So it's been a while since I wrote an update. I've been around, academically - last semester I taught two classes and tutored a lot and felt awkward about an orals process that felt artificially linear. This semester, I've been tutoring a lot and quietly realizing how much I already know. My committee has reminded me that I'm ready, I've (more or less) picked an exam date (pending committee's schedules), and I'm well into drafting a prospectus and a couple of diss chapters.
Part of the linear ick factor, I think, is that I came up with a HUGE diss idea initially, and wrestled with it for a while. Letting go of that mondo idea - as much as I was assured that I could KEEP it, just broken down into different parts for different parts of my research agenda - was surprisingly emotional and hard to do. If you'd asked me if it was hard at the time, I would've said no, but in truth, it was. It all came to a head when a trusted person suggested that I take Virginia Woolf out. I looked at him like he had two heads, and then realized he was right: she no longer fit in the plan that was getting me excited. There are other places for her to fit, in other projects.
I am currently seeing how one of last fall's classes in particular is influencing my diss research and process more than I realized at the time. A composition class that I called Race and Gender in Celebrity Culture, I started my first-years off with Barthes on Hepburn and Garbo. My students' reaction to that essay, combined with our collective reading of Eric Lott's "All the King's Men: Elvis Impersonators and White Working-Class Masculinity," started shaping my thinking about Hepburn as an archetype of a White, imagined female beauty.
What's the diss, then, you might be asking? In this project, I am primarily interested in the way certain American pop culture artists of a certain era tap into and adapt a collective nostalgia. I will show how the affective experiences of Fifties and Sixties American pop culture thread through music and movies that come after them, paying close attention to both rhetoric and to embodied experience. I examine Fifties and Sixties texts (which I configure largely as specific singers and actors) who I read as objects of direct or indirect homage in later cultural forms.
My main cultural “texts” are the “girls” who inspire: the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las, the Chiffons (and other Sixties girl groups); Audrey Hepburn (in Roman Holiday) and Marilyn Monroe; and then the “boys” (and one or two women) who follow them: the Beatles (as filmed in Hard Day’s Night and in song); the Ramones; Amy Winehouse; Madonna; Courtney Love; Prince; and possibly Marilyn Manson (which makes me wonder: how many dissertations take THAT dude on?). For instance, I’m delving into how the Beatles and Ramones were both influenced by Sixties girl groups (and also the Ramones by the Beatles), and how this summer’s documentary on Amy Winehouse has resonance with both Hard Day’s Night and Madonna's Truth or Dare documentary. Some of these people and things I have loved my whole life, and some are newer. I am learning to love them all, and the ways they intersect, as I put them together in new ways.
And so, as I trawl through my orals notes while sifting through beginnings of dissertation chapter drafts and outlines, I re-realize - which maybe you also need to re-realize: so much of what you talk about and read and absorb and laugh at and cry for - makes its way, deeply and powerfully, into your work. I thought my dissertation didn't look like my orals lists anymore, but they do, just not in a linear way. Nothing is linear, when you get right down to it. Life constantly spirals, and so do bodies, and so do moods, and so does the mind. Why should writing be any different from the body? What is writing if not love and pain and exhilaration and frustration and joy? There will be many more rounds after this one.