Monday, 19 February 2007

A few choice malapropisms from today's efforts

I stuck at home today, an activity that proved so strenuous that I consumed one of my bi-yearly Pot Noodles. My limbs ached from my box-to-box performance down at Eaton Park yesterday morning, and the strain was exacerbated by my now-habitual dose of Mondayitis. Fortunately, it's a semi-official reading week so I had no lecture to attend this afternoon meaning that I could have a clear run-up at the Caught chapter. If you don't know me, the Caught chapter has been hanging over my head for a couple of months now (the fourth chapter of a PhD thesis is comparable to the "difficult second album") and really needs finishing.

Unfortunately, today was the day when I needed to substantiate some of the theoretical claims I've been making. When your theorist is Lacan, this tends to lead bruised knuckles and a damaged desk:

Vertigo, therefore, is written into Caught both as the literal fear of heights [...] and as the ultimate deferral or fading- what Lacan calls aphanisis- of the subject which manifests itself as a display of hyperactive representation.

And if that wasn't bad enough:

Pye, in his visit to the asylum, experiences "the abysmal realm" and "the Symbolic order" as one and the same. Signs confirm a kind of entropy for Pye, because madness has visibly failed to be housed in anything that matches conventional depictions of the subject. The "signposts pointing the way at every turn" indicate another failure of differentiation.

I think the real fear in writing a PhD isn't to do with failing to take the prize, so to speak, but to bottle it when it comes down to writing what you actually believe. Caught was always going to be the problem text for my thesis because, unlike the rest of Henry Green's novels, it is discernibly about something, which is to say that its characters are driven towards life-and-death ends in the context of life-and-death situations. In both theme and tone, it is Green's most serious work by a long stretch of the imagination and there is something oddly non-canon (to borrow my current favourite idea from wiki-criticism) about it. As a result of this, it has blown me a little off course into the uncharted territories of having to adopt an at least marginally more humanistic critical attitude than I'm usually willing to bother with, in as much as I've had to approach the novel as one in which the "things" that happen to "people" can't just be brushed off, or reduced to semiotics or kitsch. It has been a slow process of mediation: how do I make anti-realism of paramount importance to a novel which is "about" a real historical event (the Phoney War and Blitz) which affected the lives of millions of people.

My solution-to read the novel as an attempt to articulate an extreme uncertainty as to the source of violence (see Jacqueline Rose's essay "Where does the Misery Come From?" for a way into this subject)- seems to be more or less holding up, but tomorrow I've got to try and slog onto a long section about nightclubs and sleaze in wartime London. I gave a paper on that subject at the Birmingham Midland Institute last month but I think my ideas have developed substantially since then and I'm not altogether sure how the link works now.

That said, it's still nice to have a week where my teaching commitments aren't so heavy. I would have liked to go and take in some non-league this weekend but I have a feeling there'll be a Teknikov rehearsal.

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