Today (Saturday 11th November 2017), I presented virtually on the phenomenon of virtual shut up and writes as part of a roundtable on Digital (R)evolutions in Academic Writing. I was honoured to be asked to participate in this panel by Niamh Thornton (you’ll find her on Twitter at @enortee) and delighted when she accepted my suggestion that I present something virtually. If you’re interested in viewing my presentation, it’s on YouTube and I’ve embedded it here:
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.
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!
One of my recent projects has been the production of an article on the 2014 box-office smash Ocho apellidos vascos (Figure 1). The article is to be included in a special journal issue on the film. The title of my piece is ‘”marriage itself as theater”: The Performative Politics of Marriage in Ocho apellidos vascos. My contribution focuses on the pivotal role of marriage in the film specifically in terms of its interlocking with performance and performativity. I propose that within the film marriage functions as a form of utopian unificatory politics that works at both personal and political levels.
I completed the article in the summer of 2016 and have recently been asked to make some changes following peer review. As a result, I’ve rewatched and been thinking and reading about the film again. I thought I’d write a post to facilitate some of the ideas I’ve had as a consequence of the extremely thought-provoking questions raised by the reviewers. I’m aware that this a rather messy and untidy piece and what the writing of it has revealed is that I still need to spend some more time mulling over what I think about this film.
In the original version of the article, my argument followed two main strands: the first concerned the performativity of the marriage ceremony and of regional identity in the film while the second linked this to what I termed utopian unificatory politics. By this I mean that the film proposes marriage as a tool for the union of the distinct autonomous regions – specifically Andalusia and the Basque Country – in Spain. One of the reviewers’ suggestions is that I link these two strands more cohesively and consider the extent to which the paradigm of performativity and the utopian unificatory politics are connected in film.
My article details how marriage in Ocho apellidos vascos is a romantic ideal that, while sustained as the primary objective throughout the film, is ultimately unattainable and perhaps even unnecessary. The plot of the film, and indeed that of its sequel Ocho apellidos catalanes, hinge upon the prospective nuptials of protagonist Amaia (Figure 2). We quickly learn that Amaia has been ditched by her Basque fiancé Antxon. Reluctant to reveal the truth to her estranged father Koldo, Amaia persuades sevillano one-night-stand Rafa, whom she meets on her no-longer-required hen do, to pose as Antxon. Though the couple do reach the altar, Rafa is ultimately unable to go through with the marriage. In spite of this, the film concludes (spoiler alert!) with Amaia travelling to Seville to declare her love for Rafa. This ending thus sustains the heteronormative couple, unmarried though reunited, as the desired object.
How does one negotiate this network of ideas surrounding the heteronormative couple then? The film provides an embittered critique of matrimony. Amaia is jilted not once but twice: initially (and outwith the diegetic content of the film), prior to the wedding, by the unseen Antxon and subsequently, at the church altar, by Rafa posing as Antxon. Early on in the film, we witness the protagonist attempting to return her custom-made wedding dress, willing to take a cut-price refund for the item. She later, having been dumped by Rafa, tosses it on the fire in her home, watching the dress disappear into the flickering flames. The wedding dress therefore becomes a symbol of disillusionment with the heteronormative institution of marriage.
Furthermore, there are no examples of happy marriages beyond the central coupling of the film (Figure 3). There is no mention made of Rafa’s parents. Amaia’s parents are separated. She is estranged from her father and has been for six years and her mother, who does not appear in the film, is apparently in a new relationship with a man from Seville. Merche, who poses as Rafa’s mother, is widowed, her Civil Guard husband presumably a casualty of the Basque conflict. The heteronormative institution of marriage, the film appears to suggest, is, if not an unobtainable ideal, then most certainly an outmoded and redundant concept.
With its renunciation of marriage as the ultimate objective of the heterosexual couple, Ocho apellidos vascos conforms to the genre paradigm of the contemporary romantic comedy. While the genre is renowned for its adherence to the narrative pattern that concludes with the happy ending, specifically the union of man and woman (Mortimer 2010: 4), contemporary works have shown a tendency to replace the romantic relationship with friendship (Deleyto 2003: 182). But, like the contemporary romcom, while the film might dismiss marriage as an antiquated idealism, it retains the heteronormative couple as the ultimate objective for its protagonists who are reunited in the concluding sequence, as mentioned above. In this regard then, Ocho apellidos vascos offers no escape from the heteronormative structures and structures that dominate society, politics and culture.
