Archive for March, 2013

Equinox

March 22, 2013

The last thing I have to write, appropriately enough, is the conclusion. With six months or so left to go, all chapters have form, and content, to one extent or another. Some require a certain amount of work to get them up to a decent standard; others are almost entirely finished and require a brief glance over for typos and my usual grammatical mistakes. ‘Get it down, and then you can look at it in its entirety, and work out where to go next.’ I am simultaneously liberated and terrified. I started this blog a few years back with the intention of using it as a way of discussing the process of assembling my PhD (it is definitely assembled, so much so that my methodological justification for almost everything comes from Deleuze/Strathern/Haraway) but I’ve not really used it for that at all, aside from the odd post discussing some half thought-through idea I’ve had. The majority of the content has been about music, or something to do with nature. In fact, even now I am avoiding the actual discussion; perhaps this is because I spend a lot of time discussing it with myself as I write it. Why would I want another forum for going over the same territory?

I feel at this point I should mention that I don’t really know the purpose of this post, just that I should write it. It may be of limited value to any/everyone, including me, so drop off when necessary if you haven’t already. Besides, all this is is a brief window of uncertainty, before I convince myself of something else.

I’m not sure of the purpose. Some sort of publicised exegesis in which I attempt to understand why I have spent a significant amount of time on a piece of work which is of borderline interest to myself by this stage (fatigue – I don’t know if I genuinely believe this). The fact that this is potentially seen or read by people with whom I work or am about to work is perhaps problematic, but then the continual maintenance of identity through social media sort of forces you in to a corner in terms of having to consider what you can and what you cannot say. This is what I am saying at the moment. It will change. There is nothing wrong with changing positions; as José Pacheco says, we are all hypocrites.

I interrupt myself to check email (nothing), Facebook (always nothing), Twitter (nothing). On my return, I rethink the sentence about the ‘worth’ of what I’ve done, but do not change it. Before you finish a thesis – actually near the start – you’re supposed to think about how you market yourself with what it is you’re working on, because this is how you get a job at the end of it. I am at a stage where I can nutshell my thesis I think. I picked a case study (for various reasons) – hauntology – to see how music cultures operate in a sort of web 2.0 setting. The traditional ways of understanding these sorts of cultures is through understanding the participants, or consumers, and the places they went and the people they met. With my case study, this was more difficult, so I tried to find other ways of locating things; I did this by looking at spatial practices and what I ended up calling temporal incursions, that is, the way that musicians create work which allows audiences to question notions of chronological time. I threw in a fair amount of Deleuze and looked at specific pieces of music, because aesthetic discussions are often missing from case studies, or at least the ones I’ve looked at. I also tried to find out how participants contest boundaries and identities, and the different rituals of resistance they employ; what needs to be resisted is probably something I’ll write a journal article on next. Reading this back, I realise that this all sounds ridiculously specific, so at least I’ve cleared the ‘specialism’ hurdle. Why it is important is more of a challenge; I think my conclusion will say something about dialogics, and how we might understand culture through unending dialogue. As Hassan-i-Sabbah might have said, nothing is true, everything is permitted.

The way I have moved through academia has been ‘slowly’ for the most part, almost entirely the result of financial issues. No funding for a Masters meant I worked in a supermarket for a year to pay for my tuition fees. No funding for a PhD meant I spent two years working in a supermarket to pay for some of it, then a job at the library and teaching undergraduates to continue paying for it. In that time, I have had plenty of opportunities to consider what exactly it is I want to be doing when I am done. The issue up until now is that the long term goal has always been short term in reality: complete a Master’s degree, complete a PhD. Throughout my time writing the PhD (four years it will be when it’s finished) I sort of assumed I would then go in to lecturing, but I am increasingly uncertain of this as I reach the end point.

Part of this is to do with my experience of being a PhD student. I’ve got on well with the department, most of the people in it, but situating what goes on within a wider context of the current changes to Higher Education has sort of pulled me away from wanting to stay any longer than the end of the PhD. A lot of what happens is geared around treating students as consumers (which of course they are), but wrapped up in this is the idea of equipping them with specific skills and making sure they feel they are getting their money’s worth. This is difficult to put together. For a start the NSS assumes that by the end of their degree students will be able to ascertain the worth of what they have studied; I’m not sure that reflection – or at least reasoned opinion – kicks in quite so soon. And we have to do everything in our power to make sure they’ve had a good time, because if they haven’t and we score poorly on the NSS, our League Table rating is jeopardised. This seems like a peculiar way of approaching things, but then I think this is because my assumption, and the reason I went to University, was intellectual curiosity was more important than getting a specific job. This is still a problem for me. What is more of a problem for people currently studying at University is that they are perhaps operating on the assumption that these skills will help them find work, and they won’t.

Primarily I think I started the PhD to prove that I could complete something sizeable, and because I was interested in ways of thinking about the things people do, and how they do them together. My training for undertaking the project was minimal – most Masters students in Sociology are taught a range of techniques for approaching complex research tasks – because I didn’t study Sociology at Masters level, but this enabled me to avoid inculcation in certain ways of doing things, and I was able to experiment. The downside of this is that while I think I have produced something interesting, I don’t have all those skills that are expected of me in terms of taking on research positions. I am no quantitative researcher. I look at things, and think about them, and write about them; sometimes I put things in strange orders to see if changes the results. Sometimes it does, other times it doesn’t. I write down what I’ve found regardless. That doesn’t sound like a pitch that would work at an interview. But I feel like trying out these ideas are better than having none at all, better than being really good at certain kinds of research procedures but having fuck all imagination.

I think another issue is that the automatic assumption is if you are studying for a PhD (at least one where you haven’t come from a business which is funding it) you are intending to stay in academia. I was intending to do this, but I think the amount of time I have spent at University (11 years) means I now want some time away from it, to try my hand at doing the handful of things I am good at elsewhere, away from the stipulations and control mechanisms of formal education. The sector needs time to settle, and this is unlikely to happen for a while (REF, change of government etc). And I need to decide what I actually want to do. This seems like a stupid admission when I am 30 this year, but then that assumes that your life course is supposed to move in one particular direction, or that certain things need to be achieved. This is, obviously, bullshit.

At the moment, what I want doesn’t extend past ‘writing’. I want to write more. I have always written. This year I have been relatively hard working, in that a novel that I have not really been working on is now 40,000 words longer and actually reads ok. This I have enjoyed doing. I don’t for a minute imagine I can make any money doing similar things, probably less likely than my finding a lectureship or research project I am actually well suited to, but it makes me happy. I am going to try and get a short story published this year, as this is a more achievable goal than a journal article (despite having one out to review at the moment). I am also going to try and finish the novel. Meanwhile, the supposed vital stuff, the employment and that, is pretty much immaterial. This is the plan as of 11.23 on Wed 20th March 2013. My intention is also to spend more time on music, having made little in the past year.

I have fleeting notions of what I want, what I don’t want. For some reason I put them up on my blog on this occasion. This will al change again next week no doubt. I read this all back before posting and didn’t change anything. I am inconsistent even within a half hour of typing. I suppose that’s better than thinking you’re right and blindly following it to a conclusion based on a faulty premise. You have to justify everything you do. I am simultaneously liberated and terrified.

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Recent listening:

Dadub – You Are Eternity

Barn Owl – V

David Bowie – The Next Day

Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl

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