Friday, April 04, 2014

On stuff, infrastructure, and beauty


I’m just back from a whirlwind trip to Sydney. We hired a van and drove up on Tuesday, taking up some furniture from the house, as well as a pile of stuff Paul had bought to set up the flat he is renting until the flat we are buying is finished. He is planning to be in Sydney only every second week, but there is still a lot of stuff you need to start out a residence from scratch. And because he will not have a car in Sydney and is also travelling a lot overseas at the moment, he had chairs and bed delivered here, while he also stocked up on kitchen stuff, an ironing board, and a pantry full of food to get him started. He also packed up about 24 boxes of books. Some of the kitchen things he bought are really beautiful, and it was a bit seductive to be unpacking them all and seeing his new crisp bedsheets, and shiny kitchen saucepans and the sharp knives and the green enamel bakeware and the green toaster and the pretty blue cups and teapot.

And also to sleep in a brand new bed when ours at home is so old it … well, you don’t want to know. The temptation of new stuff. But of course all the glasses and plastic boxes had sticky labels and paper wrapping and other boxes, and all the kitchen utensils were wired into cardboard, and had stupid little silver chains that attached their instructions.

I’ve been thinking about the big piles of rubbish in the oceans, lately; and we certainly made our sad contribution this week.

We shared the Hume with big trucks, all hauling stuff up and down between the cities, too. We arrived about 8 and went out for pizza, but then had to unload the truck so we could carry the bed and all the bedding upstairs, propping open the security door and waiting for the single, slow lift. And even with the lift, there was still a lot of lifting and carrying. The building’s a bit run down, but the bathroom in the flat has been recently renovated and the whole place is quite big and light.

On Wednesday we hauled boxes of books to Paul’s office on the UWS campus. By the end of the day my arms were a bit trembly with the weight of carrying big boxes of books upstairs. But we changed and headed off to our luxurious night out. We will have to pull in our horns financially to pay for this Sydney accommodation, but we treated ourselves anyway to the outdoor performance of Madam Butterfly. Should be easy, we thought. A pleasant ferry ride to Circular Quay, and there you are.

But.  The ferries don’t go all the way to Parramatta past about 5. So we ended up sharing a taxi with a woman we met at the dock. We drove ten minutes to Rydalmere dock, trying to persuade the taxi driver we didn’t want to go all the way in by taxi. So we paid $20 for a ten minute ride, but then only $6 each for a 55 minute ride on the Supercat. It was just beautiful.  



It went slowly at first, steering between the mangroves, I guess, but gradually speeding up past blocks and blocks of houses and apartments: so many people in Sydney must have a water view. It was dusk, and the sun was glinting off the water and the city as we approached.
 

As the harbour bridge came into view, the catamaran sped up, like a horse heading for its home, and docked at Circular Quay on perfect time. We then had to walk across to Mrs Macquarie’s point, through the Botanical Gardens. But the gardens were closed, and we found ourselves wandering around in the dark, wondering if we should get another cab. Surely there’d be signs pointing the way, we thought. But there was nothing. Maybe Sydney folk just drive everywhere or go by taxis. Maybe Sydney institutions don’t care about visitors. We were not the only ones getting lost and anxious. We ended up walking down a tunnel towards Woolloomoolloo (I’d learn to spell it if I lived there, I promise), where the narrow footpath actually gave out at one point. Honestly, Sydney: just a few signs for visitors would help. It can’t be that hard. Afterwards, we were directed to a water taxi, and did a quick trip around the point and back to Circular Quay for $10 in 5 minutes. We'll know next time. 

However, once we got there, we had time enough to buy edamame beans, almonds in soy, gyoza, and champagne to see us through the first act, which was astonishing. We were five rows from the front in the middle section. The seats looked west across to the opera house and the bridge, so the performance took place with the water and the sunset behind it, and then on the left, the tower blocks of the city, but with the darkness of the gardens intervening. There were a few flying foxes still in flight; and the crescent moon turned more and more orange as it sank into the water. You can just see it, pale and white, between the trees here:
The set is an exercise in engineering excellence. The first act is lit for dappled sunlight through the trees on a steep green hill. We were exhausted and so stayed in our seats at interval and watched as two cranes built Butterfly’s house and the unfinished block of units behind her (Pinkerton’s abandoned strata title), not a little like our own not yet finished Sydney apartment. The stage hands were more like builders, and indeed throughout the second act, these other folk (builders? Stage hands? Chorus?) hovered around and lit their little fires and walked on and off: the chaotic everyday world sitting behind this intense drama. As Pinkerton says, the Japanese house design is very simple, and you can change it as you go – like Japanese marriage.  The opera set was not simple, but its mutability was powerfully underlined through this “performance” of house-building at interval.

