And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

tirsdag 10. oktober 2017

Consummatum est

Consummatum est - it is completed. This is the pious blasphemy with which I have quietly expressed to people that I have submitted my PhD thesis, and that I have finished the work of three years, two months and two days. It all happened on October 02 2017 with a simple e-mail containing a bouquet of attachments, and having clicked "send" I sensed a rush of calm and delight. This sensation lasted for about an hour, an hour in which I called my loved ones to spread the good news, but the elation was quickly punctured by an e-mail saying that I had handed in to the wrong faculty, a blunder which was the result of trying to locate the correct instructions for submission on the university's websites. This blunder did not cause any actual problems, the attachments were forwarded to the right person, and I also send the e-mail again to the right person, partly as a safety measure, partly - I suspect - as a way of denying to myself that I had cocked it up.

The blunder did not cause any actual problems, but it came at the tail end of several weeks in which I had been tossed between different emotional states, back and forth between confident and worried, patient and impatient, calm and stressed. This period included me having to ask for a two-week extension, which was then followed by a weekend's extension, and it also contained a confusing and sometimes contradictory quest for the needed details about length, size, page-limit, character count, and structure of the thesis itself.

Because the blunder came on top of this, my elation was soon exchanged for a sense of incompetence, and it no longer felt like the great fulfillment of three of the happiest years of my life. Instead, it felt like a somewhat bathos-filled, anti-climactic finale to some strange tragicomedy I didn't really comprehend. I also think this feeling was exacerbated by the fact that I had submitted electronically - I had submitted a virtual, unbound and unprinted copy of my thesis, not a physical manifestation of my intellectual labour but a digital copy that remained untangible no matter how often I would upload it to Dropbox or e-mail it to myself to make sure I would have a back-up of it. It was all done by the clicking of a few icons on a slow computer in a lonely office on an autumn day whose general meterological conditions I no longer remember.

It has now been nine days since I handed in my thesis, and in the interim I have come to realise that the post-submission fatigue has been greater than I thought and much stronger than myself. I have spent part of the time relaxing, reading poetry, preparing for travels, and going back to the office to clean out books, to socialise with friends and colleagues, and to take care of various minor things. It has been nine days, and this is the first time I have been able to write anything, or to even attempt to put my thoughts into a coherent whole again. These days have been long and quiet, and also difficult, because for the first time in three years there is no major on-going project that I need to tend to, that I need to finish within a looming deadline, and I simply don't know what to do. I had thought these days would be spent reading, or going out to eat and to stroll around flaneur-like about town. But no, I have been unable to do so, and I think it is because I have not yet come to terms with the fact that I have submitted, that I am done, that I only have a distant defence to worry about and that's it. I ascribe this feeling to the contrast between the scramble of the past two months and the unceremonious completion of the thesis, the almost doubtful reality of my submission.

Since I submitted, I have been able to see a printed version of my thesis, the one sent to my secondary advisor for perusal before the defence, and it did feel great to see my words on a physical page, to see how the structure and order of the work plays out in print, and to be able to do the very tangible and familar act of browsing with pages that I had myself filled with words and ideas. It did feel great, but I didn't push away what the final weeks of the process had imprinted upon me, and I still find that the energy I thought I would have for books and exploration is something that is on its way back, slowly.

But I can at least await its return with the knowledge that as far as my thesis goes, it is completed. 

lørdag 30. september 2017

Countryman - a poem by George Mackay Brown


Come soon. Break from the pure ring of silence,
A swaddled wail

You venture
With jotter and book and pencil to school

An ox man, you turn
Black pages on the hill

Whisper a vow
To the long white sweetness under blessing and bell

A full harvest,
Utterings of gold at the mill

Old yarns, old malt, beside the hearth,
A breaking of ice at the well

Be silent, story, soon.
You did not take long to tell

- From Voyages, Chatto & Windus, 1983

fredag 29. september 2017

Intermesso in the last weeks of the PhD thesis, part 5 - second time around

A week ago, I lived in the hope that today, Friday 29th of September 2017 would be the day I handed in the thesis that I have been working on for the past three years and one month. Unfortunately, this was not to be since it turned out that much more time was required to get the technical aspects of the document in place, the format, the pagination, and so on. Fortunately, I have received help from my closest friend in this process, otherwise I would probably not be able to hand in any foreseeable future. As it stands now, however, I have spent the day implementing those changes to my thesis that I had noted in the course of my second reading of the entire thing. It took most of the day to get it sorted, and the three coffee cups in the background of the picture should give an accurate indication of how I am currently feeling about all this. Only a few more days to go.

mandag 25. september 2017

Intermesso in the last weeks of the PhD thesis, part 4 - here comes the sun

I'm still working on the finishing touches on my thesis, and as often is the case in such situations there came several delays towards what should have been the end. I'm fortunately getting closer by the day, and as we are now having an Indian summer here in Odense I could bring my notebook and coffee out in one of our courtyard - a bigger one than the one I usually frequent - and enjoy some sun while sketching out the outline of my conclusions.

onsdag 20. september 2017

First draft

My thesis process is still unfolding, and most of my energy and focus these days are directed towards the completion of all those small steps that will lead me through to the end, and which will allow me - eventually - to lay my head down and think of all the things I will be doing next. Today I took an important step towards completion: I printed the first draft of the thesis. It feels strange but good to have a tangible, physical copy of what I have been working on for the past three years. It is thicker than I thought it would be for the 128 sheets of paper of the six chapters that comprise my research and my analysis, and the final product will be even bigger with appendices and other kinds of paratext. I'm dedicating the next few days to reading through all these pages, looking for errors, typos, inconsistencies and broken promises, and then I am a big step closer to handing in.

torsdag 31. august 2017

Blackberry-picking, a poem by Seamus Heaney

As a brief farewell to August, here is a seasonal poem by Seamus Heaney which was published in his debut poetry collection, Death of a naturalist in 1966. It is a beautiful and atmospheric invocation of one of the hallmarks of a childhood in the district, berry-picking, and one of the typical features of summer. (Text is taken from this website.)

 Blackberry picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.


tirsdag 29. august 2017

Intermesso in the last weeks of the PhD thesis, part 3 - out of doors

The thesis is still progressing and I have not lost my optimism yet. In order to keep things that way, I tend to escape from the office walls for shorter periods and make use of the little courtyard we have beside the common room. It is a good way to get some fresh air, some sun, and most importantly a change of scenery.

In the past weeks there has been a lot of writing going on, either writing things from scratch or editing things that I wrote months ago, or reformulating things I wrote months ago by writing sections from scratch. I'm now at the point where I need to write a chapter that ties the case studies together, and this will be the last major step towards finishing. Today, however, I found that I was so tired of writing on a computer that I decided instead to put things on paper, writing coherent prose by pen rather than by keyboard. It was a welcome change, and a good reminder of the need for such change lest the final stages just wither away into stagnant routine.