From Exhilaration to Despair – Riding the Thesis Sine Wave

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” Dickens., 1859. A Tale of Two Cities

If ever a literary quote summed up my feelings about a week working on this thesis – it’s this one.  And given my work with trying to understand/explain another child of the Victorian age (Marxism) in my thesis theory chapter, it seems a likely companion and critique of my feelings.  There are rare moments when the sun shines through in my PhD addled brain and i suddenly grasp how all the elements of my theory fit together.  Then there are others when I’m staring at pages of text I’ve written that make NO SENSE AT ALL.  Or at least they don’t seem to any more.  Up the sine wave I go…it all works!  Then down, down I hurtle and into the trough of despair once more.

Yeah, that's about right
Yeah, that’s about right

Rewriting this theory chapter is harder than i thought, and there have honestly been days when I’m ready just to throw it all in the bin, pour lighter fluid over it and spark a match***.  or just take out my hunting knife and stab the pile of notes into submission.

I am reliably sure this is an effective research method.

Burn!  Damn you!
Burn! Damn you!

…and then there are thankfully the many moments of sanity that snap me back and remind I CAN DO THIS.  Honestly, I knew this bit was going to be hard.  But this is very very hard.  Far more than I anticipated.  A large part comes down to cranking out explanation on paper.  Despite appearances I’m not the world’s greatest or most able wordsmith (no shit, eh!) and far better at explaining things orally.  Things like the viva or my end of year review meetings don’t give me anything like the fear and distress i get with trying to contain my scholarly thoughts within the realm of a few sides of A4.   I really miss writing things collaboratively I confess, I’ve always been able to do my best work bouncing ideas back and forth between one or two other people.  I guess I’ve a strong tenancy for collaboration* rather than solo work.  Shame being solo is pretty much the life of a humanities PhD student.

Right, right.  Enough wallowing in self pity and back to writing.  I can’t put it off any more by writing a blog post to stretch my writing muscles (naturally, in no way is this a displacement activity).  Back to the grindstone I go.  Come on Marx, you must have some words to inspire me?

Capitalism squanders human lives, or living labour, and not only flesh and blood but also nerve and brain

Gee thanks you’re no help, I’m a cog ground down in a neoliberal capitalist influenced edu-factory.  I think I might have to go with the slightly more inspirational.

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

Yeah that’s much better – the quote so good they slapped it on his tomb.  Nice to remind myself once in a while that theory is all well and good, but making a difference is what counts.  That’s what got me started on this whole PhD lark, wanting to make a difference to the world.  Wanting to leave it a little bit better than I found it.  Not 100% sure I’m ever going to achieve that, and there are moments when I think I’m just adding hot air to a well inflated academic balloon…but anyway, one has to try and be optimistic.  Can one man really make a difference?  Well as other one great philosopher and philanthropist (Devon Knight) once thought as much:

Although failing a 80s haircut, nifty black car and weirdly popular in Germany pop career, I think I might turn back to Dickens for something more uplifting:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.ibid

Yeah, right.  If only I knew this to be true, or indeed could have some solid, stress free rest for a bit – life would be just peachy!

*and a big thanks to Mrs Llama this week for actually bravely reading some of my written output to give me a friendly critique.  So far it appears I use the phrase “it is interesting“** about 5 times a paragraph she’s commented…

**But my PhD is interesting!  Thankfully, otherwise i might just have come to a full stop a long time ago!

***Second use of burning paper metaphor in two posts.  Hmn, I shall have to be careful around matches.

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