Hiromi Omura was simply extraordinary as Cio Cio San. A strong and lyrical voice, and a commanding actorly presence. I’d seen this opera before and the singer seemed abject and desperate all the way through. But this woman was playful, and defiant. The chronology of the opera’s setting was a bit confusing, but the symbolic force of this young Japanese woman loving her little rhinestone encrusted denim shorts and her American flag singlet, and draping them in her diaphanous white wedding gown in the final scene was heartbreaking.

It really was a highlight of my opera-watching career, on a par with Parsifal at the Met in March. It was both emotional and beautiful, and also intellectually smart, somehow. The simple beauty of two lovers against a bit white artificial moon? But it had also been a day crowded with stuff. Moving things here and there; setting up our own real house; seeing a fictional "marriage"disintegrate. Such beauty and stillness, but made out of such an expense of energy. Can it really be sustainable, what we do? What we give ourselves?



Sunday, January 12, 2014

In Which I Begin a Long-Distance Relationship

Amidst all the trials and tribulations of a university in change, one of the most stable features of my life for the last twenty-one years has been having a partner with a good job in the same city. When I met Paul he was driving from Fitzroy to Monash most days, not enjoying the commute, but loving the job with great colleagues. He then moved to RMIT university in the city, and so for the last twelve years, or thereabouts, we have relished both being able to ride our bikes to work. It's true we hardly ever meet for lunch, as we often talk about, but we do sometimes set out on the bike path together of a morning.

But while I soldier on at Melbourne (I'm not complaining about my job; it's just that I have been here such a long time), he has just accepted a new job in Sydney, and will start tomorrow. It's another research-only position, but with minimal administration, unlike his job at RMIT, and once his routine settles down he'll be up there probably for four days at a time, twice a month. It's just that the first few months will be busy with international trips already planned and booked, so UWS won't see much of him, and there are some pretty nasty turn arounds on the calendar, when he flies home to Melbourne and then a day later flies up to Sydney.

It feels very odd at our advanced ages to be taking on a long-distance relationship. I know lots of people who do it, or have done it, usually at a younger age, and usually in hopes of eventually getting to the point that we have just abandoned. Paul's reasons for moving are complex - it's his story to tell, not mine - but I think we are going to be ok.

His first move has been to get an old bike reconditioned and shipped to Sydney to help with the flat-hunting, while his new bike is being built. If you are flying to work, it's important not to be driving another car.

Discussions about all this took place mostly over the month I was undergoing all my tests and probes and surgery for the possible recurrence of breast cancer (all good now). So we had lots of opportunity to talk about the life-work and the life-death balance. Financially it'll be tough for us in the short term, but probably ok in the long term. If I had been starting chemotherapy now, it would be feeling very different, I'm sure. Of course, the success of this venture depends on neither of us getting really ill. We are collecting stories from people who've done this kind of commute, and illness is one of the things that makes it much harder. It's also true that the Sydney-Melbourne air route is the most travelled in the country: planes fly every 30 minutes, so the logistics are relatively straightforward.

We're planning to build a different kind of routine. I'm going to try to work less at weekends and make a greater differential between work time and non-work time. I'll have a place to stay in Sydney, but how often will I really go up there? Isn't it more likely that my home-loving man will want to come here to be with his cats and fish and chickens and garden and son? How much easier it is to contemplate this with an almost-adult son, too.

The main theme in our discussions has really been about the quality of life. How to balance the wonders of a cycling commute and the beauty of quotidian, local, and domestic rhythms against the pleasures of a working and research community that gives you intellectual stimulation and fabulous professional support? In an era when a university career is such a complex, overladen and demanding business, it still seems crucial to have that research community around you. Mind you, we medievalists in Australia and in most other contexts are accustomed to making communities of scholars in adjacent and sympathetic fields. It's all relative, I know.

The expectation that you can have intellectual and communal and social satisfaction in a university career will be knocked down as unrealistic by the cynics, I'm sure, and of course I acknowledge I'm speaking from the privileged position of two tenured professorial incomes, etc. etc. I know the situation is completely different for the untenured, the sessional, the adjunct, and those who cannot easily move, or commute.

