Project revision, introduction – progress at last!

I’ve proposed a significant revision to my honours project. This is what I sent to my supervisor:

Title: Feminisms in Bed Together: Feminist Pornography and Feminist Responses to Pornography (or something similar)

Introduction: Lay out the structure of the project, including why the films were chosen and why they are relevant to a discussion of feminist pornography in conversation with feminist responses to pornography. Introduce Nostalgia in brief detail so that it can be tied to the lit review.

Lit review: Significant focus on feminist responses to pornography, moving through MacKinnon/Dworkin/Morgan extreme anti-porn stance, through anti-censorship feminist responses to this stance, through later pro-porn feminist writing. I want to address feminist writing (or lack, in the case of consent!) about the tropes I’m focused on, also, to tie into the analysis: coercion/consent, passivity/agency, homogeneity/diversity, and objectification. Rather than having a fifth focus on filmic elements and the voyeuristic camera, I am going to include this in the discussion of my four tropes (ie – how does the camera/posing/lighting/etc contribute to or subvert these tropes; how does the feminist pornographer respond to feminist critiques in their use of the film?) I think that this structure for the lit review will allow me to cover the necessary ground and still tie the review quite tightly to the analysis, which will be the second half of the project.

Analysis: Courtney Trouble’s “Nostalgia” and the four scenes that she has remade. This will tie better to the lit review because the four original scenes are from the Golden Age of porn and are representative of what the first wave of anti-porn feminists were arguing against, while Trouble herself comes out of the third wave pro-porn feminist movement. The choice of title seems like a good point of analysis (are we really nostalgic for those times??) and the way that she chooses to queer and reimagine the iconic scenes also seems like it can neatly tie into the lit review’s focus on film theory and on-going feminist writing about the tropes I’m focusing on.

What this cuts out of my project is any focus on the Feminist Porn Awards (I will mention them, of course, but they will no longer be a significant part of the analysis), and it cuts out a significant number of films since I will not be including the full films being remade by Trouble. (I will do her full film, and the four scenes from the golden age films.) This cuts the total analysis from 4 full films (approx. 25-30 scenes, not including transition scenes) to 1 film and 4 scenes (8 scenes total, not including the transition scenes in Nostalgia). The four films included in Trouble’s remake are Behind the Green Door, The Devil in Miss Jones, Babylon Pink and Deep Throat.

This seems more manageable and more cohesive. What do you think?

I haven’t heard back yet.

I have conflicted feelings about this proposed change. On the one hand I really do think that this will be a more manageable project. On the other hand, it is so far removed from the project I had originally wanted to do, the one that I was working on this summer when I was getting to excited about Whores and Other Feminists and writings like it… *sigh*

Making the lit review a full half of my project limits the project so drastically. I won’t be able to do anything more than a sliver of what I had hoped for the project, and the bulk of the work will be reviewing other people’s work rather than doing my own original work. I suspect that this means my chances of turning this into something publishable are much more slim. But it will give me a really solid grounding for doing future work, which may be publishable. So, there’s that. And focusing on a single film means that I can do a lot more scene-by-scene close-readings, which is good because it’ll give me a grounding in how feminist film theory intersects with my interests in representations of gender and sexuality.

It sucks to be throwing out a huge amount of work for the second time in one project (a more generous interpretation would be that I am just putting aside the work). And it’s good work! It’s award-winning work! But I really don’t think it can fit into this new structure without being wedged in awkwardly and ineffectively.

So. Hopefully my supervisor will approve the change. Despite my (extremely) mixed feelings, I do think that this will not only be a more doable project, but the end result will be more smooth and fully integrated. Less awesome… but better than the alternative. And given how far behind I am in every single class, I think doable trumps awesome (just this once. Or maybe for the rest of this year.)

And in my London term paper, progress! It’s not much, but it’s not nothing. I finally have some actual writing done for my London paper:

Time Tables for Ghost Trains: Techno-Temporal Hauntings in

Iain Sinclair’s Downriver and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

            As the character Door says “[t]here are little pockets of old time in London, where things and places stay the same, like bubbles in amber” (Gaiman 228). I will argue that these “pockets” contain not only “things and places” but also people and the echoes of their actions and thoughts. These haunted pockets are present not only in the London of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere but also in the similarly spectral London of Iain Sinclair’s Downriver. Both novels continue the Gothic tradition of “play[ing] with chronology, looking back to moments in an imaginary history” (Bruhm 259). But where the ghosts of classic Gothic were tied to architectural structures (CITE), the ghosts of Gaiman and Sinclair’s contemporary Gothic are detached from architectural place and travel by technological train, representing the deregulation of time (Sinclair 3484) brought in with the railways. This paper will explore two specific techno-temporal railway hauntings, one from each novel: Edith Cadiz/Mary Butts haunting the train in Chapter 6 of Downriver, and Richard Mayhew being haunted by figures from his past on the train platform in Chapter 12 of Neverwhere. These scenes will be examined as representations of contemporary Gothic texts, and will be compared to determine how each engages in “historical excavations that self-reflexively incorporate knowledge of the Gothic genre itself” (Luckhurst 529). I will demonstrate that the focus on trains and railways marks a new psychogeography, one in which charted space is fluid, disconnected from immovable castles and architectural structures, the “mirrored glass and cantilevered concrete” (Luckhurst 531) of stationary London, and also that the railways represent a reiteration of one of the “original impetuses of the Gothic: fears of reversion to arbitrary and oppressive rule” (Luckhurst 537), here represented by the merciless rule of railway time and time tables.

Works Cited

Bruhm, Steven. “The Contemporary Gothic: Why We Need It.” The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Ed. Jerrold E. Hogle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Web. Kindle book.

Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere. 1996. New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2008. Web. Kindle book.

Luckhurst, Roger. “The Contemporary London Gothic and the Limits of the ‘Spectral Turn’.” Textual Practice 16.3 (2002): 527-546. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.

Sinclair, Iain. Downriver. 1991. London: Penguin Books, 2004. Web. Kindle book.

It needs work (“technological trains”? derp) but it’s a start. And I think it gives me a decent structure for the final essay. Start with a discussion of the role of ghosts and hauntings in Gothic writing, and how these hauntings often point to social anxieties, move into a discussion of psychogeography and how the trains expand that idea, then a discussion of the importance of architecture in the Gothic genre and how the trains might indicate a shift happening within contemporary Gothic away from classic Gothic tropes (I still need to flesh this research out), and finish with the “oppressive rule” which I will expand from the trains to technology in general and tie back into the idea of social anxieties. It’s not the mindblowingly awesome paper I wanted to write, but I need to just get it finished, and today (for the first time in months) I was actually able to write something that has some value. Woot.

Research, progress, Bosch

Yesterday, for the first time in months, felt like ideas were coming together. I used the mind-map and added to it as I was reading, and there was a moment when I realized that the importance of the trains (at least part of the importance) is that they are more important in the scenes than the architecture surrounding them. I haven’t yet done a lot of reading about architecture in the Gothic genre, but I know it’s very important in the genre (castles, labyrinths, etc.) Both books do include Gothic architecture and a focus on it, but in these specific scenes the trains are more important, and the trains are linked to ghosts. I think that’s going to be valuable, because ghosts (I have found, in my reading, because that’s a thing I have been doing – YAY!) are often linked to anxieties about place. So what does it mean that these ghosts are linked to moving places? There’s something there.

I also had the delightful realisation that Iain Sinclair’s novel is a Heironymous Bosch painting in novel form – the same frenetic activity, the same layered metaphors – and that the conversion just didn’t work out very well (in my opinion, others disagree).

This morning I’ll be meeting with Dr. V regarding this paper, which is due today and still not written. At least I’m making some progress, finally.

Added to the annotated bibliography:

Matless, David. “A Geography of Ghosts: The Spectral Landscapes of Mary Butts.” Cultural Geographies 15.3 (2008): 335-357. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

Mary Butts shows up repeatedly in Downriver, introducing herself in the quote “Blot out the landscape and destroy the train – Mary Butts” (loc 3461) and then revealing herself to be Edith Cadiz, the ghost on the train. References to Mary Butts are throughout the chapter that I’m focusing on, including references to her own writing and her pseudonym Soror Rhodon. This article offers and overview of Mary Butts’ life and writing, and introduces the idea of spectral geographies, which I think is relevant to both Neverwhere and Downriver. I need to read the article a few more times before I really understand what’s going on with spectral geographies and psychogeographies, but I do feel like it will be important. Additionally, Matless says, “If the spectral, the magical, the demonic, the psychic carry a family resemblance which can lead to their being lumped together from without on a common cultural ground, they are often furiously demarcated from within” (337). I see links to Jessica’s reaction to the homeless people in Neverwhere, where Jessica (representing London Above and the “from without”) while Richard, foreshadowing his time in London Below, sees each person as an individual and is therefore able to see where they are good and where they are evil (the “furious demarcation”).

Emilsson, Wilhelm. “Iain Sinclair’s Unsound Detectives.” Critique 43.3 (2002): 271-188. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.

“In addition to flaunting the unsound nature of his sleuths’ motives and methods, Sinclair reports their experiences in an experimental style that guarantees mystic opaqueness” (271). I appreciate this article for offering the phrase “mystic opaqueness” which is more generous than the “pretentious impenetrability” that I was going with. This article also introduces the idea that metaphysical detective stories (as both Downriver and Neverwhere may be) “contribute to an understanding of postmodernism” (272). Emilsson talks about readers of “serious writing” (272), and discusses Sinclair in terms of his “highly elliptical and allusive style” (273). This supports my developing theory that Gaiman’s iteration of contemporary Gothic is populist and Sinclair’s is (some word that means elitist but doesn’t have the same judge-y overtones). It is particularly useful to have an article that is adamantly in favour of Sinclair’s style, because it gives me a different perspective and some language to use about the novel.

Promising leads:

Bonnett, Alastair. “The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography.” Theory Culture Society 26.45 (2009): 45-70. Web. 9 Jan. 2013.


Crowd-sourcing productivity

I’m struggling (shock shock) with my essays. Writers block, readers block. Just… struggling. A lot. As I have been for months. And because I am blessed with an amazing social network, I posted a call for help this morning and received a lot of great advice. I’m going to share it here, along with some of my responses.

This was my post:

Help! What do you do when you have lost faith in your ability to do something? I’m trying (I’m trying so. hard.) to work on my essays. But I feel strangled by my blank document. I know that I know this stuff… I feel like I was born to be an academic! But I can’t write anything. I can’t pull anything together. It is incredibly frustrating! I can’t stop reading headphone reviews, or looking for books on Amazon, or just starting sadly at my document. How do you bump yourself out of “I can’t do it”?

I know that “I can’t” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (so says everyone ever), but this current swamp is incredibly hard to get out of. I feel like I’m drowning in my own lack of productivity, my lack of coherence, my lack of ability. One thing I have learned in this last year, which in many ways feels like a year of unravelling, is that vulnerability is worth the effort, and that when I reach out for assistance, my friends (and often people who are not the ones I might have expected) are reaching back.

I recognize that I am teetering on the edge of another tumble down into depression, but I feel that I’ve been on this edge for weeks (months?) now, and I haven’t fallen yet. I attribute that success (which is a success, a massive success) to my social supports (which were not there the last time I walked this path), and to the personal growth I’ve done in the last few years.

So, the responses (some edited):

