Dissertation Status: Defended!


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!


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.

Give us a hero, the people said: “Origin Story” on Terraform (and other news)

It’s been a while since I could tell you all that I’ve had a new fiction piece published, but voilà! My kinda-meta flash piece “Origin Story” is now up at Terraform. Have a look!

What else is happening? Well, a bunch of stuff, actually. The big one is that I’ve finished my dissertation (to the extent such a thing can ever be finished) and my defense is set for May 21st. Yes, the long, grueling saga of graduate school is almost over and I think I’m getting out alive. And with a doctorate. You can call me doctor! I promise not to attempt any tracheotomies.

After the defense, I’m heading back to the Bread Loaf Translators Workshop, where I’m looking forward to hanging out with a bunch of awesome translators and getting their feedback on my translation of Antoine Volodine’s Alto Solo.

And in other news, I’ve recently had a short story accepted to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine!

And the sun is out! In Minneapolis! In May!

And the May Day Parade is this Sunday! Happy May Day, everybody! Happy Spring, and happy reading.

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Image swiped from Terraform. Not sure of the illustrator’s name but I like it.

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:


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:


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.