However, I want to own and celebrate this change as a mutual household decision because it's a sign that we are not giving up: that we can make the argument that our work is meaningful; and that we can still insist that our academic and intellectual work matters enough to organise our lives around it, instead of subordinating everything to financial expediency, for example.

Would love to hear stories from folks who've managed long-distance relationships and commutes, though. What works? What are the pitfalls? What's it going to be like?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My work, my breast, my life

So, just over seven years ago, I rather mordantly announced my breast cancer diagnosis under the title "How to put bad grant news into perspective." Our research team had just missed out on a large ARC grant, but the news was overtaken in my life, at least, by the diagnosis and then the surgery, radiotherapy and five years hormone therapy that followed. In the meantime, we got the four-year grant the next year, and produced buckets of events and publications. I was pleasantly surprised when I finalised the final report, earlier this year, at how much we had achieved.

This time, everything seems different, but weirdly similar. I'm posting to say that I am *not* going ahead with my vast fellowship grant this round, and that I do *not* have breast cancer.

I put in a rough draft of an outline of my application to the faculty committee that mentors applications and the general feedback was that the project was not really ready yet, and that it might also not be the best strategic time to apply. That's really fine: I still really like my idea and am going to explore other ways of working through the material, though the prospect of building another research team was certainly intriguing. However, it's not as if I don't have enough to do.

(I did get a little frozen up about blogging and facebooking all the application as I had planned to, as a colleague advised me against being quite so public about my progress with the grant, in the manner and the tone I had assumed would be ok... but I'm over that now, and in any case it's a non-issue, since I'm not going ahead with it.)

Anyway, over the last month, I've also been contemplating the return of breast cancer. At every stage (several repeats of both mammograms and ultrasounds on the 24th after the detection of a slight change since last year, the MRI on the 30th, the ultrasound and fine needle biopsy on the 4th, the suspenseful week's holiday and return to the news of an abnormal finding, another core needle biopsy on the 14th, with its inconclusive results and spectacular bruising, right up to the surgical biopsy and removal of the lump under general anaesthetic yesterday, I've been trying to stay calm and focussed. But questions keep bounding in. What does it mean? For this year, for the next five or ten years? Will that be all I have? Did I do enough over the last seven years to prevent its return? Did I work too hard? In the wrong way? What did I learn?  I sometimes think I learned nothing at all from the whole stupid breast cancer "journey." Perhaps I'm not so frightened of death as I might otherwise have been. Seeing my child growing up and starting to make his way in the world has made it easier this time, too.

Surgery yesterday involved in the insertion (under local anaesthetic, with ultrasound), of the hookwire that guides the surgeon's hand to the exact spot. Suzanne came in, still dressed in her elegant consulting clothes, while Monica inserted the wire, and Annette watched the screen. Suzanne checked, and asked for clarification and checked again, and then drew a purple line where the incision would be. Was I ok? Yes, I said, looking down at the array of patches and the long silver wire trailing out of the needle before they cut it off. It's hard not to look, I said. Yes, said Suzanne, but it's a day to set academic curiosity aside. After that, it was mercifully quick. Back upstairs in the wheelchair, and time to read a page of Questions of Travel, before the orderly wheeled me off into surgery. A quick chat with the anaesthetist about her cat and I was away. It takes me ages and ages to come out of a general anaesthetic (lowish blood pressure; slowish heart rate), and then finally to wake up properly to have a cup of tea. Paul drove me home and I slept and slept, and this morning just watched Game of Thrones on the laptop in bed. ("What do we say to Death? Not today.")

I was steeling myself to see Suzanne tomorrow for the review and to plan the next stages of treatment, but she phoned a few hours ago to say the results were very good. There *was* a small abnormality, but so tiny and underdeveloped it might not even ever have become the pre-cancerous lesion that might have warranted prophylactic mastectomy. It certainly won't now, because it has been utterly removed and I will have another surgical scar to prove it. So, yes, I am currently feeling rather imaged and prodded and injected and cut, but have taken the sum total of one panadol, so am not complaining about pain. In fact I'm not complaining about anything. I'm fine writing, but if a friend or a sister speaks to me on the phone, or when Paul came home, it's hard not to start sobbing a bit with relief.

It has been a very long month to live in this shadow, under the threat of entering the rounds of treatment again, while also fearing the stains and imperfections of disease, to say nothing of mortality or even more, the idea that illness makes you re-assess your life all over again, which is so exhausting.

