My main research project at present is the production of a monograph entitled Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance. The book takes inspiration from one of the chapters of my PhD thesis, but significantly reworks this material alongside new research. Inspired by a recent post by Ellie Mackin, I have decided to share the book proposal I submitted to I. B. Tauris last year to give an overview of the project and in the case that it should be useful for others currently working on a book proposal. I was offered a book contract and I am currently preparing the manuscript for submission in April 2018.
Hi folks! My name is Fiona Noble and I am a researcher of Spanish cinema and visual culture. Due to personal circumstances I am not currently employed within an academic institution. I have an honorary affiliation with the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University having recently held a Teaching Fellowship there (January-December 2016). I hold a PhD in Hispanic Studies and Film and Visual Culture from the University of Aberdeen, where I also completed an MLitt in Visual Culture and an MA in French and Hispanic Studies.
My research explores audiovisual articulations of identity in contemporary Spanish culture. I am currently preparing a monograph entitled Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance (forthcoming with I. B. Tauris) in which I examine the technical, conceptual and narrative functions of performance in contemporary Spanish cinema. My main claim is that the juncture of performance and cinema is a subversive political site. This project builds upon and extends my doctoral research in which I analysed cinematic representations of children, performers and immigrants in post-Franco Spanish cinema. I have also published on cinematic depictions of children, on intercultural lesbian relationships in contemporary Spanish cinema and on broken bodies in the work of Salvador Dalí.
More broadly, I am interested in gender, sexuality, queer theory, the body, performance, the child, visual pleasure, language-learning, the economic state of affairs with regard to Spanish cinema. Beyond the world of academia, I enjoy going to the cinema (especially to see superhero films!), football (#COYR), cats (I have two), baking and spending time with family & friends.
During my week curating We the Humanities, my aim is to engage a broad audience and introduce them to, or enhance their knowledge of, the artefacts I study in my research. It is well-documented that English-language speakers often lack motivation to learn another language, let alone watch subtitled works. Spanish-language visual culture, with the exception of perhaps Pedro Almodóvar, is virtually absent from the cultural landscape in the UK and I am keen to work towards changing that fact.
(Image taken from: http://www.active.com/walking)
Due to a change in personal circumstances, I am not currently working in the academic sphere nor am I able to dedicate much, if any, time to my academic work. This is not to suggest that I’ve given up on academia. Far from it. In the last few months, I have edited and submitted the final version of a journal article following peer review (I wrote about this here), peer-reviewed three articles and I’m at present completing a book review. I have also very recently signed a book contract for my first monograph. With limited protected time for academic work, my usual working processes are no longer an option. Instead I’m having to find new ways and means of carving out valuable thinking and writing time.
One of the main ways I’m doing this is through walking. I’ve always, or at least for as long as I can remember, found walking both therapeutic and productive. I’m clearly not alone in this given the recent attention paid to concepts such as walking desks, walking meetings and the like (you can read about these phenomena here and here). When I was completing my PhD, I went for a walk every day. It was sometimes only a brief 10-minute stroll around the block, sometimes slightly longer. The main purpose of this walk, which I usually took after eating lunch, was to get out in the fresh air. But I also found the act of walking coupled with time spent not consciously thinking about whatever I was working on would often lead to breakthroughs in terms of my thoughts and ideas connected to my research. The act of allowing my mind to wander unanchored in conjunction with the physical exertion demanded by walking facilitate, for me at least, the emergence of new synergies.
To give a concrete example, earlier this year I was working on an article following peer review. The article contains two main strands of argumentation and one of the peer reviewers had commented that I should explicitly connect these two lines of thought and that this would reinforce my argument. Though in agreement, I could not see, in the little time I had to spend working on the edits, how I might do this. I spent a good few hours puzzling over this during some elusive #acwri time. I got nowhere. It was only when I went out for a walk, during the sleepy mid-afternoon period, that things clicked into place.
I am very lucky to live in an area with beautiful walks on my doorstep. I particularly enjoy walking away from roads where possible. I’ve recently devised a route around the village that takes me along a disused railway line which backs onto fields and then into our local country park before heading along a wooded path back home. There is something very relaxing about being surrounded by nature and away from houses, cars, roads, people. My plan is to keep walking in the hope that the thoughts, ideas and inspirations continue to flow in spite of the limited time I have available to act upon them.
What about you? Does walking aid your thinking? Are there any other activities you find similarly productive? I would love to hear others thoughts on this!
Last week – amidst the chaos of A LOT of exam marking – I had the pleasure of attending a talk and workshop on the topic of transnational cinema delivered by the brilliant Deborah Shaw, Reader in Film at the University of Portsmouth. These events were organised by the World Cinema and Cosmopolitics research group, an interdisciplinary research cluster in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University, coordinated by Abir Hamdar, Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián and Dusan Radunovic. Having found these events particularly productive and inspiring at such a challenging and intensive time of year, I wanted to write a post to reflect on some of the topics of discussion that arose from Deborah’s talk and the related workshop. This post by no means accounts for the breadth and depth of the discussions that took place over the two events but rather focuses on what, at least for myself, were the salient points addressed.
Last week, one image dominated most media outlets: that of three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi. The image first appeared on my Twitter timeline on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, I went to work (I work in a supermarket) to see that the image had been printed on the majority of that day’s newspapers including The Guardian and The Daily Mail. It was Friday before I saw any mention of the young boy’s name on Twitter. Subsequent images have appeared reappropriating the original photograph, including a cartoon and a sand sculpture (neither of which I am prepared to upload or link to here).
