May 08, 2006

Monday, 08 May

Took the decision late last week to get away from my bedroom for the purposes of study from now on; was practically chewing my leg off after six months cooped up in this gloomy corner of my room day after day, usually for the cause of barely enough words to cover the back of a postcard. So today I packed up my papers and braved the torrents to join the ranks of those I'm normally charged with keeping in check at our brightly–lit shrine to the financial might and whimsy of the University of Warwick — that is, The Learning Grid.

Results were positive, I have to say: with potential distractions eliminated and an abundance of air–conditioned space to stare into, I suddenly found the prose flowing easily from my fingertips. Finished up before starting a shift at five 'o' clock with twenty minutes' worth of my upcoming half–hour presentation committed to the page; in about four–and–a–half hours I produced 2,700 words.

So what if large passages were cut and pasted, or mostly paraphrased, from a chapter that I wrote months ago? I would never have worked it out that fast if I had been sat at home; at this rate, the thing will be out of my way by tomorrow and I'll be able to refocus on the [infinitely tougher] task of churning out this sticky new chapter. For the first time in a long while, anyway, I feel proud of my day's work — nice feeling to come home and laze around guiltlessly. Plan to fix myself in The Grid at least until the Library drains of panicking undergraduates.

April 30, 2006

Sunday, 30 April

Two weeks have gone since I finished Chapter III, and preparations for IV insist on progressing at a tortoiselike rate. I should have come to expect that by now; every successful advance is followed by this disorientated vagrancy.

But surely, I am starting now to regain my bearings. What I've written of a plan is somewhere between two–thirds and three–quarters [seven–tenths?] of what it needs to be: I lack still a strong conclusion but I do believe that as I go along I will discover my expression. Have enough now to start writing as and when…

The first half of the Chapter should focus on Petrarch's theories of poetic imitation and of poetry generally, to establish how the Bucolicum Carmen relates. The objective is to try to sketch out the themes of Petrarchan pastoral — the dryness and humourlessness [relative, I should say, when you compare with Virgil's] that has kept it at the back of bookshelves for centuries.

Sounds riveting, no?

I've also had the idea of using — to really boil down the comparison between the two — the theme of loss and consolation in both the Carmen and the Eclogues as a kind of "case study". There is a big section of [I think, good] work on this topic in my preparatory essay that I haven't fitted in as yet; with some sprucing up — perhaps, more focus on Virgil's poems — it could be very illuminating. Kind of pure textual engagement that appeals to Andrew at least.

The only snag for now — and it's only a small one — is that I'm down to offer a half–hour presentation on the subject of my research for the Department's PG open day on Thursday, 25 May [Beats' Birthday]. Going to give it on Servius as an intermediary between Eclogues and Carmen. Still have to write it, anyway: 10 pages. Shouldn't take long.

April 26, 2006

Wednesday, 26 April

When any situation threatens to become a little sticky — Indian food enthusiast and former Prime Minister Sir John Major would surely attest — going back to basics is generally the wise thing to do. So after boondoggling over Chapter IV of MA Research Project for the last ten days — reading bits of this, noting bits of that, but ultimately formulating no idea of what I'm going to do with it — tonight I dug out paper and pen for some old–fashioned, no–frills cogitation.


It's veering dangerously close to cliche to suggest that keeping things focused is probably the golden rule in the racket of academic research [indeed, of all academic writing]. The individual parts — from chapters to sub–headings, to paragraphs, to individual sentences — must be stacked in such a way as to fashion a coherent argument. It's easy — out of slackness of thought, or even just out of sheer panic — to start spattering things willy–nilly over the page around whatever you have to say: that's when things get grim.

So I'm pleased to have revisited the two chapters I have written, considered closely the questions they asked and the answers [I hope] they provided, and recognised how this next chapter has to move things along towards the ominous ringing of the final solution. Providing as it will the conclusion of that part of the project which reckons directly with the Bucolicum Carmen as a text, I have decided to ask do the pastorals of Petrarch represent a faithful imitation of a 14th-century reading of Virgil's, or rather a conscious recasting of the Eclogues into a new and different form?