Without wanting to produce a dichotomous or reductive reading, should we interpret this position on marriage positively or negatively? How are we to understand the depiction of the unmarried couple and its function within familial relationships? How might the personal politics, epitomised by the unmarried couple, at the core of this film map onto national politics?
In my original article, I was quite sceptical about the underlying politics of Ocho apellidos vascos. My initial reaction was that the film is proposing the utopian unification of the nation, in which similarities rather than differences are emphasised, by means of a romantic relationship, if not marriage, between two individuals from distinct autonomous regions within Spain. However, having rewatched and thought some more about the film, I’m starting to wonder if the film is amenable to a more nuanced, and perhaps more generous, reading of kinships and affective relations (Figure 4).
The traditional nuclear family, which typically revolves around the mother and father (or, in other words, the heteronormative married couple), is absent in Ocho apellidos vascos. In its place are a series of affiliations forged through choice: Rafa and his friends, who appear to be a substitute for his family; Rafa and his “mother” Merche; even Merche and Amaia’s father Koldo, who will become romantically involved by the end of the film (and whose love will be rekindled in the sequel Ocho apellidos catalanes). With this in mind, to map the politics of the personal onto the national in Ocho apellidos vascos necessitates a nuanced interpretation of the relationship between the family and the nation. What I’m starting to realise, especially in the writing of this post, is that this relationship, and the associated political stance of the film, is more complex than I initially thought. This is not to suggest, of course, that the film is without issues or flaws but rather that I need to unpack in more detail the undercurrents of personal and national politics at its core.
So today marks two weeks since the start of #AcWriMo 2015 and the halfway point of the initiative. This is the first time I’ve engaged in #AcWriMo – short for Academic Writing Month – despite following the trend on Twitter for the past few years. I signed up for it on a bit of a whim in the last week of October, thinking that I didn’t have much on the go. November has conversely turned out to be an extremely busy month for me work-wise: I’m checking page proofs of a co-edited book on the avant-garde which will be published in Spring 2016; I’m participating in a Pecha Kucha event next week at the Belmont Cinema in Aberdeen; I’ve a book review due in at the end of the month; I’ve an abstract for a journal article due mid-December; not to mention all the other various publication projects I’ve currently got on the go in relation to my PhD thesis! I also work part-time (three full days a week) which limits the time I have to work on academic stuff. So signing up for #AcWriMo and pledging to produce the first draft of an article that I’ve not yet done a whole lot of research for was perhaps not the smartest move I’ve ever made.
This is the third in a series of posts (you can read the first two here and here) about the viva. In this entry, I’m going to list the bibliography of resources I used, the list of questions I came up with to ask myself as practice questions, a handy checklist of equipment you might need and my final hints and tips, in the hope that it might prove useful!
While my last post focused on viva survival from the perspective of preparation, in this post I deal with my experience of the event itself. As I mentioned in my earlier entry, every viva is unique. So while I anticipate this personal account might not be of much use to others, I think it’s important to share our stories – as Dr Nathan Ryder encourages in his “Viva Survivor” podcast series – about the examination in order to debunk some of the myths that surround the whole experience.
My viva took place at 10am on a Monday morning, which, for me, was ideal. I am a morning person. I work better in the mornings than in the afternoon/evenings. I’m most productive and alert in the morning. And I was also extremely nervous on the day of the examination, so knowing that it would be taking place first thing was definitely a plus for me. In terms of nerves, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous. Prior to the viva I had been fortunate enough to have been interviewed for a few academic jobs, which had stirred similar feelings of anxiety. However, the interview feels like less of an unknown, given that there is a host of material online about how to approach academic interviews, the sorts of questions you might be asked and so on. The viva felt like much more of a mystery to me.
