Sunday, 9 November 2008

Staring into the Abyss

Crap, crap, crap, crap and fivefold crap. So life potters on in the archives and library. You are master of your own destiny, making hefty decisions such as whether to read a busta of documents from 1403-09 or maybe 1410-1418 or perchance wander about town photographing buildings that are no longer there or possibly even (controversially) doing a spot of writing. There is no one to crack the whip except yourself, no one to make sure you are at the archives spot on at 8.30am. In short life is your call. Thus you potter on contentedly, thinking everything is fine and dandy and harvesting info, articles and photocopies like an urbanite at a “Pick your Own” strawberry farm. Sometimes on a dark autumn afternoon you may have an X files moment, “is there anybody out there?”, which is swiftly followed by a reassuring Michael Jackson crooning “You are not alone” when you meet with other scholarly types but then with equal swiftness degenerates into doubt and severe misgivings for which I cannot immediately think of a 1990s pop culture comparison.

The brilliance of other wannabe scholars out here is terrifying. Frankly, I am a fraud by comparison. Since undergraduates they have been living and breathing all things archival, can speak more languages than you can shake a stick at, and have lashings of cold, hard evidence on things such as reliquaries, patrons and Dalmatian fish names of the 7th C (don’t ask) from which reams of intelligent and insightful writing falls like apples from a tree in September. These people know exactly what they are doing, what they will achieve with the info at hand and are making tangible contributions to scholarship in the region. By comparison, my intercultural, periphery vs metropole, urban “lines of meaning”, “the city as source” topic is so bloomin’ abstract that on the off chance I even manage to articulate what I am attempting to do listeners have either nodded off with boredom or run away screaming. My topic is a bit like a saltwater croc made of jelly. Big, bad and anti-social with a tendency to slip through your fingers if you try to grapple but with the additional frisson that it will bite your arse off when you least expect it.

A wise PhD student told me recently that your PhD only really begins when you feel as if you are staring into the abyss, so big and unwieldy have the ideas and issues become. Ladies and gentlegerms, I am officially staring into the abyss. What the hell am I doing?

And condicionibus still looks like a significant component in a garibaldi biscuit. Crap.

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