Sunday, 4 October 2009

Childlike Vision

"Down Cyprus Avenue
With the childlike vision
sweeping into view..."

I'm sorry I haven't written here very often recently. I've spent the last nine weeks concentrating on my PhD, as hard as I possibly can, in the hope that I would deliver something interesting for the start of term.

Writing a PhD is like writing the biggest essay ever (mine will come in at around 75,000 words) and there are only two things you need to know.

  • First, it must be an original work;
  • Second, it can't be an original work.

All PhD students inhabit this strange space, because we have to express our original ideas with references to lots of other people's work, in peer referenmced journals. Originality, in the form of a footnote.

I live through my words, and when I can't write (or talk) I feel like I'm in quite a traumatic place. And trying to express myself in the borrowed language of an academic tradition makes me feel like a character in a Kafka story. I understand now why deaf people feel liberated by having their own sign language, and diminished by mouthing a vocabulary they never heard spoken.

Then on Wednesday, I had a dream, that said my PhD only needs me to write 500 words.

This is, of course, not true. But I grasped what the dream meant was, I needed to write the first 500 words of my theory chapter, guiding the reader into my topic, like that bloke Dante meets at the start of the Divine Comedy [I think you mean the poet Virgil. Ed.]

I sifted through my notes and drafts, and wrote round, like a circle in a spiral, for a day, just thinking about the question of how I would talk to a reader who knew nothing about my research, and introduce them to six or seven authors and ten ot twelve key ideas, that I needed to explain my findings.

It came to 620 words, and I was starting to feel good. Then I wrote down my opening sentence.

This is the story of a market located in a city.

Then I crossed out "located" and wrote "embedded". (A bit more academic.)

Then I just crossed out "embedded" and didn't put anything.

This is the story of a market in a city.

Ten words, plain English, and it's all I need.

Because every arcane, and pretentious and high falutin' (and ultimately, academically respectable, which is what a PhD needs) concept that I need to talk about, and every author I need to cite, is an aspect of how people research markets, and the future of cities. So that's that.

Now, I have found my beginning, and I can walk to the end.

In my beginning is my end.
In my end is my beginning.

1 comment:

Donn w/2nz said...

What an ordeal. It will all be worth it once you're done and you can begin indoctorinating all of the other "academia nuts" with your brilliant insights.