Sunday, September 28, 2008

The 'beget' nature of academic writing

My head is full of old fashioned idioms, perhaps because last might I watched the first episode of the 1971 BBC adaptation of Honore de Balzac’s Cousin Bette. So far I am not enjoying it. It seems too stylised and twee. I cannot identify with any characters, not the way I do when I watch the BBC adaptations of Dickens, or Austen or many of the other classics I have watched adapted to the screen. BBC classics. Watching them on Friday and Saturday nights, starting late, well after dinner and whatever else needs happen on those nights, well into the wee hours, I watch these films and lose myself in these old worlds long gone, grateful that I live in the present. The lot of women in the past has been far worse than it is today, at least from my perspective. Though I’m sure for some elsewhere it may be as bad or even worse.

Now I wonder, what distinguishes good writing from bad? What is it that makes us want to read on? To some extent it must be subjective, different words and styles appeal to different people. When I read blog sites, why do some appeal to me and others not? Why am I so taken by the self conscious confessional tone of some like Artandmylife, who forever admits to feeling poorly educated, a non expert, and yet offers her thoughts and opinions regardless. For me she becomes a sort of every woman, the mother at home with her little ones imparting knowledge to them that is greater far than anything they can read in text books and yet, her knowledge is somehow diminished because it has not been formalised through the official authorised discourse. Maybe this is why I enjoy her work so much, the same with Stripeysocksstudio and Martin Edmond – was there ever a more self-effacing, yet brilliant writer, who also seems more self taught than spoon fed by the institutions? Maybe for me, too, because I have gone back to the university after thirty yeas and because I do not have a vested interest in fitting in with the academic ethos – I’m not looking for a job – I can write more freely even as I know it will not satisfy certain of the establishment.

I resent the insistence that everything said be backed up by a footnote: Who gave you this idea? Who has said this before you? How can you claim to know this? How dare you presume to say anything unless someone else presumably more learned than you has said it before.

To me that’s different from the need to acknowledge other people’s ideas. I have no problem acknowledging other people’s ideas, but sometimes I cannot remember and sometimes my own ideas have become such an amalgamation of all the ideas that I have read and heard from many other people, I cannot think to anchor the idea as someone else's specific’s property.

My supervisor talks of the 'beget' nature of much psychoanalytic writing. Someone wants to write about an area, say the notion of envy, they must always begin with what Freud said first, then move on to what Jung said or Klein, Bion or even Lacan. They seem to need to quote about five or more significant people from the past before they can move into contemporary ideas, and sometimes if they’re lucky they might have something to add for themselves, some new ideas of their own, but always it’s couched in dense theoretical terms, as if it can only be looked at from afar, like examining a precious gem under a bright light. It’s not allowed to be vague and abstract, a dim idea. It has to be sharp and clear.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Weird Business of Blogging

Hello Bloggers

Relatively speaking, I'm new to this blogging business. I do not know the rules, if there are rules, and I suspect there are, rules to everything. My supervisor at LaTrobe told me recently that bloggers do not like comments on their blog sites from strangers who cannot be identified from their own blogs. (I do have a blog and this is it) This might account for why when I sent a long and detailed comment to 'stripy socks' she did not publish it, or perhaps it got lost along the way and never reached her. But I am stunned at how suddenly hurt I felt, as if I had been excluded from this wonderful New Zealand group of mainly women, though there are a few male bloggers, who interact with one another so enthusiastically on all manner of things, from high art, philosophy, poetry to the domestic.

Here's me muddling on with my great long rambles of matters relevant to me, but I am not blogging 'properly', I'm sure. I have told my daughters that I am too text based. Who wants to read reams of text? I need to include images, but the only images of significance to me at this time are those in my head , or the ones I find in family photos and they feel a bit too much my children's business and not mine, so I continue to settle for text. Besides I've yet to learn the art of all this tagging and including photos and all the other wonderful things I see other people do in their blogs.

Another voice in my head says, forget it. You've too much to do already. Get on with your thesis, your serious writing. Blogging is like television watching. It's addictive. We got rid of our television fifteen years ago and now I limit myself to watching the occasional DVD on the computer screen, as do we all in this household, of mainly grown up daughters, my husband and I. But blogging is more than that. It demands an active readership, it demands a response.

I had thought to tell others in the comment sections of their blogs, the few that I read regularly that I am so concerned about these rules that I have become almost too shy to comment now. I feel like an elephant who enters a graceful dinner party conducted by gazelles. They do not want me there. Could this be true?

So many people write that they want comments and I am sure my comments are not hostile, at least I hope they do not read as hostile, but you never know. So on this self flagellatory note I leave off this posting in the hope that someone out there might tell me what if anything, I'm doing wrong.

One day down the track I might regret this message but for the time being I will let it stand. I think cyberspace is such a weird place to lose yourself.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Written versus pictorial images

Hi fellow bloggers

Today we fly to Byron Bay, via Ballina, leaving at 5.30pm. I’m more uneasy than usual because we are leaving Ella behind. She will come up two days later, one day and a bit to be exact on the Monday morning, in order for her to compete in the National History Challenge on Sunday. We had thought the interviews were to be conducted on the following Sunday. I call that wishful thinking. You want it so badly that you don’t read the instructions.

I’m sure it will all be all right in the end. For now I am on holidays for the grand sum of one week. I need a break. My voice has gone to laryngitis and I can barely raise a shout.

For the last few days I have been haunted by dream images.

Green Tree Hill.
We are standing at the edge of a clearing, a small group, my children, my siblings. We have caught the train to Cheltenham station and we leave the platform on the cemetery side. It is the cemetery side of the station that I am looking at but it seems different somehow, as if we have arrived in the country.

The man is foreign. Puffy face, dark eyes. He holds the baby in his arms underneath a coarsely woven blanket. I know it’s a baby because I can hear it crying. He looks as though he feels trapped, standing there on the edge of the clearing as if he had had some intention before we came along but now that intention has changed.

We’ve stopped him in his tracks, he hesitates and just as I am about to offer to hold the baby for him, he throws it down onto the stony ground beside him and bolts. He is gone almost before we register the thud of the baby’s head against the hard earth and I am horrified at how close I had come to being able to save this baby. If only I had known. Why couldn’t he have put the baby down, not thrown it down so heavily.

The thud of the head on the ground and then it rolls out of the blanket. The baby’s head has been severed and rolls over with no body attached. Its eyes are open, brown berry eyes as deep in colour as a pool of blood, wild staring eyes. I can only register the severed neck and cannot bear it any longer. I wake up.

Interpret this dream as you will. I have thoughts but I won't include them here, other than to speculate that the dream says something about the severance of intellect and body that I struggle with much of the time.

Lately, I have become frustrated with my blog. It is far too text based, but unlike some of the other blogs I enjoy, , ,

I will need to find some real images to include. Then I will feel more complete, less like a head without a body. In the meantime bear with me. I will improve.