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May 17, 2006

Wednesday, 17 May

Completing a Blogging triptych: a personal best since like January.

Continued to press down my foot on the throat of Chapter IV by finishing the section on the letters [mainly to Boccaccio] in which Petrarch outlines his theory of creative imitation. Having established how he would have determined to make his own, distinctive impression upon the pastoral form with the Bucolicum Carmen, I am now ready to unpack his poetics and explain what sort of image he'd shape it into.

Elected just to re–read notes and plot out that section rather than move on to more writing; though as the plan is far more comprehensive than what I usually give myself to work with I'm optimistic that when I do sit down to it again [Friday, I expect] I might be able to go right through and do it all. Chapter could be 4,000 words + by then.

Happened upon a little nugget in an article I must have read about a dozen times — such a lazy skimmer am I. Bernardo has a half–paragraph about Petrarch — with his tendency to personify abstract significations — writing poetry that appears complex but has a fairly simple meaning, whereas Dante (to use his comparison, though I would say the same is true of Virgil) — having more of a tendency to the opposite — writes poems that appear simple but have a very complex meaning. I think this articulates my nebulous ideas about what — beyond the allegories in themselves — it is that leads the likes of Greene to refer to the Carmen in terms like "failure", "stillborn".

Checked out Wolfson Room when I visited Library after finishing — remembered Andrew's recommendation that I familiarise myself with a little Augustine considering that he was another of Petrarch's icons. Looks a little pokey, and spoiled as I am by all this slimline technology I felt my skin crawl slightly at the sight of suitcase–sized desktop PCs. No — even when people approach me as I study and ask, "You're one of the people who works here, aren't you..?" — I'm Learning Grid through and through now. It's pointless trying to get away when the end of term is so close.


May 16, 2006

Tuesday, 16 May

As I suspected: yesterday's slog, though torturous, was just a rite of passage to freer and easier writing. I spent about five hours at the computer today, discussing Petrarch's paraphrasing — in various of his letters — of Seneca's theories of imitatio. Inserted — for the sake of clarity, as to my meaning — a little extra padding into the rudimentary introduction I wrote yesterday and ended up with over a thousand words banked on the chapter. 1,600 total.

The Learning Grid experiment continues to progress with pleasing results. I have been tipped off as to the presence of the postgrad–only PC cluster in the Main Library's Wolfson Room [the University probably has let me know but I'm too ignorant to have realised] but only if things get desperate will I venture over there. I am quite keen to settle here after Week 8 and through the summer months, when the wobbly–lipped revisionites have all cleared out.

Plan is to do the same tomorrow, and get stuck into the next section — which will reckon directly with Petrarch's theories of poetry [that is, not just of poetic imitation] and how the Bucolicum Carmen represents pastoral cast in his own image, if you will. If I can manage the same as I did today I'll be very happy…


May 15, 2006

Monday, 15 May

After seeming to claw back a little ground on my studies last week — knocking over in a day–and–a–half the script for my thirty–minute presentation How Servius Shaped Petrarch's Reading of the Eclogues — I returned to the Learning Grid today to resume the gruelling drudgery that is the writing of Thesis Chapter IV.

Over the course of a little more than four hours, I earned the meagre reward [but a reward nonetheless] of about four–hundred words. Initially — it had been so long after all those half–baked, aborted attempts to start the thing off — I couldn't quite remember how I actually planned to marry up the two strands of my introduction: the Bucolicum Carmen and Petrarch on the cusp of the Renaissance and the Bucolicum Carmen as relates to Petrarch's theories of poetry & poetic imitation.

So much time was spent dragging out those ideas an inch at a time, staring out the window at the flickering drizzle and scribbling on a piece of A4. I felt a great deal of sympathy with the ENGXIAND attack as they chip, chip, chipped away at Sri Lanka's batsmen, toiling in vain for a breakthrough that would never come. And indeed, though my introduction is written, I fear it wouldn't be adequate for a regular essay — let alone a full chapter. I'm resolved to proceed and return to rewrite it later, if necessary.

At about half–past three I threw up my hands and accepted that I couldn't carry on; had left the relevant books at home and paid a brief visit to the teeming library to locate other required passages for photocopying. Will return in the morning to press on into the main body of the discussion.

40,000 words feels a long, long way away still.


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.

Scribblings.

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 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.


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