It's not just the timing of the grant cycle and the mammogram cycle that brings research and health together, of course. That's one thing I *have* learned, I suppose, that I'm not really able to make clean breaks between work and recreation. It's the nature of the work itself, of course, that it is never finished. And it's the way I work, too, which often seems to me sloppy, messy, undisciplined, always interrupting myself. But that's what it is. I'm too old to change that now. I go on.



Friday, October 11, 2013

First official step

I've just taken the first official step on this grant application, lodging an "Expression of Interest" with the research office here. The title (reassuringly provisional) is "The Textual Face: Word, Image, Emotion, and Representation."

The next step will be a rough outline of the project (maybe 6 pages?) for a Faculty workshop. This will be brutal (I've sat on these committees in the past), because there is plenty of time for folk in fields well outside my own to tell me about the huge gaping holes in the way I've conceptualised it; or to say they don't think it's the kind of project that will have any kind of chance.

In spite of my being sick with the virus-that-never-ends, and still teaching, and doing some nitty-gritty archival and textual work for another project, I've been thinking some more about the parameters of the project.  And today I gave a paper for a CHE study day on methodologies for Literary Studies and the emotions that took me another step further.
http://www.historyofemotions.org.au/events/literary-emotion-methodologies-study-day.aspx

I was talking about William Reddy's concept of the "emotive". For him, it's a first-person present tense expression of feeling: e.g. "I feel angry", "I'm happy." It's neither constative nor performative, in Austin's sense. I'm interested in this form as it relates to the work that literary studies does. Literary texts are similarly explorative, about improvising expressions for feeling. They're only rarely taxonomic; they rehearse expressions about feelings. Reddy writes:

 Emotives are themselves instruments for directly changing, building, hiding, intensifying emotions, instruments that may be more or less successful.

This seems to me analogous, at least, to the way that literary texts often proceed.

My starting point for The Textual Face is the face that seems to speak. In many examples, that face "speaks" in the first-person present tense. This trope seems to gloss the (imagined) visual appearance of the face, by putting it into words. Here's my favourite working example again, which we discussed today:

Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, -- a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, That man is struck with you, -- and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.
  Jane Austen, Persuasion, 1816.
So I began my paper today by wondering about the analogies between this trope and Reddy's "emotives". First-person, present-tense, yes. Sort of about the emotions, though not directly, because as we agreed today, literary texts rarely are...

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was using Reddy really just as some scaffolding. There is so much more going on in this passage!  The radiance around the speaking face — "a glance of brightness" is itself quite nuanced and layered. The face is lit up for us as the readers; the glance is also a gift to Anne; it's the glance itself that seems to speak; the gloss on the glance takes longer than the glance itself (that's the mixed, layered temporality of the relationship between word and image; or word and wordy representation of image). Other questions arise, especially questions about focalisation. Who is observing and interpreting the speaking face here. To whom does the glance seem to say this? Does the glance "really" say this? Given there is no definitive answer to these questions, what is the status of this gloss? or rather, this self-glossing face, or glance? Claire remarked that Austen's texts are quite often unemotional: they push emotion away.

One of the things I'll need to articulate in my application is the relation between this project and my work for the Centre for the History of Emotions. So far, so good. I can see how I will be able to argue that it arises from the Centre, but moves more broadly to consider questions of interpretation, representation and expression. It will be in large part about the textual representation of visual expression, but there will also be room for studies of the visual representation of text. The fellowship allows up to four other positions in the research team. My next job is to think about what kind of team to put together.

And I expect I will also make mention of the findings of Emanuele Castano and David Corner Kidd of the New School, published in the journal Science, that reading literary fiction helps you develop skills of empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/i-know-how-youre-feeling-i-read-chekhov/?_r=0. If that's so, I bet the trope of the speaking face, that glosses visual expressions and translates them into first-person, present-tense expressions of feeling, play a big part.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Encouragement ...

Going up for these big grants is undoubtedly daunting. So I was very cheered the other day when a senior colleague buttonholed me and asked if I had thought about putting in for this big fellowship/grant I am thinking about. She has had loads of experience winning grants and mentoring other people, and has also sat on the committee that awards them. I said I was indeed thinking about it; and without even mentioning my project, talked about some of the structural and strategic stuff that was already in place, or that I was working on. So far it seems I'm on the right track; and she has also agreed to mentor me through the process. (I will also have a mentor through my own school who is encouraging me to send her a few pages when I am ready to get things started.) It made me realise anew how rare and wonderful it is in the university when someone above you tells you you are doing a good job, or suggests you might aim higher, and go to the next stage with a project.

