Dissertation Status: Defended!

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Me! Defending my dissertation! Pretty darn scholarly, right? Photo by Dr. Emily Durham

I have been in graduate school for twelve years. Two years for my Masters, one year in Paris, two more years of coursework, about three years of floundering and having a midlife crisis and trying to figure out what the hell to do with myself,* and about four of really writing. I have learned a lot, traveled a lot, and gotten a lot out of the experience. But now, finally, I am pleased to tell you all that I have completed and successfully defended my dissertation, and that means, well, I’m done. I have a PhD. You can call me doctor.

My dissertation is titled “Imagining Bodies: Technological Visions of Displaced Minds in French Speculative Fiction.” It is about how different media show us the body in different ways, and it examines novels that involve body-swapping and out-of-body travel: Théophile Gautier’s Avatar, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s L’Ève future, Camille Marbo’s Le Survivant, Maurice Renard’s Le Docteur Lerne, sous-dieu, Blaise Cendrars’s Moravagine, and Marguerite Berthet’s L’Ascète du Mont-Mérou. It probably won’t be publicly available for a couple years, but if you’re interested you can contact me and I’ll probably be so flattered that I’ll send you a copy within minutes.

What’s next? Bread Loaf Translators Workshop, to get feedback on my translation of Antoine Volodine’s Alto Solo. I have some summer work lined up in addition to that revision. I have some good short fiction news, but I should probably wait until I have the contract signed to announce it. Details to come.

Look, here is me, having a PhD!

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Just because I have a PhD doesn’t mean I can’t look goofy. In front of my intellectual home, Folwell Hall at the University of Minnesota, post-defense, yesterday. Photo by Mr. Jeffrey Mitchell

*What was this all about? Well, I began grad school with the idea I would become a professor. That’s what PhD programs in the humanities do: they train you to do research, but the goal is to get a job as a professor. As I progressed through school, however, some things became apparent to me: a) Being a professor requires a ton of work and commitment, which would not leave me much time to write fiction, something that is important to me. b) Teaching isn’t my favorite thing. I don’t dislike it—I taught last semester and actually really enjoyed it—but it takes a lot out of me, and if I had to teach 3-4 classes a semester I would crumble away into dust. c) The academic job market is ridiculously tough. People do get jobs as professors—some of them, anyway—but often after a post-doc or two. So you move to wherever you get a job, probably cross country, possibly more than once. Goodbye beautiful and beloved Minneapolis, in that case.

In short, becoming a professor would have required sacrifices I didn’t want to make— even if I could get a tenure-track job, I probably wouldn’t be happy in it. But there I was in a PhD program, without a very clear idea of what else I could do, or really wanted to do. So—not consciously, I don’t think—I slowed the hell down. I got myself a therapist. I started exploring other options when I could—translation, editing, publishing. And it was pretty hard at times but I think, now, that time was necessary, and I feel good about where I’m headed.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Having begun a tradition of writing an annual update that attempts to work up some kind of metaphor for my work and life out of the construction of an apple pie, I suppose I should continue it. I almost didn’t, because what is there to report, really, but then Jeff took this picture and it seemed like I should use it. So here’s me, pre-shower in my PJs, making pies:

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Photo by Mr. Jeffrey Mitchell. Yes, that is an enormous pepper grinder. Yes, we use it, for white pepper. It’s called the Everest. The Everest of pepper grinders. It was a gift.

It’s been a rough year in some ways, and especially for the production of fiction. I have worked on some fiction pieces, but either I haven’t finished them or I haven’t sold them yet.

But I’ve been writing a lot of other stuff. I finished another chapter of my dissertation—the final one—last summer, and I am close to finishing the introduction. After which I will send the whole thing out to my committee, get their comments, revise accordingly, write a conclusion in a 3 a.m. burst of panic (I’m told that’s how it’s always done), and defend the bastard. That should happen in Spring.

I’ve also been doing some translation work. Survival of the Fireflies came out. I translated another essay by Georges Didi-Huberman, titled “Light Against Light,” which is on similar themes of individual experience/art versus propaganda, fame versus infamy, the light we emit, the lights that blind us. That was published in Alienocene, as was Frédéric Neyrat’s essay (translated by me), “Ascent in Freefall.” This is a discussion of Patricio Gúzman’s beautiful film Nostalgia for the Light, a meditation on history, temporality and the Atacama desert. And in an entirely different genre, I’ve been doing some work for L’Officiel magazine.

So I’ve been busy, and believe me I’m getting my ten million hours of practice in. Makes perfect, so I hear. I’ve gotten way better at making pies, after all:

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See? Not falling apart at all! Credit to Jeff for rolling out the top crusts.

Look for fiction production levels to ramp up once the godawful dissertation is done.

In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Hug your people, hug your dogs, don’t hug your cats ’cause they don’t like it but pet them gently. In short: appropriate displays of affection to all, and to all a good day, and hopefully some good pie.

Survival of the Fireflies, by Georges Didi-Huberman, translated by me!

 

 

Survival of the Fireflies by Georges Didi-Huberman is now available for purchase! I am thrilled and grateful that I had the opportunity to translate this very timely reflection on power, propaganda, and the survival of individual experience and expression, in spite of all. What’s in it, you ask? Well, here’s a brief summary, chapter by chapter:

Chapter 1: HELLS? Dante imagined Paradise as a great, glorious light, and Hell as a space of small, wandering flashes. But Pier Paolo Pasolini inverts this to create a metaphor for totalitarian power: the dictator blinds with fierce spotlights, while the people glimmer in darkness, like fireflies.

Chapter 2: SURVIVALS. Are the fireflies lost, as Pasolini believed? Perhaps we can understand them as as “minor lights”: deterritorialized, political, collective. Like Walter Benjamin’s dialectical image, their glimmer is only visible from certain positions—yet they survive, in spite of all.

Chapter 3: APOCALYPSES? In Giorgio Agamben’s apocalyptic vision of our contemporary world, “experience has fallen.” Transcendence requires redemption. Yet survivals need neither destruction nor redemption. Truth glimmers in images, not beyond the horizon of final revelation.

Chapter 4: PEOPLES. The fierce light of power overwhelms the smaller flashes of fireflies, just as, in Agamben, totalitarianism reduces the power of peoples. Yet Benjamin’s philosophical archaeology imagines dialectical counterforces and the “tradition of the oppressed.”

Chapter 5: DESTRUCTIONS? What we perceive depends on where we look: do we focus on the immense light of the distant horizon? Or on the faint flashes of images closeby? The image offers us recourse from the decline of experience, but it’s up to us to seek out fireflies.

Chapter 6: IMAGES. Firefly-knowledge, firefly-words, and firefly-images—like those of Charlotte Beradt, Georges Bataille, and Laura Waddington—stand as testimony and prophecy, transmitted through darkness and time, and become flashes for others. Even if it may be reduced to clandestine moments and flashes in the night, experience can never be destroyed.

In a time when many of us (including yours truly) are so entranced with the multiple and ubiquitous lights of screens, which transmit both spectacle and individual expression in the same feed, here is a book that asks us to look, instead, into darkness, in hopes of finding fireflies. I really think it’s worth a read. If you’re interested, you can buy it here.

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First page. I am so proud of this book, you guys.