Already, the structure is rather clearer in my head. Which is enough for me, for now; I'll publish more as and when it happens — hopefully over the next week.

April 12, 2006

Wednesday, 12 April

Or rather…

Monday, 10 April

Resolved yesterday, after having spent almost a week scribbling in pencil on scraps of paper and flitting back and forth from a blinking [but stationary] cursor at the end of my chapter, to just write the thing until it's written — instead of worrying myself with stretching it to an arbitrarily-determined length of 7,000 words.

Micro-planned chapter conclusion, and supplied it with its first 400 words — even if just under half of those were drawn from a hefty quotation copied from Bergin's translation of the Africa. But words are words and they all count.

Tuesday, 11 April

Another 300 words. Shouldn't require more than another couple of hours to finish.

Wednesday, 12 April

Rejoice! In an hour — marvellous in the telling! — 400 words, and done!

Well, all except my very last sentence, but still. 6,425 is a respectable total for now and in my naivete I'm hopeful that another 500 or so will materialise from somewhere between now and September and immerse themselves in there.

The conclusion is — I concede — a little tangled, and I'll be waiting to see what Andrew makes of it when I catch up with him next week [with 33 pages of work to be read through, I suspect that'll be tricky!] Still, I'm sure it's essentially sound and should allow me to segue faultlessly into the chapter I've budgeted the summer term for writing: Virgil, Petrarch & the Pastoral Genre.

And did I mention I'm a week ahead of my deadline? Forgive my smugness.

Finally, a health warning.

For anyone reading this who might be foolish enough to entertain the prospect of research study: the obscene amounts of time that are involved in reading, word processing and seeking solace in hours of playing playstation have — unsurprisingly, I suppose — exacted a duty from my eyes. I liken it to having spent months on end lifting free weights: I now [figuratively] possess bulging biceps — but puny little legs.

… Yes. As if that analogy hasn't made it clear enough: an eye-test confirms all this has left me slightly short-sighted.

And to think how, in years gone by, I have gloated at my four-eyed girlfriend about my vision, believing it to infallible! I should have known then that speciness would be visited upon me!

Oh Penny Murray, didst thou teach me nothing of Sophocles during second-year Tragedy?

April 04, 2006

Tuesday, 04 April

Wrote 400 words in what time I devoted to chapter today. One thing word-count doesn't reflect, though, is the fine conceptual [please, don't laugh] work that I managed today; clued in to an important link between the section I've just written and the one that follows. Still, just because the bridge is in place it doesn't mean that talking about Petrarch's satires on the Papal Court at Avignon in BC VI-VII is any easier.

Once I have waded through the paragraphs on these two present poems [which I haven't addressed in any sort of detail up until now], I have some vague ideas for a conclusion drifting in the depths of my mind's conceptual soup that may need scooping to the surface.

The pasted section of text still requires a significant reshaping but with two weeks of [largely unhindered] time to be finishing, I remain confident that plumping the chapter to the required length will be comfortably achievable before the end of the vacation.

March 27, 2006

Monday, 27 March

So no surprise: work has really started to falter since the weekend. Bah.

Back to basics.

Pasted a whole chunk of text from my Christmas essay today, went through, divided into new subheadings, and made some corrections. Other than that, nothing. I have almost 4,000 words written — but the bad news is that I have to find almost that much again to span it out into the required chapter length. Hrm.

Back to the drawing board on that one, then. I reckon I can probably account for 1500–2000 of what I require but could have a problem getting beyond that. The answer may lie in getting more to grips with the Eclogues, but I'm not sure.

Good news is that unless the expansion is a complete disaster, I should be able to get this finished by the end of the vacation and spend the ten weeks of summer term researching and writing Chapter IV.

22:14 update: salvaged something of the day by adding over 600 words on the revolution of Cola di Rienzo in the Sine Nomine and in the Carmen; picked up on a connection between Cola in BC V and the "golden child" of Ecl IV, which was a nice morale boost.

Could be difficulty in linking to the Avignon polemic when next I return to this but for now I can just enjoy things looking rosier than a sunset blancmange.

