The Former Classics Geek Watches the Science News 

Lesbia, you ask how many kisses of yours
would be enough and more to satisfy me.
As many as the grains of Libyan sand
that lie between hot Jupiter's oracle,
at Ammon, in resin-producing Cyrene,
and old Battiades sacred tomb:
or as many as the stars, when night is still,
gazing down on secret human desires:

-- Catullus, Carmina, poem 7

Or, in other words, seventy sextillion, according to the latest estimate of the number of stars in the known universe. Which is actually 10 times the number of grains of sand everywhere on earth, but hey, poetic license.

The curious can find Catullus's poems in Latin, with a choice of English translations, at the Perseus Project. There's also a Latin e-version of the Carmina, with a concordance and a "Prurient Latin Vocabulary List," at Obscure.org, part of a larger project seeking "to drag obscenity out of those dusty tomes and stick it right where it belongs." I don't think all of their translations of obscene Latin words are completely accurate, but then again, as one of my Latin professors in college once said, "We don't know exactly what this verb means, because outside of Catullus's poems, the only place you see it is in wall graffiti in Pompeii..."

(Yes, I was almost a classics major before switching to English, why do you ask?)

You mean there's a market for that? 

Via Arts & Letters Daily: Virginia Postrel suggests that in the current economy, "Competition has pushed quality so high and prices so low that few manufacturers can survive on performance and price alone. To produce value, they must give customers something to please their sensory side. Aesthetics is the killer app." The new jobs, according to Postrel, are in the "aesthetic part of the market." (She defines the "aesthetic" category fairly broadly; it includes manicurists and car customizers as well as graphic designers.)

I'm not an economist, and I've had my head buried under a pile of library books for a good long while, so I can't say off the top of my head whether Postrel is onto something or whether all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. I'm leaning towards the latter, but at the same time, I wish someone would hire me to make their products more aesthetic.


Thoughts that have run through my head over the past 24 hours 

I forget what I was trying to do in this chapter. What was the point?

Whoa! This is what I've been preparing to say for my whole life!

Is "sequentiality" even a word?

My brain hurts.

Why is this paragraph suddenly single-spaced? Why can't I change the line spacing without highlighting the entire chapter?

Spellcheck keeps trying to replace "Petrarch" with "Patriarch." That's got to mean something.

If more people used WordPerfect, I wouldn't have to reformat this entire dissertation in order to print it out on campus. Stupid Bill Gates. Stupid Microsoft Word.

How did I end up with seventeen pages of bibliography?

That wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be.

People are great. Witness the blogosphere; also, witness the truly fabulous staff at my local campus pub, where I repaired in desperate need of food after an evening's printing, and ended up with a good meal and a celebratory pint of porter on the house. I used to think of myself as a loner; now I've changed my mind.

However much I gripe about academia, this dissertation is, nonetheless, connected to some core of my being in ways that I haven't quite fathomed yet.

Ginger, one of the recurring characters in Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, is a rising academic (she started out as a graduate student, and now she's an overworked junior professor). Some years back, there was an episode where she finishes her dissertation, and in one panel she's staring at her computer and saying "Oh my God! This makes no sense at all!" And then two panels later she's saying "Oh my God! I'm a genius! A late-blooming GENIUS!" Now I know exactly what that feels like.

If I never again have to say "While I agree with X about point Y, I would like to qualify X's argument by saying that...," or words to that effect, I will die a happy woman.

The last words of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse:

There it was -- her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

Navel-gazing dissertation post 

I've got a backlog of things that I've been wanting to write about here, but at the moment, all I have to say is this:

I think I just finished the dissertation.

Or at least finished it as much as it's going to get before my committee members suggest revisions at my defense, which is in a couple of weeks. Tomorrow, the formatting and printing and copying madness begins. And I have to cook up an abstract. But what's 350 words when you've finished a 200-page manuscript?

In a few days, once I've actually handed it in, I'm fairly sure I'll start to panic about footnotes I should have remembered to put in, and the sloppy transitions in the introduction to Chapter 2, and whether my most discerning reader will notice that I didn't manage to work in all her suggestions on my drafts. Right now, though, I'm basking in the sense of calm unreality that overtook me as I hammered the last of the conclusion into place.

Actual entries of substance will return to this blog soon, along with additions to the blogroll. I'm also thinking about adding comments but am leery about the commenting services Blogger offers, based on other people's experiences with same. But for now: the milestone has been reached, even if there are other milestones ahead.

On the agenda for the interim between handing in the dissertation and defending: Read novels that have nothing whatsoever to do with my research. Rent as many movies as possible. Consider getting professional massage to get rid of stiffness in back from too many hours hunched over keyboard. Knit this tank top. Go to Midwestern U.'s art museum and stare at sculpture for at least an hour. Lie under a tree in the sunlight, because somehow I've let the better part of the summer go by without noticing.



Peering into the blogosphere from the midst of last-minute dissertation madness, I note that both Rana of Frogs and Ravens and Harrison Brace of All Day Permanent Red have been writing about having radio dreams similar to mine -- only funnier.

I would also like to state for the record that, were it not for the fact that the tomato is a New World plant, I'd be ready to swear that Capri salad (insalata caprese in its native land) is what the Greco-Roman gods ate on Mount Olympus. And it's the perfect thing to eat when it's summer, it's too hot to cook, you're too damned busy writing to cook, and you don't fancy instant convenience food.

Right. Back to finishing the dissertation. To my vast surprise, there's actually a perceptible argument in it. Who knew?


Celebrity dreams 

Sometimes when I'm less than willing to heed the call of the clock-radio and get up first thing in the morning, I start dreaming about whatever the NPR announcers are saying. (Once I dreamed I was a BBC foreign correspondent in East Timor.) This morning, dozing through Anthony Bourdain's recommendations for cooking-themed summer reading (and if you haven't read Kitchen Confidential, I highly recommend it), I dreamed that Jacques Pepin had come to my department to give a talk, which had been arranged by my fellow early modernists even though it had nothing ostensibly to do with 16th- and 17th-century England. During part of the dream, Pepin and one of my dissertation committee members were chatting and smoking cigarettes, and I thought "He's famous, he seems like a very interesting conversationalist, I should go join them for a cigarette and talk to him," but I was suddenly tongue-tied and abashed. It was rather like the time I dreamed I met the Pet Shop Boys at a dinner party, and I couldn't think of anything to say to Neil Tennant even though I was seated across the table from him. (Perhaps this dream was influenced by their song "Dreaming of the Queen." I don't know.)

While I was on the job market last year, I dreamed that the graduate secretary handed me a bunch of business cards on which were scribbled phone messages pertaining to my job search. One of them said "Please call Jonathan Culler to discuss Paul de Man." The implication was that this call was some sort of job interview. Then I realized, to my horror, that all of the messages were from a month earlier and it was too late to return any of the calls.

On the whole, despite the way they always seem to involve moderate social anxiety, I think my dreams about non-scholarly celebrities are less stressful than my dreams about Big Names in Literary Criticism...

Dissertation update 

Pesky introduction that I couldn't finish: DONE. Bwahahaha!

Somewhat less pesky conclusion: getting there. Will be done within a day or so.

All four actual chapters: Done but for some tinkering. (Am firmly resisting impulse to second-guess myself and rewrite substantial sections.)

Locations where I wrote today: three (living room, coffee shop with handy outlets, library carrel). How I love thee, laptop computer!