I have also started thinking about the research team, and about ways of both expanding my project (the face, the body, body language, representation, graphic novels, medieval manuscripts, digital archives of fiction and poetry, other languages, newspapers, reported speech -- more on this later), and also keeping it precise and deep.

I have also had a preliminary chat with someone in linguistics, who's already giving me some useful secondary references and an introduction to some neat terminology, and a sense of how that field manages the "as if to say..." trope.

So in between deadlines, teaching and other writing tasks, the project is rumbling along (I'm sorry to say, I first typed "bumbling"!). I'm pleased I've already started; and every time I come here to blog an update it makes me think again about the possibilities and how to shape and direct my inquiries. Only five and a half months before I submit the application!  

Thursday, August 08, 2013

First Blush: The Talking Face and disambiguating my research projects

I went to a meeting yesterday of our school's research committee where we were discussing the need to workshop grant applications early. They are mostly due in February, and all too often our committee and the grant shepherds receive drafts to look at in January, by which time it is far too late to give feedback of the structural kind (i.e. re-shape the inquiry and the disciplinary orientation; find a new writing partner or research team, etc.).

While I'm not ready, just yet, to declare the overall shape and orientation of my application, and I am very far from having a draft ready to be looked at, I'm going to stick with my intention and blog a little about what I am thinking about, at any rate. So, I'm making a start. 

When I sought advice from the research office about eligibility, etc. they said the main issue for me would be to make sure my new project did not overlap too much with the work I am doing in the Centre for the History of Emotions. This is a big logistic stumbling-block, but I think I am close to finding a way around it.

One of the projects I am working on in the Centre is on the expression of emotion on the human face. I was planning to write a book that (like my last two books on Chaucer and the Order of the Garter) ranged from medieval to contemporary culture. So, I was thinking about a chapter on Chaucer (medieval poetry), Shakespeare (early modern drama), George Eliot (nineteenth-century fiction) and then perhaps someone like Oliver Sachs (modern non-fiction). And I may yet do that, though I am now thinking I will focus just on medieval English literature.

The new project would emerge from that, but would be quite different, I think. I can't decide whether to call it The Talking Face or The Speaking Face. 

This would definitely be a long-range project, that would stretch at least from western medieval tradition into contemporary culture. It's built around the figurative trope by which a face is read as saying something. 

Here's an example from Jane Austen's Persuasion. 

Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, -- a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, “That man is struck with you, -- and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.”

So, direct speech is important here, as is the flash of sudden illumination on the face — a glance of brightness. 

I gave a talk last night at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in a series organised by the Centre for the History of Emotions, in which I sketched out some examples and possible lines of inquiry.  I have also talked a couple of times in the last few months about my favourite example from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

“To Troilus right wonder wel with alle
Gan for to like hire mevynge and hire chere,
Which somdel deignous was, for she let falle
Hire look a lite aside in swich manere,
Ascaunces, ‘What, may I nat stonden here?’
And after that hir lokynge gan she lighte,
That never thoughte hym seen so good a syghte.”

  (Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, c. 1386) 


Here it's Criseyde's changing expression that is to attractive to Troilus.  Her face speaks, though in a rhetorical question, so there is an added degree of difficulty.  I do have a chapter on this example coming out in a book from Manchester UP later this year (that's my first tick: a pre-history to the project in published form). 

But I would like to move this new project into some broader territory: viz. 

  • the relation between textual and visual representations (HUGE for me as I have no art history training)
  • the extent to which a body can speak, as well as a face
  • the relation between still and moving images (cinema??? probably not: just textual representations of moving faces)
  • what I call interspecies ventriloquism - the way we project emotions and expressions onto animals (has anyone else done any academic study of lolcats???)
  • philosophical and historical understandings of a face's capacity to speak
  • the differences (?) the novel makes to this trope; and the question of direct speech
  • the relation between text and image in medieval art at least (thinking about caption banners, banderoles, etc.)
  • possibly extending into modern graphic novels
Ok, and lots of other things. Next post I might run through my talk from last night, but for now, can I just say this is a HUGE blog post, to start talking in public about my grant application that is so early in development. 

I have also started, in an extremely preliminary way, thinking about how this project might have a digital humanities component, if only to help identify and track examples of this trope in literary texts. 

