonder what therapies of the passions are. If they are therapeutic then I’m in! That’s what I need—therapy!

Another Day
OK. I have left the current chapter half done but I am really fed up with it. I am also trying to get through methodological reading to understand or justify something. I have to wriggle out of any history type analysis and any literary one. I sort of know what I am doing. A cultural analysis—yes. Discourse analysis? No, not really, but a lot of the CDA theory applies. Structuralist? No. Post-structuralist? Yes, because I am arguing that meanings change, attitudes shift and that they are still valid. Why? How? So what? Some days I have lots of strategies—the journal, going for a bit of a walk, keyboard practise, reading etc. but they just end up as displacement activities. Going for a walk now.

Another Day
I am thinking about the ‘abject’, but I can’t quite get my head around the relevance. I know it is but I am not sure how. I guess I will have to read Butler.

Another Day
Again in a weird space—having the ‘flu and in denial and feeling very woolly headed.
I have applied for leave to push out my finish date, but I will continue to try and write stories. At least it won’t feel like a waste of time when I am struggling over them—things fall apart, the centre cannot hold and waiting for this rough beast to be born is driving me crazy.

Another Day
Existence is in the symbolic order so that we know what NOT to do. Or something like that. How will I spin that out to 80,000 words? How to write a PhD! Ha! Explain everything. Describe everything. Argue every little point. Reference everything. Now my typing is getting worse. It’s time to do some touch typing practice—the ideal displacement activity.

Another Day
OK. The time has come to write this pesky chapter. Use the notes, use the story and just write it.

Another Day
I feel like I am running on the spot and not progressing (that’s a tautology I think). I have a fine plan with the year mapped out and some chapters more or less written - not really - but at least I know the first chapter is the contextual one (or maybe it’s the introduction or maybe method and methodology or…?) and I am sure about the narrative approach and the stories. Someone, a math post-doc friend, was pretty impressed that I even had a topic! I am now focussed on the stories themselves so I guess I have moved on a bit.

Another Day
Or I get stuck in planning. I do have a fine plan for the thesis (including word count), but it seems so empty, so thin. I know that it is how I work—sort of top down and bottom up. It’s the stuff in the middle that is missing. So now I have the overview, the big, big picture and lots of tiny, specific details. I wonder if I am getting somewhere.

Another Day
Close annotated reading + improving keyboard skills seem to be grounding me somewhat and I now feel I am progressing.

Another day
It’s a cop-out to turn random self indulgent thoughts into a pretend thesis (but isn’t it fun?). I am not comfortable with self-ethnography presented as scholarship. Its boring, self indulgent and adds nothing to knowledge. Hmm where did that come from? This idea that individual selves are interesting by virtue of their ‘selfness’ – bah humbug I say. Tedious rubbish that is immature and lazy. If they are written well, it is the language that makes them interesting. Isn’t that Lacanian? D&G? Language forms the self. Communication is important. None of the important theorists rely on self-ethnography, although there is a bit of it usually post theory. Who cares if Foucault’s mother was in an asylum? What possible relevance does Freud’s sexuality have? Not to mention Althusser….! These might be the materials they used or the path they came along, but their theories and models have to stand alone. I am also a bit fed up with the histories of the war, but can’t really stop looking at it. Maybe it is the car wreck syndrome—it’s awful but I can’t look away—a fascination with horror. However the horror is not that of the trenches or the war, it is the horror of my own ineptitude and ignorance.

No wonder people turn to self-ethnography! It is so tempting to construct a textual self that is scholarly and ‘ept’. A cute little reflective piece that amuses but also, more importantly elevates the writerly self. I could then, at least textually, live up to the ‘big other’ and the expectations of a doctoral student/slave. I could modestly claim a deep understanding of something at least, even if it is only the tiny, tiny immediate world. There is no self. The writer doesn’t exist (thanks Roland). Perhaps it is too painful to not exist as an entity, but even that pain would be constructed. I (whoever that is) find it liberating. Well I say I do, but of course I am in a painful place trying to get things done. Well that was some weird vaguely circular or spirally logic. Sort of wibbly-whimey, timey-whiney existentialist stuff.

Another Day
What I want to say seems to be just on the edge of my understanding. At least my touch typing is much improved!

Another Day
I seem to moving further away from the work. At other times I seem to just swirl around the stories—I guess they are getting done—at glacial speed! What am I doing? Have I lost direction a bit? I am tempted to go back to my fave reading but I am afraid of just appropriating their approach. What about the theorists? They are a looming presence. I am a dilettante—skating quickly over the surface but not looking at anything in any depth. But I am still working on the same theme/idea. When I think about where I started I am still on the same track and I have advanced. I have enough data, I have a method and I have a theoretical approach (a bit murky). What am I worried about? I wanted to have written more by now. This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I suppose that’s why not everybody does it. Should I be doing it? Will it advance the progress of the human race or be part of the bog of useless historical analysis? I like this sort of cathartic journal writing better than anything else but it is just another form of distraction if it is all I do. Teaching is a distraction too, and I am afraid my existential angst might infect the students so I try very hard to be positive.

Another Day
Love Wikipedia!

Another Day
Well I suppose it is time for a review of the year—anything to divert me from actually writing the FaffD—the doctorate of faffing about. It has been a year of slow decline, gentle, but a decline nevertheless! Of course it takes effort then to get back. I think I am on track with the thesis, but I also think I am delusional about it. I just can’t see it I guess. Teaching was fun and easily manageable but of course I used it as a significant diversion.

Another Day
Much encouraged after having a chat to supervisor about the structure of the analysis.

Another Day
I am going to have to put in what I am not doing and spin it into positives. I can do that in the method chapter. I am still surprisingly enthusiastic about the thing, but I have to improve my finishing-off skills. I feel positive and enthusiastic now that I have been away from it for a while. I am looking forward to getting back to it.

Another Day
It’s March again and the first week of the University year. My big excuse today for not concentrating is the techno music blasting across the campus. Of course I could close the window but its fun, infectious and weirdly energising.

Back to work tomorrow.

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