Reflections on Constructing the Thesis

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08_03_10: Mapping the thesis using tables and links: This seemed a better approach to (a) my usual notes-as-spidergrams, which are typically illegible to anyone else; (b) using an online program like Cohere for charting the relations between ideas. Initial experiments with this program proved unsuccessful; it might work better for mapping the thesis after the fact. It could be used to generate a "reverse outline" for seeing alternative connections and checking for holes in the first draft... But these maps can also get very messy, in part because there's just not enough space in this interface to elaborate complex ideas without toggling between different scales.

09_03_10: The presenters as real persons in the world: Following Dostoevsky's example - the presenters or characters in this barcamp are not incidental - They not only need to embody particular positions in relation to the research; they need to be round and convincing--they need to perform and be performed through their contributions. Hence my (perhaps peculiar) practice of identifying the "real-world" people on whom these contributors are based.

It's very tempting to be "inspired" by people I know - specifically Isobel Bowditch, Neil Cummings, Mary Anne Francis and Stephen Scrivener (though I've seen Stephen less in recent years), all of whom have been influential on my research. And I've worked with them enough to have some sense of their respective sensibilities. Moreover, they've all also published at length; there's ample access to how ideas circulate through their written text (and, of course, perform versions of the authors in the process). Acknowledging these figures would be tantamount to acknowledging important sources/forces in the research - but such direct association is also a little...cringe-worthy. Mary Anne, Neil and Stephen are my supervisors and Isobel has been an a helpful "critical friend"... And yet, according to Katie Deepwell, the PhD is about training--apprenticeship. Is it possible to understand basing barcamp characters on their real-world personas as (at the very least) an acknowledgement of this education? A reference to their influence - Howard Blume and beyond?

I wonder, for example, how other PhD students acknowledge their supervisors in their work--beyond the formal acknowledgment in the first pages of a thesis? How did Adorno acknowledge Husserl? Or did he? Acknowledging Isobel, Neil, Mary Anne and Stephen is part and parcel of enacting the dialogic practice I'm charting through my research.... Moreover, the supervisor-supervisee relationship(s) is not only something very precious. It's also something that needs to be denaturalized via some kind of critique (a version of institutional critique, perhaps?). Here I'm thinking about Mic Wilson's comments regarding the constructed nature of this kind of engagement and the tensions it involves, tensions that are usually effaced in the thesis as outcome. But then again: perhaps as a supervisor, Wilson's in a "better" position to make such comments than I am.

10_03_10: The length and number of presentations: The rule of thumb is that we typically speak 150 words a minute in unhurried speech. Assuming that each presentation is ten minutes long, it follows they should each be around 1500 words long with about 500 words of discussion. I'm trying to view this as a positive constraint. But mapping and remapping the content/dynamics of this barcamp is proving challenging. How to pack everything in with enough repetition to highlight may ideas and enough difference to advance the discussion? An obvious option is to make the presentations longer. But the brevity of barcamp presentations is, in part, what distinguishes this kind of (un)conference. The point is to breakup the presentations so there're more instead of less. Holding fast to our rule of thumb that 12 is a good number for barcamp contributions, I think I can push this to 14 - seven in each session.

Form follows function and form shapes content: The decision to organise the thesis as a barcamp grew out of my desire to challenge naturalized thesis models by enacting/describing a form of knowledge production that was constituently dialogic. Thus far, the dialogic features of the presentations have figured most obviously in the questions following the presentations. And the result: I've observed an increasing tendency to start with the questions and use these to anchor the discussion...So there's a process of working backwards.

12_03_10: (Emergent) Dialogic Strategies in Thesis: To say it quickly - the thesis aims to be polyphonic, by which I mean (1) it embodies a plurality of consciousnesses and this approach is understood as a particular kind of form-shaping ideology (to use Bakhtin's terminology); (2) I, the author, don't exercise monlogic control - which means treating the truths of other consciousnesses as equals - which means there will be parts of the thesis that don't necessarily represent my POV.

Polyphony as Critique: It's occurred to me that polyphony might actually constitute a form of critique - assuming, that is, that the different perspectives are given equal billing (and by extension, respect) - so it's not about one being better than an other (that would be synthesis) - It's about different perceptions being sufficiently articulated to call the reader to respond - so it's the reader that must ultimately take a position instead of this position being asserted by the text.

28_03_10: Theory of Art: After a few weeks break from writing the thesis, I'm focused in particular on developing the barcamp contribution concerned with the theory of art being advanced in the research. I'm thankful this thread resists domestication - it's not going to fit into one presentation, something the presentation itself must take into account. I'm imagining this contribution as a dialogue between a curator (who promotes a sociological perspective), a philosopher (who offers a more philosophical account) and an artist (who aims to discuss theory through specific instances of practice). How might the clash of these forced positions advance the research? How might this presentation be composed as a provocation, something to be contested/engaged with by the rest of the thesis? What would such an approach entail? This reminds me of Terry Eagleton's comments regarding our fraught relationship to the Enlightenment:

We forget at our political peril the heroic struggles of earlier "liberal humanists" against the brutal autocracies of feudal absolutism. If we can and must sever critics of Enlightenment, it is Enlightenment which has empowered us to be so. Here, as always, the most intractable process of emancipation is that which involves freeing ourselves from ourselves.(8)

There's a rub here concerning rhetoric of discourse analysis: Assuming this presentation engages dominant assumptions about aesthetics, there's a question of how/where this occurs - through what medium. By using verbal discourse to engage these issues, aren't I, in a way, subordinating the interpretation of art to the artworks themselves? At the same time, there's no question that art is produced through verbal discourse, something further complicated when the artworks themselves involve verbal aspects. I'm stating the obvious when I observe that these concerns nip at various tensions explored through art (more generally), including the mind/body divide and interpretation/apprehension.


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