But in the meantime I am starting a little collection of examples. So, my friends, if you come across examples where faces (or bodies) seem to speak or say things, I'd be extremely grateful if you could paste them in the comments box!! I'm mostly thinking of literary texts and textual examples, but any ideas from the visual arts would also be great.


Monday, July 29, 2013

First snag

OK, so after that bold announcement on Saturday about applying for another grant, I'm now wondering if I have rocks in my head!

Over the life of the Centre of Excellence, I have been given half-time teaching relief.  I decided last year to put all my teaching in one semester, so as to leave first semester free, in part for my actual study leave away from the university this year. With all the various other permutations of workload points, etc. this means I have a very manageable load this semester: a two-hour honours seminar on Tuesday morning, and a 90 minute lecture for third year students on Tuesday afternoon. OK, it would have been easier not to have these on the same day, but we have almost no control over subject timetabling.

It was also my plan to finish most of my various writing commitments by the end of June, so as to leave July free for preparation, and then the semester free(ish) for teaching itself.

However, I have only just finished my latest round of revisions on Medievalism and its Discontents  and sent it back to Tom on Saturday; I have another essay that my research assistant is doing final formatting on for Holly and Glenn; and there are two revise and resubmits (for Noah, and for Tom) that are due in two weeks at the latest. There's another essay (for Charles) whose deadline is approaching, too.

July turned out to be a big month for the Melbourne hub of the centre. We had our Middle English study day, a Sense, Sentiment and Compassion day, and a two day conference on Genre, Affect and Authority in early modern England. We have a couple of visitors at the moment, too. All fantastic!  but lots of events.

Then we are also helping run a series of seminars at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, around the work of David Rosetzky. I am giving a little talk there next week and am supposed to have my powerpoint ready for them a week early.

And the weekend to come is full of lovely family visits. And so early nights and good sleeping are called for. Trouble is, I was so beset by anxiety last night about all these commitments I had trouble sleeping, so the thought of another big grant to apply for and manage seems very daunting indeed right now.

Just a few more deep breaths ...  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Two grants: One

Wow, it's been so long since I posted I had to think quite hard about how to log in.

But here I am again, with a New Idea.

I began this blog in 2006 when I was applying for a big grant and was also a grant "shepherd" for my school. I thought I would lead by example and track the progress of applying for that grant in blog form.

Much has happened since then. The blog was almost immediately derailed with my breast cancer diagnosis, and became a very different kind of blog quite quickly. My team did eventually get our grant and I am about to submit the final report after its very happy and productive four year term.

Cancer, its treatment and afterlife has come and almost gone. (I'm in great health; have six monthly checkups; am taking no medication; and suffering only very minor side-effects from treatment.) My son, who was finishing primary school when I was diagnosed, is now at university. (Excuse me blinking while those six years of secondary school went by in a flash!)

And I have another huge grant. And am applying for another one.

Which brings me back to the blog. My current plan is to run two threads on this blog.  The first will be a space to think about my role in the grant I have: I am one of ten lead researchers in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. We are in the third of seven years and things are extremely busy. I'm in a different building from the rest of my colleagues in English; I'm surrounded by full-time researchers and a dedicated administrative and outreach team; I'm strongly networked to four other universities in Australia; and life is a constant round of astonishing visitors, study days, conferences, meetings. I have a half-time teaching load, and will be teaching two subjects this semester, starting next Tuesday.

But I am also going to apply for another grant. The lead time is long. I won't know if I've been successful for another twelve months; and I won't submit the final application till January next year. There is a part of me that wants to keep this application as private as possible. Because, you know, of the fear of public failure, etc. etc. But motivated by the same spirit in which I began this blog — and also kept it going when I got sick —I'm just going to write about it here anyway, pour encourager les autres. 

Grant culture in Australia is pretty tough. It's usually a condition of employment, confirmation, etc. that one applies for external grants, and having one at the right time can make a huge difference to employment and promotion prospects. Most schemes have around a 22% success rate. The scheme I'm applying for has an even lower rate. I'm hoping for several things: to enhance my own chances of success by blogging about my research idea and plans as a means of clarifying my own aims to myself; and making the blog itself part of the application, perhaps. I'm also hoping folk in the humanities might find it useful to see how the process of writing, thinking, revising, sharing and getting feedback works.

Thinking about how my current grant works is also part of the same process, as grant management is, I think, crucial to research success.

And in answer to your question about whether it's greedy to be applying for a big grant when I already have one, the simple answer is that it's my school's and faculty's policy that senior staff should certainly be applying for a second grant. Another simple answer is that this new grant would provide employment for some early career researchers. A third is that I really want to do the research, and it doesn't fit within the current research centre. If I got it, moreover, then a teaching position would open up for a medieval scholar (if only part-time and short-term) in my department, and then there would be another medieval colleague at Melbourne!

So I'm going to run two threads. This idea came to me while I went for a 10k run along the Merri Creek and the Yarra river in bright windy wintry sunshine. I may need to go for another run to think about the nifty titles for those two threads...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

London-Cambridge return


I had meant to revive this blog while travelling, especially for family members not on facebook.  But there are so many distractions when travelling, to say nothing of the work one has to do, that facebook has been a good quick and dirty way to post photos and updates.

I have a busy week coming up, too, with three talks to give here at Queen Mary, though after Easter there will be more time for reflection, some archival work here in London, some writing, socialising and some more music, too.

I arrived at Queen Mary on Monday and Paul joined me on Tuesday. We are out at Mile End, a busy tube station surrounded by tiny supermarkets selling lots of prepared meals for students, lots of little Indian take-away and pizza places, a Costas coffee bar etc. The campus is a five minute walk from the Tube station, and our college is right on campus, too. I’m a two minute walk from the English department and the library; and there are little cafes, an Italian restaurant and a laundry right here. The residence is a new building that is completely obsessed by the threat of fire. You enter through a heavy door into a corridor, then open the heavy door into your entrance hall. It has a heavy fire door on the right that goes into the bedroom with bathroom that looks out over the canal, and a heavy fire door on the left that goes into the kitchen/living area that looks out over the eastern City of London. All very light and spacious: an utter contrast to the much darker but more personal corners of our Manhattan apartment.

The first few days I just stayed here, working, and finding paths and a park to run in. Then on Thursday morning we took the train up to Cambridge, so I haven’t seen anything of London itself yet.

The Cambridge symposium was a small, concentrated affair organised by Peter de Bolla, on “Knowing Affect”. No papers, but sixteen people from literature, philosophy and history taking part in focussed discussions. We had 11 or 12 readings, but didn’t always refer to them very closely. Some good discussions, though as always in emotion/affect studies there’s a lot of unresolved, and unresolvable discussion about terminology. What’s the relation between an affect, an emotion, a passion, a feeling and a mood? Well, it depends in part what discipline you come from, and the importance you give to language in shaping and forming the phenomenon. No interest, on this occasion, in psychology or the neurosciences; little interest in the post-human. An interesting assumption, from one speaker, that because I was a medievalist, my attitude to the medieval would be one of nostalgia.

I’m not sure what will emerge from this symposium, but it was a very good way of conducting discussions, without the distractions, as they would have been, of individual papers.  So a little like CHE’s methods collaboratories. Though I still can’t believe I missed the Melbourne one with William Reddy last week.

And of course, Cambridge is delightful. We gave ourselves enough time to wander around a bit on Thursday, climb St Mary’s Tower and take photos, have a fine lunch, buy a cashmere cardigan for £59 before heading over to Kings. Our room was not in college, alas, but in the “hostel”, an utterly modernised old building around the corner. We were up on the top floor with dormer windows and an automatic lighting system so oblique I had to get up in the middle of the night and switch off power to the room so the bathroom light and fan would go out.

Our meeting was in “the Wine Room”, a long dining room directly opposite King’s chapel; and dinner that night was in the Saltmarsh room; not unlike the Karagheusian room at Melbourne, though with a really excellent dinner of carpaccio tuna, suckling pig and a fine white and gold dessert: all kinds of delicate and differently textured delicious things.

On Friday at lunchtime our host walked us over to the chapel, which was closed to the public as they set it up for a concert. I had been there before – oh dear – forty years ago (sigh), but had forgotten how immense it is. And how clean, dry and warm, even as the bitterly cold winds swarmed around the vast quadrangles and along the river behind us. Inside, the organist was playing scraps of Zadok the Priest, and I was instantly taken back to a record of music from King’s that my father had bought years ago and that I played over and over: Allegri’s Miserere, Zadok the Priest, a bunch of hymns, Orlando Gibbons’ This is the Record of John, etc. etc. The cover of that record shows a bright blue sky cut into up by the elaborate stone carving of the Chapel's distinctive front. Then all of a sudden, while Pete was explaining the history of the Rubens painting at the far end of the chapel, the organist pulled out all the stops and launched into “All People that on Earth do Dwell.” Fantastic vibrations of sound – the only way to describe them – across the dark wood of the choir, along the broad flagstones on the floor, up the fluted columns, already transfigured by light coming through the towering stained glass windows and up and across the delicate but authoritative fan vaulting (so strong it’s possible to walk on the top of, apparently).

We got back to Mile End at 7.30, and toyed with the idea of bringing home a pizza from the Indian take-away place, but steeled our resolve and walked back to France house, dumped our bags, put on several more layers of clothes and walked back out again, along the canal, then through the park to Hackney village, where there are some good-looking restaurants and pubs, a deli where we bought some beautiful cheese, a hairdresser where I got a great hair cut, a bike hire place we may investigate, and several pubs. Eventually we found a pub that had a woodfired oven, and a great pizza menu. We ate a gorgeous gongonzola number (I am ever on the quest for the perfect gorgonzola and leek pizza), drank a glass of red wine and watched the first half of a soccer (sorry, football) match between England and San Marino, before walking home in the brisk dark English spring.

This morning we woke to snow. Paul is reading Paul Strohm’s stories and chuckling out loud, and I am catching up on the blog before we head out for lunch at my sister’s house in Barnes. Looks as the snow is already turning to rain and slush...









Monday, February 18, 2013

A Windy Day

So most of the snow has melted, and the skies were clear and bright today. But the wind!  It was below freezing, and the wind itself was certainly making it feel colder. We had a big agenda today, and did most of it, but it was a struggle, as always, to get up when the alarm rang. Paul had finished an artilce and I had finished the introduction to a special issue of a journal, and we were up late to send them off.

Joel made breakfast with the astonishingly rich and juicy blackberries we are eating in the middle of winter; and we headed out. We rode the subway down to 86th, then walked across Central Park, just south of the Jacqueline Onassis reservoir. Lots of folks running the circuit. I've found it is possible ot run, even when there is snow lining the track, but your hands, ears and face do get very cold. Running in the cold wind would have been pretty nasty on the lungs, I would think.

We were at the Guggenheim by 10.30. I'd seen the name Kandinsky advertised, but in fact this was just a tiny exhibition off the side, of his work between 1911 and 1913. The rest was the work of the post-war Japanese collective, Gutai: some wonderfully inventive works. And what an amazingly beautiful building it is. As you walk down and around, it's amazing to think how much space and light there is around each work. I couldn't help wondering whether the little inner wall would meet modern health and safety standards: it felt just a little low and easy to fall over...  But one of the great things about exhibitions here is that you just go in, start at one end of the spiral and move at your own pace, but in the one direction. So in a group, you don't have to keep checking where the others are: they are either ahead of you or behind...

We then walked back over to Lexington and got the subway down to Astor Place, then walked through Washington Square to the Blue Note jazz cafe for brunch, with a sextet from the Juilliard school. Joel recognised the bass player as having toured Australia with Terence Blanchard last year; and the pianist, Jahann Sweet, is someone he has seen on YouTube. Not a great lunch, but washed down with a mimosa, and some really nice playing, all around the music of Charles Mingus.

After this we headed out into the wind again, and walked quite a few blocks over to Roosevelt Park, where we had read there were some Chinese New Year festivities on; and indeed, we caught the last stages of a procession, complete with long dragons, lions, lots of floats sponsored by community groups, fire twirlers, martial arts demonstrations, and some dancing girls, wearing high heels, very short sparkled blue and silver costumes, long plaits and tassels. Over the parade, people were letting off little crackers, and tossing bunches of little sparkles and streamers. As we walked away, we saw a couple of the dancing girls, their cheerful smiles fading to grimaces and tears as they succumbed to the bitter cold and wind. We also saw a little puddle in the road, filled with coloured tissues, streamers, foils and fragments of colour.

Feeling pretty confident of my navigational skills, even though my phone had run out of battery and we had no map, we wandered back through Little Italy, looking for a decent cup of coffee and a little cafe. Lots of restaurants, but we eventually found a little cafe where we shared a couple of canoli and I had a goodly strong coffee. It takes ages, every time you sit down or get up again, to put on or take off coats, scarves, gloves and hats. But it's worth having all this stuff on when you head off out into the wind again. We were going to head up to the Strand, and again, I was navigating us ok, but then I found the NYU bookshop and I nipped in to pick up Carolyn Dinshaw's How Soon Is Now, which is essential reading for the last chapter of the book I am writing with Tom, who will be here in just over a week. So the writing goes on.