Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Trek on Dissertation Mountain

"Mt. Fuji in Autumn."Gorota Kawai fl.ca. 1920-30s
O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
                                                   --Kobayashi Issa

I am quite busy these days with dissertation writing. The good news is that I have, technically, written all of the chapters. The less than wonderful news is that I have a lot of revisions to finish. And that means that the next several weeks will be spent, in large part, obsessing about Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Vera Brittain, Siegfried Sassoon, and their literary friends and relations. When I feel overwhelmed at having to climb--or keep climbing--what I call Dissertation Mountain, I just think of myself as Issa's snail, tracing one little silvery dash behind him at a time. Mount Fuji can be climbed, even if slowly. And so can Dissertation Mountain.

Dora Carrington. Lytton Strachey, 1916. ©.NPG 6662

Another thing I do when I feel overwhelmed or disenchanted with this mountain of my making is to watch movies that have to do with my subject(s) or their time period while I work. It helps immensely to have the pleasant, undemanding, company of a familiar film while one types, deletes, has revelations, despairs, and returns to typing once again. One letter, one word on the blank page at a time, a veritable and virtual Mount Fuji slowly covered with the silvery snail tracks of my writing. The most important thing is to keep going!

My film of choice right now is one of my all-time favorites. I've been in love with it since I first saw it over ten years ago, as part of a spectacular Bloomsbury art show at the Yale Center for British Art. I've watched it time and again and even used it in a course I taught at Yale about Bohemians in literature from Shakespeare to Kerouac. It is Carrington. Now, Michael Holroyd's Lytton Strachey and Gretchen Gerzina's Dora Carrington: A Life offer many more details than any film could provide about the lives of the two incredible figures portrayed. However, if you are a Bloomsbury fan, a twentieth-century enthusiast, a (secret) Bohemian, a fashion history person, a literature and/or art scholar, or a period drama film-lover, then do watch this movie. 

Carrington (1995)

I recall being annoyed when my own copy of Holroyd's Strachey arrived a few years ago, with the image of the film's stars as Strachey and Carrington emblazoned on its cover. As a rule, I do not approve of film posters as book covers or endorsements from modern authors on classic texts (among other things). But, much as I might not have liked receiving the Carrington-decorated copy of this beautiful biography, I do love this film. There are many reasons why I enjoy it so much. Sparing myself (and you) from too many of them, it's one of my favorites because it is about real people, an era, and art and writing in which I'm interested and, more broadly, because it's about human relationships that defy standard categories but are defined--wildly and genuinely--by love.

Enough, already. I must pack up this little encampment and seek higher ground on Dissertation Mountain. I hope you enjoy the film, the two biographies, or, if you are a fellow graduate student or writer or anyone with a mountain-like project in front of you, I hope that you can be inspired to keep climbing--but slowly, slowly!

© Fiona Robinson

1 comment:

  1. I do feel more inspired about my own diss after reading this post! (Great opening quote, BTW). Congratulations on almost being at the summit! I'll also have to check out "Carrington," it looks like a good movie. -Chloe