Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Weird Mind

Sometimes looking at my own weird ways is surprising. For example, I have been having an inordinately hard time putting together my fall Writing 2 class, as you know.
This morning I realized that I am reliving, via this effort, the disaster of my PhD exams. In those exams, I chose to examine a topic I didn't know much about, but wanted to learn about--Science and Literature. Many of my papers and poems too hovered about this subject, and I had long been interested in what gave disciplines the authority and power to overtake one another as the master perspective from which all in a given culture would be judged. So I thought I would learn more about that, and it could inform the work I did from that point onward.
My advisors at UCI thought I had something there, and that my proposal for the list sounded good, very good, in fact. This was a topic that piqued their interests as well, as people teaching critical theory. But the problem was, and indeed still is, that while I am extremely well read in the field of literature, I have not read much history, political science, philosophy, etc. I am not a well-rounded person, but, despite my extensive (if one-sided) education, more like an autodidact in the scope of my knowledge.
The list grew and grew and grew, until it was a bloated and impossible eight-armed monster. I read everything on it. I did! But it was impossible, for me at least, to draw the kinds of conclusions about it that I had hoped. My mind simply did not seem to be made in that way. And more so because I was quickly abandoned by my advisors, who gave me no guidance or indeed advice, at all.
From there, my constitutional weakness, severe anxiety, took over, and I quickly unraveled. The essays I produced in the exam were, because of my ability to write and to discuss individual literary works, excellent, for the most part. However, I totally failed to create an overarching theory that responded to the question I myself had formulated.
I see myself drawn into the same vortex now, perhaps in a sort of neo-Freudian compulsion to relive the trauma of that exam. Maybe by seeing this, I can free myself from the vortex. Hope so.


marly said...

You know, it's probably a mistake to think that what is essentially part of training to teach and research should result in a polished book on one's first foray. You learned a tremendous amount--about yourself, not least--by entering the morass and fighting the monster.

Maybe that's a lot. And enough.

Saw RHWD last night and had a grand time. We talked about you and your manuscript and your Richard, and only good things were said!

Good cheer, Robinka!

Robbi said...

That's true about what I learned, Marly. However, apparently I didn't learn it TOO well, or I wouldn't be doing it again. It seems to have helped though. I have broken through and will be planning my class without impediments (I hope) this week.
I got brave after speaking with colleagues, and will teach two chapters of Foucault! Very carefully, albeit.
So glad to hear that you and RHW got together and are getting along again, and I suppose my ears should be burning. Wish I could join you.
NOW I wish I had taken the job RHW had offered me at Hollins years ago, before I'd ever taught anything at all. I wasn't ready for it though. Now I am.