Monday, 12 March 2007

What Was This Thing Supposed To Be About, Again?

On Friday, I was going to try jumping straight into Chapter 1, but it didn't work, so I mostly spent the day speed-rereading my dissertation in order to try and figure out what the shape of the whole book is going to be. Then I had the weekend off - I saw Nix for a late breakfast on Sunday, which was fun for about a million reasons, including the beginning of what I suspect will be an ongoing discussion about butch/femme. Then J and I walked up and down Brunswick Street looking in the shops; I saw millions of good, not-too-gendered baby clothes (researching for the upcoming birthdays of my nephew and my future niece) saying things like Genius and Bad Girls Rock, and I bought a jumper for myself which I'm very enamoured of. We also watched Strange Bedfellows, which is (rather surprisingly) one of the best queer films I've seen in years, as part of my ongoing Australian acculturation project.

Then today I tried to start Chapter One, but probably the best I can say is that I sat at my computer for several hours trying out sentences and sitting quietly with the project, and wrote down a few thoughts about the main ideas in the book. I did make a start at something which might turn into Chapter One, and I didn't give up too easily, but I didn't really produce any countable words. Maybe later this week - tomorrow I'm going to the library to get hold of some of the more urgent texts I couldn't afford to mail to myself.

One thing I've noticed is that I'm very wrapped up in this project by now, which means it's harder to talk about, because my thoughts are very involved and thus hard to explain clearly, but at the same time I am prone to getting tense and upset if people take what I'm talking about in a different direction from the one I meant. So I'm treading warily. But my head is full of thoughts about the book a lot of the time now. This is fun when it involves listening to Laurie Anderson on earphones while doing the washing up and going far away inside my head on long cogitations about how 'Big Science' is all about Heidegger (I have now forgotten why, I'm afraid); it's not so fun when it involves lying awake at night trying to decide whether I really need to discuss the stabbing of women as a foundational practice.

That's actually kind of the big question for me at the moment, but I think I can put off answering it for a while longer, while I get the opening of the book into shape. The dissertation/book is about the articulation of textual space and political space: what kind of space do you need in order to read signs? what kind of space do you need in order to form a lasting organization of humans? And both of those gradually get transformed into a question about the kind of space that you need in order to store, retrieve, and transmit information. Because the way we conceive information transmission determines the ways we can conceive both of political space and of historical time. (An example from television: Kevin Costner's The Postman is about the idea that the nation is basically a huge apparatus for sending and receiving information - like, territory + postal system = nation.)

In the original dissertation, one of the ways I talk about political space is through this recurring theme in Roman literature (and later nationalist writing), the idea that the State's territory is like a female body - and this metaphor is used to bundle together a lot of ideas about how the national landscape is beautiful, organically unified, penetrable, fragile, in need of protection, and so on. But it's not always a metaphor - there are also lots of stories in Livy about how the state boundary gets drawn and redrawn when the people mobilize for war because of threats to, or violence against, real-life women. (Lots of stabbing.) And in the story of Dido and Aeneas, Dido completely manipulates that set of metaphors and stories in order to set up the political situation she wants - but she's the enemy of Rome, and when Aeneas actually gets to Italy, we return to this situation where women are simultaneously the cause of war and the metaphors for national territory (he's destined to marry this really nothingy wife, Lavinia, whose name mostly appears in the epic as an adjective describing the territory he's going to rule once he wins the war). And then, in the original dissertation, that whole strand led up to a conclusion about the ways in which that way of conceptualizing political space (and gender) could be resisted. It was kind of neat, and tied a lot of the strands of the dissertation together, but I'm wondering whether I should just junk the focus on 'femaleness' altogether: it's beginning to feel like a bit of a cheat, a way of making the dissertation look like it ends, even though a lot of the ideas in it aren't really resolved. Like gender encompasses all the other spatial and temporal problems in the book, when really it's only part of all of that, and not a very major part, either.

I think this would be okay, as I'm publishing articles on the two main female figures in the dissertation (Dido and Gradiva) elsewhere anyway. But of course, that means I have to figure out a new structure for the book - and (eek!) I have to resolve all those things I fudged slightly, like the difference between visual and aural space, and the difference between a plough and an angel's wings.

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