March 25, 2006

Saturday, 25 March

Managed a respectable 700 words on my chapter today, even if they were mostly copied in the form of hefty quotations or pasted from the essay I wrote before Christmas. Still, any progress is good progress.

As things are, the discourse is a little meandering and I'm not convinced it won't need serious revisions later on. Currently reviewing the thematic links between the Bucolicum Carmen and Petrarch's Liber Sine Nomine, which required a half-hour's catch-up reading.

For now, I suppose I'm just looking to accelerate as quickly as possible to talking about the poems themselves, which is where things should be most straightforward. All being well, I should be able to get to that point tomorrow.

In other news from the Junkyard: I have added a second gallery of photographs taken when Kate and I climbed Arthur's Seat on Wednesday. Seeing as a couple of readers seemed impressed by the picture included in yesterday's entry, I thought it was maybe worth throwing up a few others here and there. Enjoy.

March 24, 2006

Friday, 24 March

Completed, in 400 words, the Introduction to Chapter III. Total count is about 800.

Myself, standing 250 metres above the city of Edinburgh, March 2006

Should be no significant [that is, longer than a whole day] interruptions to writing till next weekend, when I'm planning on returning home [near Portsmouth] for a few days. Few midweek shifts at Learning Grid shouldn't stop me ploughing on through this little nasty.

Enjoyed muchly time spent in Edinburgh with Kate this week. I returned home nursing still the heels which carried me up and over its many miles of slanted landscape, moistening still the lips which had been dried to old wallpaper by a fierce north-wind and mastering still the heebie-jeebies which kept me from venturing on one of the city's infamous graveyard tours.

Small feature on Gavin Douglas [16th-century poet who translated the Aeneid into vernacular Scotch] in the Museum of Scotland has got me thinking about the possibility of doing some research on English translations of Virgil. Will bounce off Andrew whenever it is our paths next cross.

I hope that tomorrow will bring — for the first time in a long time — back-to-back entries in the Intellectual Junkyard.

March 19, 2006

Sunday, 19 March: five 'o' clock update

300 words! Believe that we're away!

Sunday, 19 March

Almost two weeks without a blog entry = two weeks without really working.

Though, I am back on it once again today. What time that wasn't spent at Kate's house in Stoke-on-Trent this past week was used to creep down a number of different blind alleys, reading books that — although useful in a general sense — are not strictly relevant to the chapter I am [still] preparing to write. After a mini breakthrough on Friday I have managed now to draw a scanty plan together.

My previous question, I realised, was rather missing the point — I was too hasty with it. Now, the chapter is explaining how the influence of Virgil is evident in the representation of political [nationalist] ideology in the Bucolicum Carmen. What is rather good is that I should be able to lift much of the main body of the chapter from the preliminary essay I wrote at Christmas, though it will require explaining and elaborating to fatten it from 2,500 words to more like 7,000. Still, it's a bit of a weight off and renews my failing faith in the prospect of this thing being written by two weeks into the summer term. Say, four or five weeks?

I have been struck by the fact that I probably won't be able to stretch to a whole chapter the strictly "poetic" imitation of Virgil in the Bucolicum Carmen, which was to be the third chapter that I spend the summer term writing. I think I will have to amalgamate with the one on "concepts of the pastoral genre" in the Eclogues and the BC. So I'm currently working to a scheme of five chapters of 7,000 words each, plus Introduction, Conclusion [?], Bibliography. Thankfully, I have discovered from Zahra that nothing will be lost from my failing to hand the whole thing in on 30 September, although I am advised [and obviously, of a mind] to try to have it done as soon as possible, and not budget for an extra year.

Have heard much encouraging talk from the lecturers about PhD study after this, even if my plan of taking at least a year to brush up my skillz [numchuk, computer hacking] and research a thesis is set inexorably. Once I hump the weight of this thing off my shoulders at the end of the year I shall be in no state to carry on another three.

Kate and I are going to Edinburgh tomorrow, till Wednesday. It seems likely I'll have more recent daguerrotypes to upload to my Blog gallery next weekend. After we return, I should have at least a full solid week to finally make good on my promises to work hard this vacation.

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