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    Sobriquet 58.3

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009
    This past week has been a fairly productive one for me. On Friday, I spent close to a dozen hours putting together what may be the last substantial bit of bureaucratic work I need to finish before writing the Introduction and Afterword to my dissertation. Basically, I spent a solid twelve hours piecing together a document justifying what I have spent the past twenty-two months doing and outlining my the final pieces of writing I will need to officially finish the dissertation and transform myself from ABD to Doctor. I submitted the document on Saturday morning and received word this afternoon that it had been accepted. I will now begin preparing to write the Introduction and Afterword.

    The nice thing about my insanely crammed schedule this semester is the sense of urgency I feel whenever I have actually manage to secure a bit of time to work on my dissertation. I mean, it sucks to feel that sort of pressure, but it does spur one on. Of course, having finished my big task for the weekend and, not being able to proceed with my dissertation until I learned whether or not my submission was approved, having an uncommonly large chunk of free time, I put an audiobook in my stereo (yes, I was still preparing for classes) and drove up to Niagara Falls. It was delightful. And then the Bengals won. It was a good day.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Prepare for the home stretch.

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    Wednesday, May 21, 2008
    If anything, summer vacation does make schoolwork easier to get through. I mean, I benefit tremendously from knowing that I will have a relatively open schedule, enabling me to work at my own pace, without having to worry about cramming things into whatever gaps there may be in my work work (as opposed to schoolwork) schedule. Of course, unless you have a particularly generous grant or an especially lucrative job during the school year, you'll have to work at least a little bit during the summer -- but, still, for folks as thoroughly institutionalized (I simply cannot understand the five-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day, fifty-weeks-a-year thing. Work for me is kind of an all day, everyday thing but without the need to be physically present at a workplace for more than thirty hours a week or between mid-May and late August) as myself, there's a special kind of liberation and sense of completion (not to mention confusion) that comes with the end of the school year. Like the Literary Chica says, "a year is divided into semesters. Not seasons, not months: semesters."

    At any rate, I find myself more productive and less anxious now that the time constraints of work work have slackened. So, today, despite getting a late start (sleeping in, hanging out with Minxy, drooling over bikes I can't afford), I still managed to churn out a few more pages and I can finally I see the end of this chapter on The Master of Petersburg on my horizon. We will, for the time being, not mention the many doubts I have about the quality and effectiveness of said chapter. We will, instead, try to focus on the good stuff. Let's make Fred Rogers proud, I say.

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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    Thursday, April 24, 2008
    I'm not going to write much tonight. In fact, I'm just going to say thank you to Mike Kissack and Michael Titlestad of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for having written an extremely readable, highly insightful essay on Disgrace. I want to thank them because I found the essay so readable that I finished today's workload much earlier than I had expected, leaving me with that ever-elusive free time I have been longing for. So, yeah, I got to play Sid Meier's Civilization without feeling guilty. 'Twas glorious.

    Their essay, "Humility in a Godless World: Shame, Defiance and Dignity in Coetzee's Disgrace" is a wonderful example of what scholarly writing can and should be: a clear, concise, focused reading of a difficult text. The essay discusses the concept of a secular humility as a redemptive force in David Lurie's life, enabling the disgraced academic to achieve some measure of peace in his life. Although the essay is pretty solid all the way through, I found the discussion of the rift between David Lurie's secular conception of humility and Mr. Isaacs's Christian understanding of the concept especially interesting.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

    Work Cited:

    Kissack, Mike and Michael Titlestad. "Humility in a Godless World: Shame, Defiance and Dignity in Coetzee's Disgrace." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 38.3 (2003): 135-147.

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    Sunday, April 13, 2008
    I remember back in my retail days, when "part-time" usually meant working about five minutes less than full-time each week, I used to hate the irregular scheduling my co-workers and I would have to deal with. You know, working until closing time one night and opening up the store early the next morning or never having two days off in succession--which is what I really hated. Perhaps attending thirteen years of formal schooling on a Monday-through-Friday schedule conditions an individual to expect a weekend; I'm sure, for some people, at least, this is the case. It certainly is the case for me. At any rate, my new schedule, to which I have not been able to fully adjust myself, requires that I teach on Saturdays, thereby eliminating the two-day recess I looked towards to help give my life some semblance of order and to act as the carrot dangling on my proverbial string each week. Of course, weekends still feel like weekends. I still want to stay up late on Friday evenings, I still expect to hear church bells on Sunday, and I certainly expect the post office to be open on weekdays on which I do not work, but I miss the patterned schedule a weekend provides. That extra work day seems to have the same effect on my life as a scratch has on an LP: what once had an easily recognizable beginning, middle, and end now seems to go on and on, ceaselessly and monotonously stuck in a middle without a terminus.

    I'm trying not to let the new schedule affect my dissertation work but, not surprisingly, it does have an effect on what I do outside of the classroom. I now have one less "open" day to stretch out in bed before facing the blank page, one more day of lingering fatigue, one more evening of having to go to bed earlier than what feels natural. Still, I managed to make my way through this past week, despite being busier than I have been in quite some time.

    I have continued reading Disgrace, and should finish the novel tomorrow. I have also continued writing the chapter on The Master of Petersburg though, oddly, I did not do any writing on my "off" days, having found it easier to cram some typing into the after school hours. As always, I love reading Disgrace, Coetzee's tremendously powerful 1999 novel of the "New South Africa." I think this is the fourth or fifth time I've read the book, in fact, and I still love it. My copy, purchased only a couple of years ago, is so creased, so heavily-underlined, and so yellowed that I may have to buy a replacement soon.

    Reading the seemingly endless pile of criticism associated with the book, however, makes the normally satisfying feeling of finishing the book a bit less pleasant. Fortunately, having written about Disgrace in the past and having published a bit of criticism on the novel myself, I am already familiar with the bulk of what has been written about the book, but I still feel the need to re-read the articles I have read and dig up the ones I've not yet seen--and that promises to take quite a bit of time. Disgrace is, after all, one of the most frequently taught and discussed contemporary novels.

    As for me, I hope to have more days like Friday, when I somehow managed to get a good chunk of reading completed between a full day spent teaching, grading and writing the Petersburg chapter. For a moment, I felt as productive as I used to feel as an undergraduate...Still, my big accomplishment this weekend may have been getting the Southern Tier's most famous blogger to watch Kiss of Death, the 1947 film noir classic featuring the late, great Richard Widmark as the psychopathic Tommy Udo, which Mr. Parker briefly mentions in today's post. Seriously, the movie--especially Widmark's performance--is fantastic.

    For tomorrow: Finish reading Disgrace.

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    Thursday, March 13, 2008
    I finally managed to bear down and get my work finished relatively early today. This diligence enabled me to actually enjoy myself for the rest of the day. Indeed, I watched my new Imaginationland DVD (not bad), listened to some Distillers (I threw together a quick review of Coral Fang for my record review blog) and HorrorPops (Kiss Kiss Kill Kill, by the way, is one hell of an album), and will probably go to bed after spending some quality time with J. M. Coetzee (yeah, I may actually read some more of In the Heart of the Country for fun. Sue me.) and Don DeLillo (I've been listening to an audiobook of White Noise on and off for a while now and would like to finish it soon).

    Speaking of free time, I have been thinking about actually assigning myself little tasks in addition to dissertation work because, as I mentioned a few days ago (and, I believe, several other times), I feel a bit constrained by the narrow focus of my studies at the moment. I have been debating setting up a regimen for watching movies, reading history books, or writing un-scholarly things (which, I suppose, I am doing by posting reviews on my music blog). Of course, such a plan would take some of the fun out of the endeavor, but at least I'd get something done...we'll see.

    Since this entry sounds like the rambling of a brain dead moron, I'll assume I'm tired and should get ready for bed and sign off for the night.

    For tomorrow: Read more of the novel and review another essay on The Master of Petersburg.

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    Monday, March 10, 2008
    As I had suspected would be the case this weekend, I did not get quite as much done as I would have liked to school-wise, but I did spend a good deal of time with my friends--which, as I have learned, is as valuable a component of one's graduate education as writing the dissertation. I mean, working on a long, highly-specialized research project necessarily isolates an individual, so time spent in the company of fun, interesting people is a real delight--and an absolute need.

    Still, despite the welcome distractions, I have continued to read more of In the Heart of the Country (which does seem poised to figure into my dissertation) and reread a teensy-weensy bit of criticism on The Master of Petersburg.

    For tomorrow: Reread some more criticism and read a bit more of In The Heart of the Country.

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    Sunday, March 2, 2008
    Though my illness did keep me from attending a potluck at my friends' house in Ithaca yesterday evening, it did not keep me out of commission this afternoon, which was nice. One of my friends officially introduced me to the ins and outs of Dungeons and Dragons, a game I never really found myself able to get into. When I was younger--in grade school and high school, especially--several people I knew played the game, but I never really ran with that particular crowd, so I did not get involved their elaborate role playing games.

