I woke up this morning with a burning desire to run as far away as I could from my dissertation. Instead of running away, though, I walked up to it, sat down, looked it in the metaphoric eye, and said I don't want to do you today! Then, promptly, I began writing.
As I have mentioned ad nauseam, every single step of the Disgrace chapter has taken me considerably longer to complete that I would have liked. The process of writing, naturally, has not been an exception to this frustrating rule and each section of the chapter seems to require more thought, more planning, more writing, and more time than I would have imagined. Now, this tendency to prolongate things might be more tolerable for me if it weren't for the fact that, the deeper I get into the chapter (and, indeed, each section of it), the more difficult it becomes for me to recall the larger picture and, so, I repeatedly feel the need to review notes and, even, Coetzee's novel. You know, just to refresh my memory and reassure myself that I haven't deviated from the course I have set.
Today, I finally finished the section I have been toiling on for the last month, the section that I carried with me from New York to Ohio, Illinois, and Minnesota. I'd thought it was maybe a week's worth of work. It took roughly five times that. But I finished, which is the important thing. The only problem, of course, is that I have again come to the point where I feel I need to review my original outline, re-read articles and notes, and other equally frustrating tasks . . . all while feeling tremendously burnt out by the process.
Still, if I have learned anything at all from this process it is -- you will have to pardon me for borrowing the terminology of psychoanalysis -- that a dissertation's best friend is often the superego of its author, that wearisome part of the mind that strives always to achieve perfection, even as the ego begins to echo the id's cries of I want to do something else! This is ridiculous! No one's gonna read this anyway! Let's go have fun! In other words, as I have said elsewhere, writing a dissertation has taught me to appreciate the value of perversity: I must do that which I do not wish to do. And I have to do it consistently over a long period of time. For me, the dissertation is, in a sense, a contemporary, secular means of achieving the sort of self-discipline and self-knowledge as that brought about by the willful self-deprivation practiced by mystics and anchorites of a certain type.
When an individual looks back over his or her life, he or she sees the behavior that shapes his or her identity. If he or she has cheated on a test, he or she may say I am a cheater. If he or she bumps into someone's car in a parking lot and chooses not to say anything to the affected party, he or she may say Apparently I am the sort of person who would rather hide from responsibility than face an unpleasant reality. For me, working on the dissertation despite not wanting to do so allows me to say I can work hard, with integrity, with no guarantee of reward or even simply I am the sort of person who can write a dissertation. And that, I suppose, is a good thing.
For tomorrow: Read or plan for the next section of the Disgrace chapter.