I can’t finish, I’ll finish.
I seem to be unable to finish anything these days. My prospectus is done — I’ll have my prospectus conference on Tuesday — despite the incongruous fact of having already written half the dissertation. But I seem unable to write the second half of anything, and the prospectus is only done because it should have been done a year ago. And finishing is the important thing, right?
This is especially true of the blog; a friend asked for the url the other day, and I told him I hadn’t written anything interesting lately, which feels true to me. Or rather, while I’m writing and writing and writing, I’m having trouble finishing the stuff I’m writing. I get interested in something and write 90% of a post only to put it away for the final touches later, and they never come. Or when they do, I find that I’ve got a new vision for the piece, and I again take it 90% of the way (a different way) before putting it aside to await, again, the ministrations of my future self, who usually doesn’t come.
Part of it, I think, is that the blessing/curse of academic work, the way it’s basically self-motivated, has fostered some counterproductive habits in me. At its best, deciding what you want to work on means you get to work on what you’re passionate about; at its worst, it means that, lacking passion, you cannot work. Or at least that’s how it is for me, and it means I’m becoming less and less able to do the work when I don’t want to. And these days I’m less and less sure I want to, for all sorts of banal reasons.
Now I’ve never been good at the all-nighter, or working when I’m tired in a general sense. I just don’t care enough, or rather, when I care I can work, and when I’m tired I don’t care and can therefore not work. If I take a drink — say a late afternoon beer — I’m done for the day; I know people that can relax with alcohol and then go back to work, or even have a beer while grading papers, but I absolutely cannot do that. I simply will not go back to work. I will do something else. I think this is why it feels like I do 75% of my work in the first two hours of the day (usually 5 – 7 am): I get up and am full of energy, full of passion for the work, and then I can work. But after that blast fades, I’m less and less likely to be able to get it back; the project grows and becomes unwieldy and my arm is too tired to lift it. And the more fun I’m having over the course of the day, the less likely it is that I’ll even try, which produces a kind of cycle of failure: if I do anything fun, I don’t want to go back to work, but if I’m bored or get antsy, I find that I don’t have even the desire to work. A happy medium sometimes…
It all sounds very self-indulgent, unless you reflect on how hard writing is. Anyone can jump rope for two or three minutes — it’s so easy, children do it! — but try to do it for twenty. Your legs will hurt in a way that’s hard to even describe, a fatigue that for me roughly approximates the feeling of writing past a certain limit. It’s so focused, and certain parts of your brain get such an excessive workout that they simply beg you for rest, for relief. You can continue, but the thing is that it’s very hard to want to continue. You hit the wall; your focus flags and you want to stop. This, I guess, is why marathons are all about hitting the wall and keeping on. And writing a dissertation is a marathon.
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Anyway, all this is just to say: I am trying to figure out to do with all the 90% written blog posts clogging up my computer. So, as always in America! (Fuck Yeah!), the answer is democracy. Which posts would you like me to finish dear readers? Yes, it’s time to pull your own weight, you sponges, you leeches, you lurkers for whom I give so much and receive so little (no seriously, I love each and every one of you, and not in the metaphorical way: I really am in love with you, yes, you! Give me that baby! Kiss, kiss!). But you have to do your part and pull that lever, honestly, I won’t forget you when I’m governor of Maryland. Vote early, vote often:
A. Keziah Jones and cowrie shells in Things Fall Apart. Or Keziah Jones and the Beatles and whiteness as a structure of amnesia. Or both.
B. More on the Nakedness of Africans. Y’all seemed to like that one, but all those comments gave me performance anxiety and I was unable to even respond. Such a wilting flower am I! And this is what the French call a Long Durry project, so expect it to be an ongoing preoccupation anyway, if not in the short term (short preview: Richard Wright, too, is freaked out by African women’s breasts).
C. Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day, David Simon’s The Corner, and Bronislav Malinowski. Maybe even DuBois too. Aw, hell, and also The Wire. And Jacob Riis. See? This is why I can’t finish it.
D. Return of the Jedi, and the fact that it’s all about theorizing why American imperialism is better than British imperialism, which is teh sux, even though British accents are pretty rad too, as long as they’re dead. And with a bonus Stanley/Livingstone metaphor: Obi-Wan is Livingstone! Luke is Stanley! George Lucas is still a clown, though.
E. Shanghai Noon , which is also about that, but is also about how American imperialism puts female bodies into circulation, making sex a metaphor for capitalism and vice versa, and Owen Wilson the face of the American Empire. So dreamy! So Texan! And also, this is really just my stolen version of Scrimshander’s reading of Johnnie To’s Sparrow which he refuses to write, the bastard..
