Thursday, July 30, 2009

A gift unlooked for

I just discovered that RU's classes begin on August 31st--not August 24th, as I've believed since May.

Holy shit, people! I just found an extra week of summer.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Loss of faith

I've published several articles derived from my dissertation/book manuscript, and although there are things that embarrass me a bit about all of them--especially the brash, pugnacious tone I now recognize as peculiar to the graduate student--I still consider them basically solid pieces of work.

However, there's one whose central argument I no longer fully believe in. It's still a plausible argument, I think, and even a profitably provocative one, but I'm not prepared to go to the stake for it.

The problem is, the material from that article accounts for nearly half of the chapter I'm currently revising. And it's the better half.

I think that the way I'm reframing both the chapter and the book will allow me to moderate and rephrase that particular claim while still retaining nearly all my sub-arguments and local readings, but I'm torn between wanting essentially to keep the damn argument--I wouldn't write that tendentiously now, but I kinda enjoy the confidence behind it--and fearing it will weaken the entire chapter. I'm also not sure what my ethical obligations are: if one changes an argument radically between one published work and another, does one need to acknowlege that fact in the text? In a footnote? Anywhere at all?

I'm sure such losses of faith or changes of heart must be relatively common, especially over the course of a long career working on the same or similar texts and topics. If you've ever had a loss of faith in your earlier claims and have contemplated publicly revising them, what have you done?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Avoidant personality disorder*

Almost every day that I write, I begin by avoiding writing. Some days I'm so successful that I don't write at all, but most days I eventually settle down to it. After I:
-Call or instant-message a friend

-Discover a bunch of magazines or journals that I really have to plow through and get out of my life and my living room

-Look at pictures of shelter cats online and think about adopting a second one


-Browse and fantasize about a summer or leave semester abroad

-Crack open those books from inter-library loan

-Balance my chequebook
Indeed, if I get interrupted in my writing, I sometimes go through this process all over again: I settle down to work and within 60 seconds have lept back up to do something else.

Nevertheless, I am working, and I'm taking comfort in the argument that self-discipline breeds more self-discipline.

Right now I'm revising what was the first chapter of my dissertation and is now the second chapter of my book. I've got a core of basically strong readings that I have to rework to fit my now rather different argument, relate closely to a chapter that previously didn't exist, and strip of the embarrassingly tendentious and unscholarly surrounding verbiage that I was very proud of 4-7 years ago.

So I'm doing my usual plodding series of revisions by hand: 10-15 pages a day of careful, interlineated changes; input onto computer when done; print out new draft; repeat. With each round I know there's stuff I'm missing--I get so wrapped up in one paragraph that I forget what happens two pages later and that I need to set up or lead into in some way--but I figure I'll catch it in the next round. Or the one after that.

Gradually, it sucks less. In the end it might not suck at all. And the process isn't without its pleasures--but it's certainly not as compelling as kittens, apartments in Florence, or even the mysteriously tenacious crud in my bathtub.

*Dude, it's totally in the DSM.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who do you say that you are?

This here's a question for my Renaissance peeps (and scholars of religion and lit or religious history more generally):

How common is the term "Protestant," when applied to the people we now call Protestants, by the people we now call Protestants?

My sense has been that "Christian" (or something similarly broad and/or vague, like "our church") is usually preferred, and that "Protestant" is more often used by Catholic polemicists than by actual Protestants--but that's just my sense, and although there's been a lot of scholarship challenging "Anglican" and "Puritan" as meaningful descriptive labels, I can't remember reading anything similar about "Protestant."

A preliminary EEBO search reveals that there are actually quite a few positive or neutral usages of the word, even in the sixteenth century. But since it's hard to search for the terms people use if they're NOT using "Protestant," that still doesn't give me a sense of its relative frequency or popularity.

Anyone have any sources or data points--either scholarly or Early Modern--to throw my way?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Home furnishings

My book manuscript, I have decided, is a piano. And I don't know how to play the piano! But that's only part of the problem.

Several nights ago, I was out for dinner with a friend in the profession whose monograph is at about the same stage as mine.

"I think about my book every day," she said. "It's like a physical presence, like a piece of furniture."

We started talking about what kind of furniture our manuscripts would be, if that's what they were: something hideous? merely functional? twee and filligreed in a house full of midcentury-modern?

"Well," I said. "Mine's been in the corner with a sheet over it for ages. And it's nice there. Doesn't get in my way, and I can forget about it for long periods of time."

"But under that sheet, it's actually, uh. . ." I thought for a minute. "A piano. An upright piano. Nothing fancy, like a grand, but old and rather handsome--maybe something I inherited from a great-aunt?"

"I can't get rid of it. But I don't know how to play it. And it would be pretty just to look at, I guess, and for sentimental value--except that it doesn't really fit in my apartment, and I'd have to organize a whole room around it, and if I'm going to have it, I want to be able to play it, and not just, like, put doilies on it or whatever."

It was one of the more illuminating conversations I've had about my work--or, really, my vision of my career--in a while.


If your book manuscript (or dissertation, or latest research project) were a piece of furniture, what would it be?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Random bullets of coming back from Cali

You'll be gratified to hear that my trip to SoCal was entirely worth my week-long absence from this blog. At least, for me.

Some highlights:

  • I got to see my grandmother, who's very weak, but not in any pain. It was lovely to see how much she's meant to so many people: she's 88 and has hordes of friends and family members trooping in to visit her week after week.
  • Cosimo met my folks. Nothing disastrous happened, at least to my knowledge.
  • I saw my brother, albeit all too briefly, as he was down from SF for a couple of weddings (neither of them his).
  • Attending July 4th fireworks in La Jolla, followed by drinks and a late dinner at a bar overlooking the ocean.
  • Seeing this awesome production of Coriolanus. I'm now officially a Darko Tresnjak groupie.
  • Spending a long day L.A. with Cosimo's brother and his brother's girlfriend, who live on Sunset. We drove around the hills, spent hours on the beach in Santa Monica and Venice, and stopped in at a club where Cosimo's brother--a comedy writer and occasional performer--got some open-mike time.
  • I'm a wee bit tan.
  • I wouldn't mind living in California. But right now I'm damn glad to be teaching in my own state system, and not California's.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


I'm off for a week with the fam, chez my grand-maman.

It'll be pretty much like this: