Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lakoff and Johnson, Take Two

While I regret a bit that this post is so far behind schedule, I can’t fault myself too hard, as this book is nearly 600 pages of dense cognitive philosophy, and this quarter was quite busy. I am also well aware that the next blog post won’t come around for another while, as the time I usually use for blog-related reading will be devoted this summer to job market materials. Yes, that time is approaching – with two of my four chapters completely drafted, and the third in its pre-writing phase, I am ready to venture onto the academic job market this coming fall, which will necessitate spending most of the summer prepping my materials. I might check in on the blog once or twice with updates on that status, but I probably won’t return to my “Things I Should Read” posts until October or November.

Given all of that, I feel like Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, is a good book to have as my last blog book for a while, both for the blog and for my own conceptual and theoretical thought process. In Philosophy in the Flesh, Lakoff and Johnson use the ideas initially defined in Metaphors We Live By, and expand those approaches to explain, explore, critique, and ultimately dismantle Western philosophical thought of the past 2500 or so years. At the center of Lakoff and Johnson’s argument, as their title suggests, is that the embodiedness and corporeality of human thought processes is fundamental and inescapable. In their exploration of embodied cognition and philosophy I find helpful ways of forming my own arguments about the necessarily physical experience of vulnerability so crucial to my dissertation.

Lakoff and Johnson begin their tome with a section on the embodied mind, and the cognitive processes they explore. They both repeat and expand upon their argument from Metaphors We Live By, explaining the embodied nature of our metaphorical cognition. From there, they turn to a section they title “The Cognitive Science of Basic Philosophical Ideas,” in which they use their reasoning and arguments about metaphorical thought to explain the human cognitive processes behind understanding the concepts of time, events and causes, the self, and morality. In the penultimate section of the book, they turn their attention to major philosophical movements of the past two thousand years and more in the West, including thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Chomsky, and use the theory of embodied cognition to reveal the fundamental flaws and inconsistencies in each. They conclude the book with an exploration of just how a new “embodied philosophy” works, applying their understanding of cognitive science to the essential questions of philosophy in a way far more successful than all of the approaches dismantled in the preceding chapters.

As I mentioned above, I find this book primarily useful as a means of understanding the ways that people understand themselves and the world around them. Lakoff and Johnson’s focus on the necessarily embodied nature of human cognition helps me formulate my arguments about bleeding and physical vulnerability in medieval literature. While bleeding is sometimes just the literal loss of blood through an open wound, more often than not, I find that medieval poets approach and use bleeding as an embodied metaphor for the porousness of the human identity. And even when bleeding is “just bleeding,” I also see in its medieval representation a clear understanding of that physical vulnerability as an outward expression (pun not intended, although I am currently hung up in my dissertation research on the manifold meanings of the word “expression”) of the mental experience of vulnerability. Lakoff and Johnson end their Appendix, which details some graduate student work performed on embodied cognition, with the lines: “Our neural capacities for motor control can be used to carry out abstract reasoning. The same neural circuitry that can move the body can be used to reason with.” While my work is not expressly interested in motor control, the knowledge that the parts of the brain used in experiencing and adjusting the body are also involved in the experience and adjustment of the philosophical self is incredibly valuable for me as I continue my dissertation.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spring Break Reading

Today’s post focuses on a book slightly different from those that came before, in that the previous four were recommended to me by advisors and mentors, but this book was, you might say, recommended to me by myself. When, in the process of revision of Chapter Two, my advisor recommended that I read Carolyn Dinshaw’s influential article on the kiss in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I realized that I had never, in fact, read any of Dinshaw’s work, and decided that this was a problem I needed to fix right away. Therefore, three of the next six blog posts, including this one, will be on Carolyn Dinshaw’s books. The immediate impact on my research will be less obvious for these than for the books specifically recommended to me by my mentors, but I suspect that each book will, in its own way, shape my future scholarship.

The book at the focus of today’s blog post is Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, a title I struggled a bit to explain to my mother while I was reading it over Spring Break. (By the way, anyone who ever tells you that teachers and academics are “so lucky” because they “get summers and other breaks off” is flat-out wrong: any breaks in the school year are either desperately filled with other sources of employment or frantic amounts of research and work, and usually both.) I struggled to explain the title primarily because I was still only 10 pages into the book, so I was still defining the term “sexual” in my mind incorrectly, or, rather, incompletely. While Dinshaw’s book does analyze romantic-sexual relationships in the works of Chaucer that are her focus, the term as used in her title, I now understand after finishing the book, refers more broadly to the ways in which Chaucer’s poetry understands and treats sexual identity, and interactions between the sexes.

What I found most compelling about Dinshaw’s work in this book was her exploration of the tangled interplays between men, women, and texts. Texts, she argues, were often spoken of and treated like women’s bodies, upon which men were to have control and analytic power. From this fact, Dinshaw moves on to considering the ways in which men and women approach texts differently; how characters like the Pardoner of the Canterbury Tales, notoriously either agendered or atypically gendered, approach texts; and how, in places in Chaucer’s poetry, characters approach each other, and each other’s bodies, as texts. From my own perspective, I am, of course, especially interested in this idea of treating each other’s bodies as texts. I intend to go back and more carefully re-read her analysis of Troilus and Criseyde, because I think its approach to Pandarus and Troilus’ reading of Criseyde can help me re-shape my analysis of the poem in Chapter One. How are women’s bodies read by men (and vice versa), and how in particular is that reading shaped by any wounding to the body being read (or the reading body, for that matter)?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Metaphors We Bleed By

I am actually on schedule with this blog post (gasp!). Somehow, even in the midst of grading papers, revising Chapter Two, and all of the other end of the quarter busy-ness, I was able to stay on track for my reading (and blogging) the past week and a half. Go me! I think a large part of the ease with which I stayed on track this round was how enjoyable I found this book, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By. While it is by no means a simple book, I found its theories fascinating and accessible, and, perhaps even more importantly, applicable to my work!

Lakoff and Johnson posit as their thesis that metaphor goes far beyond being an aspect of language, and, instead, can actually be said to be at the core of our way of thinking. What they refer to as “conceptual metaphors” are not phrases like those you may have heard in your middle or high school English classroom when you learned about metaphors, such as, “Love is a red rose.” (Interestingly enough, it was very hard for me to come up with a “standard” metaphor example to use in that sentence, after all of the re-structuring this book did for the way I understand metaphor.) Conceptual metaphors are metaphors that shape, and make up, the way we think (and then, yes, the way we speak), the way we understand the world. Some of the prime examples Lakoff and Johnson use are that “Argument is War,” “Happy is Up,” and “Theories are Buildings.” Most of these are so deeply engrained into our cultural consciousness that we (or at least I) don’t think of them as metaphors. For instance, if I tell you that “I won the argument,” “she’s feeling pretty low today,” or “he laid the foundation for a strong theory,” the sentences will likely not strike you as particularly metaphoric. And yet, of course, they are.

As I began reading the book, I noticed myself reacting rather strongly to Lakoff and Johnson’s ideas. “But that’s just the way we say that!” I would exclaim to myself after each common phrase was revealed to be a metaphor. “How else would we say it?” But that, of course, is the core of their argument: because metaphor is conceptual as well as linguistic, many metaphors feel like the only rational way for us to describe or explain something.

Moreover, what I realized in terms of the applications to my own work was incredibly helpful. Several years ago, back when I was still just writing my prospectus, one of my committee members suggested that it sounded like I was structuring my project around four different logics of bleeding. The idea felt perfect, and my dissertation is, in fact, structured into four chapters according to those logics: bleeding as physically healing, bleeding as spiritual penance, bleeding as nourishment, and bleeding as masochism. What I realized after reading Lakoff and Johnson, however, is that, while the term logics was a perfect fit for me three years ago, I now realize that what I’m actually writing about are four different metaphors of bleeding. Each of my chapters deals with texts that yes, sometimes portray bleeding as literally a means of physical healing or nourishment, but are also much more focused on conceptualizing bleeding as a metaphorical act of spiritual purgation or masochism. The metaphors I’ve found myself focusing on the most so far, in Chapters One and Two, are that “Bleeding is Expression” and “Bleeding is Cleansing of the Soul.” Both are metaphors that are relatively easy to understand, particularly with a solid base of knowledge about medieval understandings of blood, but both are quite obviously metaphors, reflecting key aspects of how medieval writers thought about and understood blood. Perhaps I’m not expressing myself particularly clearly yet, but for me, this is a breakthrough. Now that I understand that my project is really about understanding these metaphors of bleeding, I feel like I can approach my writing – as well as my own comprehension of medieval ideas about bleeding – much more productively.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rachel Reads Things; The Blog Changes a Bit Accordingly

            So, as I’ve promised myself a few times before, I’m finally going to try to make this blog, at least until the dissertation is completed, primarily a space for me to think through the important texts I’m reading for my research. This will likely not be terribly interesting for many folks, so I won’t advertise these posts on Facebook and Twitter. If you’ve subscribed to the blog (hi, Poppy!) feel free to skip these reading journal-type posts – I promise my feelings won’t be hurt.
            In this first post of this type, I’m writing about three books I read in December, January, and February, one recommended to me by my advisor, and the other two by one of my friends/mentors/additional readers. My plan is to try to make these posts a book at a time from now on, but these somehow became a set, even though they’re not entirely connected. Hopefully, by writing out my responses to the books, I’ll be able to get a better sense of both how to incorporate them into my dissertation, and, on a larger scale, how their topics and approaches intersect with my own.

            The first book at hand today is The Feeling Body: Affective Science Meets the Enactive Mind, by Giovanna Colombetti. Recommended to me by my advisor in light of the sizeable component of my research focused on emobodiedness, and, in particular, embodied emotion, Colombetti’s work combines the fields of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and affective science (the science of emotions). If I’m honest, some of the cognitive science went a bit over my head, as that is not my field of expertise, by any means. I’ll also happily admit that my understanding of the basic theory of emotion – the theory that all humans have a certain given set of basic emotions, universal across cultures and out of which more complicated emotions are built – was dramatically increased by my having seen Pixar’s Inside Out. I was, however, able to understand enough of the science for the philosophy of mind and embodiedness to make sense to me.
            At the heart of Colombetti’s work are the interlocking ideas that the mind is always embodied and that emotions are always interpersonal. The syllogistical conclusions to be drawn are that emotions, as part of the mind, are also always embodied, and that it is these embodied emotions that are necessarily interpersonal. In her final chapter, “Feeling Others,” Colombetti discusses the ways in which the emotional actions we explicitly define as interpersonal, such as empathy and sympathy, are inherently embodied and “felt” in ways beyond simple cognition. Through sympathy and empathy, of course, all of the emotions constitutive of the human experience become shared in an embodied way, as we feel our companions’ tension, anguish, excitement, etc.
            As, in the process of writing my dissertation, I have found myself exploring the importance of pain to the vulnerable/bleeding experience, I find Colombetti’s analysis of the embodiedness of emotion, especially in reference to its inter-relationality, particularly helpful. In what ways can vulnerability, even when no physical wound is present, be experienced as corporeal pain, and, more significantly, when do we experience someone else’s vulnerability with our own sensation of anxiety and pain? Likewise, does our experience of pain in our personal past aid us in comprehending the anxiety experienced by someone else encountering their vulnerability in the current momrnt? Finally, for my project, I ask, are there emotions that render us as corporeally vulnerable, and connected to other people, as bleeding does? If so, how do those figure into my understanding of bleeding in medieval romance, and the attendant anxieties and pleasures of vulnerability?

            The next book I read, one of two recommended to me by the inimitable Eileen Joy, described somewhat insufficiently above as a friend/mentor/additional reader, was Arthur W. Frank’s The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness & Ethics. One of (if not the) most moving works in the narrative medicine/medical humanities field I’ve read so far, Frank’s book examines the importance of storytelling to the experience of illness. Drawing on his own experience with cancer and, even more, the vast amount of stories he has read and heard from other patients since he began his work in the field, Frank tells of the crucial ways in which ill bodies tell their stories – or, rather, the ways we tell our unwell bodies’ stories, and the vital necessity of telling those stories. Frank’s core question, at least in my reading, relates to the ways in which those stories – and our bodies – interact: “What is my relationship, as a body, to other persons who are also bodies? How does our shared corporeality affect who we are, not only to each other, but more specifically for each other?” (p. 35, emphasis original).
            Frank writes of four types of bodies, distinguished by the ways they interact with other bodies and themselves: the disciplined body, defined primarily by self-regimentation; the mirroring body, defined primarily by consumption; the dominating body, defined primarily by force; and the communicative body, defined, as its descriptor suggests, by communication. Frank is careful to note that, while all of these types are ideal types, rather than concrete categories, this last is also an idealized type, “an ethical idea for bodies” to strive towards (p. 48). Each of these bodies understands its story differently from others, and shares that story with other bodies differently as well. By the process of striving towards being a communicative body, Frank suggests, a person will share his or her story, and come to appreciate and realize the Levinasian ideal of being for the other.
            While Frank’s title refers explicitly to wounds, only his final chapter, “The Wound as Half Opening,” discusses wounds outright, and even then, he metonymically uses the word “wound” to refer to suffering, rather than a site at which the flesh has been perforated. Overall, his book focuses on the sick body, the body that is afflicted – by cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia – from the inside, and I want to apply his theory to my work on wounds – violence and suffering inflicted on the body from the outside. The two types of afflictions – illness and wound – are often approached very differently, with illness often taking on a sense of association with the entire body and person, while wounds often maintain a greater degree of specificity and isolatableness. How, then, are the stories we tell about our wounds different from the stories we tell about our illness? And where do those stories cross over when it comes to, for instance, stories of illness caused by things introduced into the body deliberately (as in Frank’s discussion of women suffering from diseases caused by leaky breast implants), or stories of wounds made deliberately for the purpose of alleviating the symptoms of and treating illness (as in the work of phlebotomy practiced by so many medieval physicians, at the center of my dissertation)?

            Finally, also recommended to me by Eileen was Achilles in Vietnam, by Jonathan Shay. As the title suggests, Shay examines the trauma of Vietnam vets, with whom he works as a psychiatrist, through the lens of the Iliad. The argument at the heart of Shay’s book is that Vietnam vets (as well as Achilles at the beginning of the Iliad) were especially traumatized by what they felt to be a “Betrayal of What’s Right” (p. 1). By tracing similarities and differences between the wars in Vietnam and Troy in areas such as the grief allowed for fallen comrades, the “berserker” warrior state, and treatment of the enemy, Shay brings to light the ways in which the trauma suffered by Vietnam vets was, in its experience as a breaking of moral order, crucially different from that suffered by veterans of World War I or II. Shay then goes on to argue that community – “being able safely to tell the story to someone” – is necessary for the healing of that trauma (p. 4).
            Shay cautions in his early chapters that his book will be hard to read, and I found his caution an accurate one. Reading the veterans’ recountings of their battle trauma was, in its own minor way, a traumatic experience for me. But what I took away from the book mostly, at least for the sake of my own work, was Shay’s insistence on the need for community, particularly a community of telling, for the process of the healing of trauma. Especially in cases in which sacrifices that were expected to feel productive and beneficial in fact wind up feeling empty and hollow, and contrary to, rather than in accordance with, the moral order, communion with others is a requirement for the processing of the trauma incurred. When Achilles, Shay’s Vietnam veterans, and, for an example directly applicable to my own work, Gawain, find their wounds to have been suffered in vain, that sense of vulnerability will be left to fester in its sense of self-wrongness unless the veteran can share his story, and have his or her vulnerability acknowledged and accepted as part of humanity.

            Next up on the recommended reading docket is George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By – I expect to have that post up in about ten or so days, give or take some grading time.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

How I Want to Write

I’m going to skip the normal “It’s been so long since I was here”/”I promise to be here more frequently” beginnings that my previous two posts started with. I’m not even going to go back and edit that sentence to not end with a preposition (or that one to not contain a split infinitive). Because I’m trying something new, you see. Something where this blog is the place where I can take a break from being super hard on myself about…well, about living up to other people’s expectations. Or maybe that’s not what I mean. What I think I mean is, this is writing for me. Not for my excellent committee, not for fellowship applications, not for submitting an article, just for me to work through my process of writing for all those other circumstances.

As may be apparent from the above paragraph, I’ve been feeling a little stuck and overwhelmed recently. I have a complete draft of Chapter One, which I have to keep reminding myself is an impressive feat and a Big Deal about which I should feel proud, and am about 60% (yes, I did just make that number up – what’re you gonna do about it?) through a draft of Chapter Two. I unfortunately got a bit blocked in my progress on Chapter Two at the beginning of the month, while working furiously on fellowship applications and traveling to Toronto for an amazing time at the BABEL conference, the latter of which left me exhilarated but not specifically about my chapter, and both of which left me exhausted. Earlier this week, I went through the last milestone my program offers before filing and graduation: the First Chapter Meeting. The meeting is designed to be an opportunity for your committee members (primarily the non-chair members, as, at this point, your chair has already offered you a great deal of feedback) to give you their thoughts and feedback on the current version of your first chapter. Mine was, as I expected from my amazing committee members (I really couldn’t ask for a more supportive, thoughtful, insightful committee, and I’m not just saying that because they might read this), incredibly helpful. And yet, my brain’s reaction to all of their good advice (flesh this out more, maybe move that somewhere else, think about incorporating this idea, you should read that author) was to say, loudly, and, I can only imagine, while stomping its foot and pouting, “No!” That’s not to say that my brain didn’t like their advice. My brain was well aware of how sound their advice was. But something in my brain decided that no more dissertation work, whether creation of new work, or, more importantly, revision of extant work, was going to happen this week. And so here I am on the blog, taking a dissertation break, and also trying to figure out why it is that my brain is so resistant to doing dissertation work – especially revision – right now.

Happily, while my brain has been throwing a dissertation tantrum, I’ve had the treat in the past two weeks of reading one of Punctum Books’ newest publications: How We Write, edited by Suzanne Conklin Akbari. This little book that has been keeping me such good company on the bus recently is a collection of short essays, by graduate students, early-career professors, and established academics, about the actual (not ideal) process by which they write. One of the primary gratifying aspects of reading the book has been to see that, of course, I am not the only person who does not write according to some ideal schedule. In fact, the book was re-assuring in reminding me that virtually no-one does. While we all may have those wonderful days in which we sit down exactly when we said we were going to, and sit, distraction-free, until the number of words/pages/sentences/thoughts we’ve promised ourselves are done, the other types of days are far more common. And that’s alright, because the writing still gets done, even if it’s in five-minute bursts in between office hours and section, or in notes scribbled down after a particularly thoughtful shower, or in six-hour jags where you lock yourself in your office long after everyone else has left campus. I’m still not entirely sure how I could accurately describe the way I write. I do have some rituals that help – an apartment to myself, a good jazz or classical playlist on the speakers, a scented candle, and a cup of tea tend to do the trick – but I’m also perfectly able to write productively without those. But the primary thing I know about the way I write right now, and what I want to not be the case, is that I am, and always have been, extremely resistant to the entire revision process.

I do not like going back over my work. Never have. In elementary school, my mom fought hard to remind me just to take five minutes to check my answers on tests before handing them in. She eventually won that battle, but the same process for writing is much worse for me. Several of the authors in How We Write discussed a process of throwing words, not even formed into complete sentences, into a document or onto the page, and then laboriously cutting, trimming, and arranging. That’s not me. Each sentence is carefully thought out before I begin typing, constructed exactly the way I want it. I’ve been told that my authorial voice is strong – people who know me can very clearly identify me as the author of most things I write, from Facebook posts to conference papers – and I’ve always embraced that as a compliment. I like the fact that my writing stands out as mine – it makes me feel like a beloved author, that someone someday could say to their friend, student, or colleague, “Wow, your writing really reminds me of Rachel L-E’s!” Which is all why I hate going back and changing it, especially at someone else’s suggestion. Where has my voice gone, then? I ask myself. For instance, I can basically guarantee you that I will finish “drafting” this blog post, put it down for a bit, then read through it once for typos, grammar errors, or any egregiously awkward sentences, and then post it. That will be it. For me, re-structuring work I have done, excising parts, re-arranging ideas, makes me feel physically uncomfortable, like I’m itching all over. But I know I need to get better at it.

So I think I’ll end this blog post there – with the thought that, at least for today, the main part of my answer to today’s title – How I Want to Write – is that I want to get better at revising. I want to be able to return to my work, and to be able to see it as something I can still change, not something sacred and complete and untouchable, minus a few proofreading changes here and there. Any advice on that would be more than welcome in the comments. I’ll try to get a post up in the next week or so about the panic over “I’ll never have read enough!,” and ‘til then, I’ll be thinking about revising – hopefully, no calamine lotion required.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Year, New Scholar?

Hello, blog-land! It's been just over a year, but I'm back - and hopefully this time more frequently. I'm at a much more advanced stage in my progress towards the degree now (more on that below), and I'd like to think that that fact will lead to my having more to share on this blog.

Despite at times feeling like a bit of a stagnant year, 2013 actually offered me a great deal of milestones in my academic career. I presented at my first conference, giving a paper on Antonio, melancholy, and masochism in The Merchant of Venice at UCSB's Early Modern Center conference in February. The universe played a nasty trick on me and killed my hard-drive (containing the latest version of the paper) four days before the conference, but luckily the good folks at Best Buy were able to retrieve my paper for me and stop my panic attack, so I got to give the paper, in the comfort of my home university, to quite a bit of, let me exaggerate a bit, acclaim. In fact, as a result of a conversation about my paper, I began a rapport with Irwin Appel of UCSB's Theater and Dance Department, and as a result was fortunate enough to work with him as dramaturg on his production of Macbeth late last summer; we're continuing to work together this term, as I am also doing dramaturgy for his upcoming production of Bill Cain's Equivocation in the spring. As regular readers of my blog may remember (are there really any of you other than my grandfather, though? I love you, Poppy!) I wrote once about the sacrifice I made in giving up participating in theater to pursue my English PhD. Fortunately, dramaturgy has turned out to be a truly wonderful way of marrying my two interests!

This past year also offered me the wonderful opportunity to present at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. For those of you not in the know, Kalamazoo is basically a four-day long summer camp for medievalists. Thousands of scholars, hundreds of papers, countless happy hours, and one fabulous dance party make for a truly incredible experience (complete with sleeping on uncomfortable dorm beds!) that I feel so lucky to have participated in the first time that I applied.

By the end of 2013, I had also made great stride in my dissertation - or at least it felt that way when I finally began typing the first sentences of my prospectus. I still have quite a ways to go - finish a good draft of my prospectus, have my committee sign off on it, submit it for official approval, prepare for and take my second exam - before I can advance to candidacy hopefully in late May or early June, but the fact that, as of yesterday I had almost nine pages of written dissertation work, whereas until December I had none, feels like incredible progress to me, and makes me feel, almost more than completing my first term back in 2010 did, like I'm finally a real graduate student, and no longer some poser or pretender.

Finally, I was delighted to end 2013 with the news that I've been nominated for the Academic Senate Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. This means that I have some work to do assembling letters of recommendation from professors and students I've worked with, along with writing a statement of my teaching philosophy, but it feels like work that I'm very lucky to have to do. At the end of everything, as much as I love my research, and as happy as I am to be essentially fulfilling my childhood dream of getting paid to read for a living, the real reason I'm doing this - being in grad school, writing my dissertation, getting my PhD, is so that I can be a professor, be a teacher, be someone who shapes minds and gets students excited about learning. The fact that I've already been successful enough at that for a student to nominate me felt like the perfect end to what, in retrospect, was an extremely productive year.

As I said, I hope to be more of a presence on this blog in the upcoming months (I know, I know, I've said that before). I intend to keep the blog updated on my progress towards the degree, and also to start talking about the content of my project itself. For now, though, let me wish everyone a happy 2014, and leave you with my (working) title: "The Wound that Makes Whole: Bleeding and Intersubjectivity in Late Medieval Romance."

Monday, December 31, 2012

Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon

I’ve been absent from this blog for far too long now, and while a great deal of the reason for that can be blamed on the busy-ness of this past quarter, the explanation for the past month or so of blog absence lies more in the realm of academic self-contemplation and consideration. Part of the focus of the past quarter has been on developing the ideas and committee for my dissertation. (It appears that part of that has, in fact, been getting used to talking about my “dissertation,” which is such a scary word that, until a few months ago, I primarily referred to it as my “project.”) While a later post will start to get into the nitty-gritties of my topic, and what I’m interested in spending the next few years of my life researching, in this one I want to talk mostly about where I’ll be taking this blog in the future, and how, actually, it will start to relate more directly to my academic endeavors.

This blog started out as a bit of an adult re-imagining of the LiveJournal my friends and I used so earnestly and often in high school – a way to communicate to those both near and far my monthly (or, as was more often the case, tri-annual) pontifications on life as a grad student, as a 20-something, as a single woman, in the 21st century. And while I don’t regret or find any of my older posts to be without value, it’s time now for me to turn this blog into an extension of, and support for, my academic research. Inspired by the blogs of other members of the community, in particular of some of my grad student colleagues at UCSB, I want to start using this space to talk about things I read in the process of my research, ideas I’m thinking of working into my writing, conferences I attend, and other topics that are much more germane to my studies than going to see the Glee concert movie. (OK, so maybe I fibbed a little about not regretting any of my previous posts.) I hope that, by taking the blog in this direction, I can help clarify my own thoughts for myself, as well as communicate them to and open up discussion with others in the academic scene. I hope my readers (especially if there are any of you other than my parents and my grandfather) will enjoy my more scholarly reflections.

That all being said, I will not be sharing with you all the list of books I read for pleasure this year (in part, I must confess, because the list is embarrassingly short, thanks to the vast amounts of reading I did for my MA exam in June). However, I will share with you this story: this winter break, I did something I’d never done before, and I think that it, along with the new direction of the blog, reflects a – somewhat frightening – maturation on my part: I started reading an academic book for no reason other than I thought it would be interesting and, at least in part, pertinent to my research. The book is Helen Cooper’s Shakespeare and the Medieval World, and while I’m still less than a third of the way in, I’m finding it quite interesting and thought-provoking. I hope to return to it in a later post, but for now, let’s just marvel at the fact that I’m now one of those people – the people who read scholarly texts for fun.

With that, my dear readers, I leave you for 2012. Have a happy new year, and I’ll see you in 2013!