F. The Aeneid! On Facebook! Hilarity and why it ensues.
G. My feelings on the Postcolonial debate that started at the Valve. Why our thinking about “the postcolonial” has been very uptight, as if we aren’t privy to the new shit that’s come to light.
H. Youssou N’Dour and the world music. Our tradition is a very modern tradition.
I. Henry Morton Stanley and why he thinks Arabs are the Southern confederacy. Fun fact: Henry Morton Stanley fought for both sides in the Civil War, and deserted twice. The man had game.
J. Love, oh love, Careless Love. Can’t you see what your careless love has done to me? Dylan and Cash.
K. The thing that happens in every book I’m teaching this semester where it all turns out to be about the problem of African women that all, like, into clothes and superficialities and butterfly-associated fripperies, and as a result get into big old trouble and cause all sorts of problems for the tribe and also cause colonialism. Stupid women.
L. A piece I started writing about The Godfather, the novel, which may or may not be about Teddy Roosevelt, and which may or may not be burdened by being shoehorned into an argument about Marxism. I also may not mention how delightfully weird the whole “Sonny’s enormous phallus and the woman who loves it” subplot is, but if you haven’t read the novel, be warned: Sonny is packing.
M. More epochal fallacies on what’s going to happen to white people, the poor dears. On the age of Obama being a golden opportunity for men to bite dog with reference to the historical structures of racial oppression. Fish wrap that fallacy!
N. The Extraverted African Novel. More learning to love tautological generic forms. Moretti!
O. What’s the deal with A History of Violence? It isn’t violence, but it isn’t history either! Also, airline food.
P. Frederick Law Olmstead, the five day postal week, and arguing about public land. Yeah, even I can’t get excited about that one.
Q. An Orwellian screed on “Growing Your Capacity” and developmentalism as Newspeak. Actually, that’s pretty much the gist of it. So instead of that, how about this: blogging, the short form, and what the demise of journalism and the rise of new media says about what we think “culture” is. Man, I have no idea what the answer to that question is, but I’d like to.
R. What I do when I teach a class called “The African Writer”; more reasons why Stanley Fish is wrong. (Though, to be fair, did you read his piece on the Ward Churchill case? Totally lucid and smart and not at all an ideological cart hauling a horse all across the political landscape with vim and vigor, as we’ve come to expect. Flashes of the old Fish. Come back Shane! Though enough with the basketball already, dude. Seriously. I do not believe you still come to conferences and challenge your ideological foes to pick up games, though thank you for having done it in the past because that’s awesome. Man, once, a parentheses gets rolling, it’s easy to continue. By the way, should I write more on The Wire? I can’t decide. And what should my next netflixed TV show be? I’m thinking Arrested Development. Battlestar Galactica is the obvious choice, but I’m smarter about comedy, I think. When it comes to political drama, I just write the usual “Colonialism is bad” narratives. Surprise, surprise. Also, the Apatovian and why Judd Apatow is the least interesting guy doing it; the triangle of desire and why it’s all about men using women to get men, as if that wasn’t obvious.)
S. The phrase “Empire for Liberty” and Haiti.
T. White Noise! and/or Chris Abani’s Graceland, racial mimicry, and Elvis!
U. Why it’s weird that Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera refers to the U.S.-Mexican border as an open wound, but in a good way. Hint: it’s because of Stanley and Livingstone, as pretty much everything is.
V. Children of Men, and why the new baby has to come from a black mama, and why (more interestingly) it wants to forget that it has to. Hint: the answer is T.S. Eliot.
W. Nostalgia for Nyerere. What I don’t know about Tanzania, expressed in the form of unsubstantiated generalizations about what Tanzanians don’t know about Nyerere.
X. Photographing African atrocities. What is it with showing pictures of lots of skulls in Africa? Why are shot animals sometimes posed alive and sometimes posed dead? And why is it that I imagined having seen pictures of a pyramid of hands cut off of Congolese laborers but actually only read about it? And can’t seem to find any pictures, even though I’ve looked real hard. What kind of desire is that, brown cow? Physician, deconstruct thyself!
Y. Ragging on the NPR lady who yesterday told a narrative of having un-learned a myth about the Maasai but actually just told a new myth about the Maasai, only one that she likes better. Plus, visual aids from my first day of class.
Z. Fort Frederick, in Maryland. And the CCC. With bonus bad poetry! That I saw and took a picture of.
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The ironic thing is that I finished this post on the day I started it. You might say that it performs the structure of its own critique by incorporating open-endedness into its finished form. But why would you do that? Better to ask the following hilarious joke: What is the difference between blogging and academic writing? One is unpaid writing you somehow trick yourself into thinking you want to do but if you had any sense you’d choose to do something that could make some money, and the other is written on the internet. Ha! Ha! Ha!