Monday, July 23, 2012

But you don't have to take my word for it

So I've been doing a lot of reading for my dissertation. I'm working on the chapter that I've been dreading, Chapter One, also known in academic circles as the Theoretical Grounding for everything else I write. That means reading what other academics have written and explaining why what I'm writing is totally based in their Very Important Ideas and not just being Pulled Out Of My Ass.

In the course of reading the Very Important Work On the Meaning Of Laughter also known as Rabelais and His World by Mikhail Bakhtin, I have discovered:

jokes about asses (both donkeys and anuses)
snark about Stalin disguised as snark about the Catholic church
grand pronouncements about the Renaissance as the pinnacle of all laughter throughout history
funny old-fashioned translations ("gay" for "happy;" "swab" for what I believe should be "douche")
odd asides about the campiness of pre-16th-century monastic humor
irritating uses of the royal "we"

It's not as bad as I thought it would be, though I have a constant desire to remind the translator that Bakhtin is discussing jokes about shit and sex; is "the material bodily lower stratum" really the best phrase to use?

On the other hand, it's not as good as Wayne Koestenbaum's The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, which is ridiculous and has pictures and uses the phrase "duck-mouth" a lot.

Having made it through the first 150 pages out of 450 (introduction and chapter one), I am putting down Rabelais to start Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, which promises to be just as pleasant and just as annoying, from what I recall of it. At least this book wasn't his dissertation, so it hopefully won't have as many long arguments with everyone who has every written anything relating to the author he is discussing.

I would like to point out, by way of advertisement for my own dissertation, that it will not be 450 pages long.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mood swings

This past weekend I attended the wedding of my first friend in the world, and I performed the wedding ceremony of my best friend for nearly two decades. It was a pretty magical, if hectic, weekend. I think they both found amazing life partners who have become my friends in their own right.

Today I heard that Grandma's cancer has taken a turn for the worse.

I'm not sure I can handle another death yet. Am I allowed to say that? It's been less than two years since Mom died. I don't want to lose her mom, the matriarch of my family for as long as I can remember. I don't know how to handle that.

I know self-pity isn't useful or justified, but couldn't I have had two days of happy after the weddings? Maybe I'm overreacting; maybe things aren't as bad as they sound. But they sound bad.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Slow, unsteady, but winning the race

I have sent a draft of chapter two to my advisor, and he has said to put it aside for now and look at it when I review the whole dissertation! That means that three out of five chapters now have "complete" drafts.

I am slightly behind my planned schedule, but I think that's ok. My advisor also okayed turning an old seminar paper into the germ of chapter one, which means I'm about ten pages into it before putting metaphorical pen to digital page! I'm imagining it'll be about forty pages when it's done, so that's a quarter of what I need. The next step is a lot of reading, which is easier, in many ways, than writing.

My progress has been in fits and starts rather than a smooth, even flow of prose. No matter how I try to adjust this, it seems to be how I write. Work, work, work for a few hours—then take a day off. Oh well. I think it's accomplishing what I need it to accomplish.

My plan for chapter one is to have a complete draft by August 15th, just over a month from now. We shall see if that happens. After that, it's chapter five all the way until it's done. Hopefully on September 30th. Then I will return to each of the extant chapter drafts and see what I have wrought.

This incredibly dull blog post has been brought to you by academia. Now, for something lighter, you should watch this video again, because it is the best:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Into the Archives!

This week (Wednesday to Tuesday) has been about learning to use the Library of Congress. Have you ever used the Library of Congress? It is fucking amazing. Even when I can't find what I want, it is amazing! An example:

I am looking at published piano-vocal sheet music from the 1913 musical, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The Library has 18 songs out of an unknown number (I think 19, actually, but I haven't quite figured that out), but it doesn't have a script. The New York Public Library has an early draft of the script, but it doesn't match the songs. What does the helpful librarian in the Performing Arts Reading Room suggest to me, when I ask about a script? Look in the copyright deposit. In the same building, a few yards away, they keep the actual copy that was dropped off when every single play was copyrighted (copywritten? copyritten?). All of them! Every published drama for the history of this country supposedly has a copy of its published script somewhere in the Library of Congress.

Sadly, the one I wanted seems not to have been submitted when the copyright was filed. In 1909. In Chicago. Under a different title. And yet I still was able to definitively find out that the copy wasn't submitted. And simultaneously find out that on the same day that L. Frank Baum submitted The Rainbow's Daughter for copyright (February 23rd, 1909), he also submitted for copyright a work called The Koran of the Prophet, a musical extravaganza.

Sadly, the work that in my head is already retitled Koran: The Musical! was also copywrote without depositing a printed copy. What a loss to the world! Or perhaps what a gain! Can you imagine what a white midwesterner in 1909 would have written on the subject? I can't. But now I'm trying, all thanks to the Library of Congress!

Next week, I will (hopefully) examine their photos of Charlotte Greenwood playing Queen Ann Soforth of Oogaboo in The Tik-Tok Man. You may (and I certainly do) remember her as Aunt Eller in the film version of Oklahoma!, forty-two years later. When I started this chapter, I had no idea that Oklahoma! and Tik-Tok of Oz had anything in common, beyond having played two too large roles in my childhood. Research is a fascinating business!