  • Small tasks with rewards.
  • I like to either come back later, if you have the time for that. But if not I just start writing anyways, even if it’s crappy, once you get into a flow you can clean up the start later.
  • Write something. Anything. Admit that your intro will be terrible and the rewrite that later. I sometimes just have to start, even if for the first page I sound like a 6th grader. Then when you’re done and feeling brilliant you can fix the bad part.
  • do you need a break? do you need to lower the bar? can you work on something else? you are unbelievably intelligent, articulate, intuitive and cute and fun! you dress up in costumes and wear cool t-shirts and are not afraid to be vulnerable. in short, you rock. and you don’t need to prove anything.
  • (me) Ha, I almost drooped into embarrassing tears with your post. I do need a break! But not a ten minute or even a two hour break. I need a real break. (Very seriously I am considering whether this “real break” involved dropping out of University. And also dropping out of fibromyalgia. Who the fuck signed me up for this shit?) But I can’t have it until I do this work! My mind, at this moment, is the definition of “spinning your wheels.” I’m stuck in a ditch. I need a tow-truck! For my brain.
  • I have trouble with this too, and would like to know if you come up with a good strategy to help get work accomplished when you’re feeling like this. I usually just have to force myself to write something, even if it is terrible, as Sacha suggested, but I know even that can be overwhelming sometimes.
  • Personally I like to go and write something different (at least 1 sub-discipline different), and then start the real thing once I’m into writing mode.
  • I find doing something really brainless (netflix, or even walking my dogs) gives me a chance to “step away” and start to brainstorm and make links. Alternatively, making some notes about the structure I want the thing to take to give myself a bit of an outline sometimes helps. Or just writing something, anything even remotely relevant will result in a bit of a brain dump onto the page that I can wrestle into shape or just completely cut out of the end product at least gets me started. Those might all seem like obvious things
  • I have been known to warm up for a 1000 word essay with a 3000 word blog post.
  • This may sound a little intense but, for me, I remind myself that the only things that really matter in my life are the things that I do or not do. I remind myself that I want to be a person that “does” and that this aligns with who I ultimately wish to be in the world. It is “doing” alone that makes me feel like my life is in the growing.
  • Be kinder to yourself than you’d like to be.
    Do something entirely different and preferably, fun. 
    Also: stream of consciousness may be both therapeutic and productive…
  • Tiffany…make your thoughts physical. Get off the technology. Big sheet of paper, lots of big thinking right now…concept maps, post it notes, get it out of your head but don’t worry about the format. Lay key articles around your free flow of ideas. Don’s censor, just create.
  • I don’t know how well it would work, but I suggest just writing ANYTHING. I don’t mean the “just start writing your paper,” but just write, a bunch, freeform. When I was in highschool an activity we did to write a story was to just start writing and whenever we got stuck we just wrote “yesyesyesyesyesyesyes” until we thought of what to write again, to encourage us. This might work well with [the above]’s idea, or could be done on the computer to get used to the idea of thoughts going onto the word processor.
  • This may be horrible advice and not sure if it can be done but if I can’t do it I don’t. I go for a walk, take a bath, do nothing. And then go back to it. This may help you like that post about the ten good habits to quit doing. Maybe you just need to do nothing and something will come to you.
  • (a mostly-paraphrasing of an e-mail):
    • Thematize it (I am so bored/anxious about this essay…)
    • Have a friend be a “bank” for brainstormed ideas – holding them for you and giving them back at specified times
    • Maybe you are thinking about too many projects? Or need to work on a couple of them at a time?
    • Cut and paste fave quotations into a file and write around those.
    • Maybe speaking it out (recording) or putting it into a blog or other format to get the ideas flowing?
    • But if you are feeling overwhelmed, then the task is either to make it bite-sized or to do the self-therapy thing: what are your options? (this works for me really well and I discovered it late)–as in what happens if you don’t get this done? and go for a walk or watch a movie or return to it later? usually, i then figure out how invested i am in finishing it or doing it (how much the deadline matters as opposed to the work itself). important for perfectionists

My friends are wise. And my struggle isn’t unique – that’s one thing that really came through for me. Other people also struggle with this. And other people have chronic illnesses and go through this grieving/growing/shrinking process. In a private message, one friend said that a chronic illness is like having someone sign you up for a very long rollercoaster ride, with the next loop-de-loop still hidden in fog. It’s good to feel not-alone. And these ideas are great.

Here is how I am going to implement them:

  • Breaking my big tasks up into smaller, rewardable tasks. This has worked well for me in the past. Right now I’m not sure how to implement it (the tasks seem huge, and I can’t figure out what kind of reward will work). Since I can’t figure this part out, and since I think assigning myself another task is probably counter-productive, I am going to just fall back on an old stand-by. For everything I accomplish – every article or chapter read, every paragraph written, every idea articulated – I’m going to give myself a sticker. I have a new notebook that was given to me for just this purpose, and a little stack of stickers (my friends are amazing).
  • Mind-mapping/get off the computer/creating rather than censoring. I’m going to mind-map everything I’ve got so far regarding the London paper (which is my first looming deadline). I’m also going to try to write an outline. And tomorrow I’m going to open up a word document, set a timer for 30 minutes, and just write. Then take a short break to meditate or go for a walk (depending on the weather – it’s getting cold out there!) Then write for another 30 minutes. Then I’ll see where I’m at, and if I’ve got anything that could become the beginning of an actual essay.
  • Write something different. I’m going to give myself permission to do some of the other writing that I’ve been neglecting. I am a creative writer at heart, and it’s been months since I spent any time on my own creative work. I’ll see if this feels any different from the “breaks” I’ve been taking to lose myself and drown my anxiety in facebook.
  • Blog. Here, right now. Accountability and traceability and evidence of my effort. The friend who suggested this knows me well.

Okay, so the first place I’m starting is the last on that list. This is what I’ve got so far for the London essay, after the cut: Continue reading