Monday, January 16, 2012

On Finishing a Dissertation




A splash of gold on the horizon, a fading of light, a darkness of tree silhouettes and smoke rising from neighbors' woodstoves: the sky shading to a blue so pure and honest it hurts the eyes to look at it as I crane my neck to see as high up as I can: this is an evening, this evening, the evening I am living in. I am living it in a pool of warm lamplight, with a cup of Earl Grey, with a desk and floor and ironing board covered in books and papers, sticky notes and index cards, with a scarf around my neck sent from the midwest and my mother's knitting needles.

I am trying to finish a dissertation. It is a dissertation about women's literary engagement with suffering and self-sacrifice, with the question of redemption. It is a dissertation about attention, representation, and risk. How ought we to read? How ought we to read suffering, the suffering that marks texts and the suffering that marks bodies? How ought we to understand representations of suffering, and represent it ourselves, and represent something better? What risks does such a practice of ethics require? What sufferings do we risk, ourselves, in the pursuit of suffering's end?

We risk pain. We risk being wrong. We risk failing.

We risk assassination and being remembered in tidy, memorable sound bytes rather than for our challenge to the status quo (I am thinking today, too, of Martin Luther King, Jr.).

We risk being misrepresented, misunderstood, maligned (I am thinking of Occupy movements).

But oh, the good I have read again and again in the act of risking the self: what good in making that inevitable and terrifying leap.

1 comment:

  1. Taking risk and enduring suffering are both areas we (ok, I) tend to avoid. Not that it has always been that way... After too many episodes of foolish risk-taking and suffering caused in result, one tends to change ones habits (we hope).
    Obviously these aren't the types of risk and suffering you're referring to but the selfless acts of putting ones neck out for the good of others and enduring anguish with quiet grace, hoping the pressures felt are somehow a positive force for change.

    finish your dissertation
    then, dessert's on me.
    Love, dad