    As a member of the Nintendo generation, however, I did grow up with video games and I had played a few computer RPGs. Still, I never really got that passionate about any of the vaguely medieval fantasy worlds in which the games were set. Granted, as an English/Norwegian double major, the scenarios my gamer friends would discuss often reminded me of the Arthurian legends and Icelandic sagas I loved...so I was never averse to playing what many of my peers often dismissed as the pastime of nerds. I just hadn't met anyone with whom I felt I would enjoy playing an intensely imagination-based game.

    As someone who spends a good deal of time reading and writing, the fundamentally creative aspect of non-computerized RPGs interests me a great deal. I suppose what I like most is the storytelling, especially the interactive nature of it. I mean, you place a character in a pre-existing world with an elaborate faux-history and extensive mythological system, but create little stories as you progress through it, thereby adding to the lore. Plus, by collaborating with friends--especially those with whom you have some rapport--you engage parts of your mind that you mightn't otherwise use. Seriously, one of the worst parts of growing up is the tendency we have to move away from the make-believe of childhood. With a game like Dungeons and Dragons, though, you can revisit that playful part of your mind in a way that--unlike, say, running down the streets of Manhattan, arms outspread while yelling "Vroom, I'm an airplane!"--won't cause anyone to lock you away. As for me, I see it as a pleasant way to spend time with friends and an intellectually-stimulating way to break out of the sometimes difficult moments of dissertation mode.

    Speaking of which, I did read and transcribe. I am still enjoying "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," though I doubt I will devote much space to it in my dissertation. At times, I find myself questioning whether I am, in fact, doing enough work. Occasionally, if I notice that what I am in the process of reading does not appear to be relevant to my work, I wrestle with the temptation not to continue reading. This is often the case with critical articles, but also applies to some of the fiction I have been working with. My approach, so far, has been to keep reading, keep taking notes. You know, just in case. And sometimes what I dismiss as irrelevant ends up yielding more than those texts I had assumed would be the most significant. Still, when I feel I am not reading something that will add much to my project, I tend to feel that I am wasting time...This, of course, is ridiculous. I mean, I am reading. I am enriching my life and broadening my knowledge of the world in which I live...which is precisely what I must remember: the dissertation is not my entire life and learning is never irrelevant. The dissertation is part of a larger whole. Not everything I read will go into it, which is fine. Normal, even. Furthermore, the point of writing a dissertation is not simply to produce a document. One learns a good deal as well, much of which will never make its way into the dissertation. But, hey, that's great. So, this is what I tell myself: Let the tip of the iceberg be the dissertation...but be certain to appreciate all the unseen ice below the surface, holding the damn thing up.

    For tomorrow: Continue reading and finish transcribing.

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    Sunday, January 20, 2008
    Okay, so I actually slept like a normal person last night. This morning (and it was actually morning in my own time zone, too), I got out of bed and decided to write another page or so of the dissertation instead of procrastinating or returning to bed as I had been doing most days. By starting early, I managed to finish writing by half past noon, giving myself essentially an entire day to enjoy myself.

    Of course, by now I have forgotten what it is like to have spare time and thus spent a significant portion of the afternoon telling myself not to get any additional work done, trying to remember just how badly I had been longing for a work-free afternoon. But how to fill it? I contemplated driving to Cooperstown, to see the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it would have closed by the time I got into town. I considered going to see a play in Syracuse, but didn't really feel like spending the money. I thought about visiting an art museum in Rochester, but it wasn't open on Saturdays.

    And the restlessness ate at me.

    I kept thinking to myself: there's always Wal*Mart, which, sadly, seems to be the hangout for quite a few people. Figuring that the restlessness I felt might eventually burn a hole in my pocket, I resisted the urge to buy expensive things for which I have no real need and, after a short drive to Painted Post, returned home to watch television, play computer games, gab with friends and family on the phone, make candles, knit, screw around on the internet, and otherwise loaf around in a way I have not done in well over a month.

    So, I let the restlessness gnaw, and it subsided. Now, as the snow swirls in the cone of yellowish light cast by the street lamp outside my window, I can at least say to myself that I had a day--one, single day--to relax and smile and build a SimCity empire...

    Anyway, check this out: the outline actually helped me. I mean, I knew that working on a normal person's schedule would give me time to relax, but I really did not expect the outline to have such a positive impact on my work. There was something strangely reassuring about seeing a blueprint for the section as I wrote it. Again, I am learning that imposing structure upon myself works wonders for quashing my anxieties.

    Weird.

    Since I am really tired (at 12:53 no less!) and writing poorly, I will call it a night and, unless I do another crossword or two before bed, hit the hay.

    For tomorrow: Write a bit more.

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