This image has provoked awareness of the gravity of the situation in Syria and what now seems to be being referred to as the ‘global migration crisis’, as well as outrage in the form of demands for political accountability and for the provision of aid and assistance for those caught up in the crisis. This is of course a welcome change given the prominence of narrow-minded and xenophobic attitudes towards migrants and migration often championed in some media outlets (Daily Mail, I’m looking at you). However, I am struggling with the politics and ethics of printing and/or sharing this image. I will try to articulate my reasons here, hopefully with some degree of success. I appreciate that this is an emotive topic and that not everyone will agree with my position. But my contention is that the image of the dead child is not only unethical, but also politically-charged and highly manipulative.
Motivation has never been something I’ve struggled with during my PhD. There are, I think, a number of reasons for this. I’ve always loved my topic. I’ve always counted myself lucky to be able to work on films and texts that inspire me. I’ve always been motivated to work hard. I’ve always had the fortune of having a supportive network of people around me – both within and outside of academia. I’m extremely grateful for all of these things.
However, the last couple of months have proved a challenge precisely with regards motivation. Nothing has changed. I still love my topic. I’m still inspired by the films and texts I’m working on (for the most part). I’m still working hard. I still have the same – if not more – support. And yet, I seem to have reached a crucial point in my doctoral research. I don’t know if this phase has an official name, but, having spoken to several friends who have recently completed PhDs, it is apparently a recognised phenomenon. Typically, this phase seems to encompass: tears; procrastination; more tears; more procrastination; and a diminished sense of self-belief. I’ll call it the writing-up blues for now.
As a means of countering this unexpected bump in the PhD road, I was advised by my brilliant supervisor, Dr. Julia Biggane, to alter my working methods. As a starting point, she recommended writing a list of tasks to be completed, and then calculating how long each task will take. Although I have a penchant for making ‘To Do’ lists, I’ve recently realised that matching tasks with appropriate chunks of time is something I find more challenging. A consequence of this failing is an almost perpetual sense of dissatisfaction: no matter how many items I check off the ‘To Do’ list, there remain a plethora of tasks still to be completed. And that, unsurprisingly, does not aid motivation. A trick recommended by Julia is to allow significantly more time than you think you will need to complete each task. An excellent piece of advice: if you happen to be slow off the mark/interrupted/tired etc., and you in fact need the extra time assigned, great – you’ve still achieved your goal; if, however, you finish ahead of schedule, even better – you’ve achieved your goal and can reward yourself (with an evening off, a trip to the cinema, a big fat cake with that afternoon coffee) as appropriate.
To put this into practice, I indulged my inner geek and prepared a table in Word with tasks to be completed colour-coded according to diverse activity types: organising, watching, reading, writing, redrafting. I also calculated how long each task would be likely to take. I update the table frequently according to the distinct tasks I’ve achieved throughout the week. This allows me to chart my progression through the endless list of objectives to be met.
Another aspect of working methods I discussed with Julia was the construction of a weekly schedule. After pencilling in the various other commitments I have outside of the PhD (part-time work, appointments, exercise classes etc.), I assign different tasks to the mornings and afternoons throughout the week. As a morning person, I reserve the more taxing work for mornings (writing/theoretical reading), and the less strenuous mental exercises (watching films/lighter background reading) for the afternoons. By varying the types of task undertaken over the course of the week, I am able to maintain a sense of motivation and am less likely to become disheartened with my research. My project is ideal for this approach, given that each of my three main body chapters focus on a distinct figure in contemporary Spanish cinema – the child, the performer, the immigrant. The diverse subject areas, as well as the fact that I am now nearing the end of my project, allow me to move between chapters, and thus keep my interest alive. To aid me in this, each week I have a ‘Sunday meeting’ in which I decide what to work on in the coming week, and map out my week in timetable format. I allow for a certain degree of flexibility, updating my schedule as the week progresses depending on how quickly I reach my goals.
The final alteration I’ve made to my working methods is my conversion to the Pomodoro method. Briefly, this method entails working in half-hour segments throughout the day, concentrating solidly on the task in hand – no interruptions (i.e. checking e-mails/Twitter/phone; sending an e-mail/tweet/text message; looking up the reference for that library book) – for twenty-five minutes, before taking a five-minute break. After four Pomodoros, take a longer break of between fifteen and thirty minutes. Working Pomodoro-style has both forced me to take more breaks (something I’ve struggled with in the past) and taught me that my attention span is significantly shorter than I thought! I’ve found it extremely helpful, and would absolutely recommend it.
To conclude this self-reflexive post, I thought I’d list some of the links on working methods that have inspired me over the past couple of months:
Another recommendation from my office mate – I’ve not yet tried this but plan to give it a go following the winter break;
A short piece on the pros and cons of the ‘To Do’ list – I’m still a fan!;
An interesting insight into more effective note-taking – something I could definitely improve on!;
Top tips as to how to write more succinctly;
A thought-provoking piece on the learning curve that PhD students experience when learning to write academically – really identified with this.
Reflecting on my days as an under-graduate student, one assignment in particular resonates in my mind. Why? Because I was asked to write on a topic about which I had no idea: BLOGS!
Only recently have I discovered the wealth of material available in blogs such as the excellent Spanish cinema blog ‘Nobody Knows Anybody’ or the beautiful ‘Half/Films and Other Fragments’. These, among others, have inspired me to create my own.
This blog begins as I enter the writing-up year of a PhD in Hispanic Studies and Film & Visual Culture, and documents my journey through Spanish cinema and film scholarship. Happy reading!