As those of you who follow me on Twitter may know, I recently passed my viva voce examination with minor corrections. I completed these corrections a couple of weeks ago and, all being well, I should be submitting the final revised version of my thesis this week. Since reaching this milestone, I have been asked a series of similar questions by several (uncountable) people including ‘So what are you doing now?’ and ‘Any luck on the job front?’. These questions are difficult to answer.
In terms of what I’m doing now, I explain that despite being “finished” with the thesis, I’m not really finished. I’m keen to publish the material I’ve produced throughout my doctoral research and I’m busy working away on various different projects connected to this goal. I’ve got a couple of articles on the go – one on childhood temporalities, earlier versions of which you can read here and here, and one on seascapes and immigration, partly inspired by an earlier post on immigration and death which you can read here. I’m also working simultaneously on a postdoctoral research application and a book project that will develop one of the chapters of my thesis on performance in post-Franco Spanish cinema, which I’ve previously written about on this blog (see here).
I’ve just taken a whole week off. The first full week I’ve taken off work in a long time. My first week off since the Christmas break, (during which I was working a part-time job so I was still working).
I’m not very good at taking time off. For the last five years I’ve had to juggle PhD research, term-time teaching, and part-time work, not to mention domestic chores and keeping up with family and friends. By now I am well accustomed to a hectic schedule in which every moment has to be utilised effectively and efficiently. Working a lot and being busy is thus borne out of necessity.
There are other reasons supplanting my chaotic schedule. Firstly, I feel incredibly guilty if I do take time off. This phenomenon – often referred to as “PhD guilt” – is, by all accounts, a commonly experienced sentiment: you can read more about it here and here. In addition, I actually enjoy what I do. I mean, I get to watch Spanish films, read interesting books, write about these things, and call it “work”. And this is related to the third reason for not taking time off: what counts as “work” in my case?
I ask this question because I think it is fundamental with regards the much-discussed work-life balance, which often seems to tip towards the latter rather than the former in the case of academics. Clearly, time spent working on my thesis counts as “work”, whether that involves reading, writing, thinking, planning, editing, watching, analysing, and so on. But does writing blog posts count as “work”? What about answering e-mails? And chatting on Skype with two colleagues about our edited book project? What about reading and sharing academia-related links, and connecting with other academics, on Twitter? And watching Spanish films?
The truth is: I enjoy what I do. I enjoy doing these things. Yes, there are days when I would rather not watch a film and analyse what’s going on, or when I would rather read anything other than material connected to my research topic. But on the whole, I enjoy reading, watching, writing, and so on, and that’s why I think I personally find it hard to take a week off, in which I do not do any of the above. I feel at a loose end, purposeless, like I’m not sure what to do with myself.
However, that said, I’m glad that, following my supervisor’s advice, I took a week off. It allowed me to catch up with friends, and begin packing (my husband and I are moving house this summer). In addition, I feel rested, refreshed, and energised to begin what will be an intense summer of thesis-ing (and house-moving!!).
I’ve been thinking about these issues – time off and what counts as work – a lot over the last week, and I wondered whether I was alone in this, or whether this is something others have experienced too. How often do you take time off? Do you enjoy it? Do you feel guilty? What are the benefits and/or disadvantages to taking time off? What counts as work for you? Please feel free to leave me feedback as I’d be interested to hear how others experience this facet of academic life.
One year ago today, I created this blog and posted my first entry. To mark this date, I had hoped to be able to write something reflexive on how blogging has helped with regards my life as a PhD student over the last year. However, given that I’ve recently had to apply for an extension in order to finish my thesis, I’ve simply not had the time! I cannot stress enough though, how useful I think blogging is for the graduate student: it forces you to write regularly, and not always in an academic style – two aspects which I think epitomise the necessity of blogging in the current graduate student environment.
In lieu of my own more detailed reflection on the usefulness of blogging, I’ve decided to post a couple of links to recent posts that themselves address this issue. Ellen C. Spaeth has also recently blogged about her blog’s life in the first year; you can read her post here. See also the list – still being compiled – of reasons you should blog about your research over on The Sociological Imagination blog; read it here.
Over on Twitter today, I’ll be posting links to a few of my posts over the last year. Happy reading!
Thoughts on Spanish cinema, academia and other related things