There is some dark comfort in the knowledge that all works of creativity, given enough time in production, is transformed through a bitter alchemy, into something the creator hates. Ask any artist in any medium, or any writer who feels there is a place for art in any string of words, and they will tell you the same thing, in similar but more effective words. Given time, every masterpiece becomes, in the eyes of its creator, a tragedy that can’t be stopped. I know this because I have been there before; staring at some lump of metal that I knew was done because I hated it. My thesis is not done, but I hate it anyway. That’s probably for the good. It’s not long from being finished.
And the good thesis is the finished thesis. I can hate it. It’s all right.
Or rather, I hate that I hate writing it. No. I hate that the thesis I am writing, which was probably the thesis I always knew I would write, is not, and never will be, the thesis I wanted written. All it needs to be, so far as the process is concerned is done. And that’s probably all it will be, to me, when that time comes.
But the odds are good that I will be the only reader who will see in its pages the chalk outline of the thesis that it should have been. I’ll mourn it, and maybe, if I am fortunate, parts will be resurrected in chapters of some obscure monograph that professional obligations will force me to write, if I ever have the job that has such obligations. Bright patches of what I loved about it may appear spontaneously, in lectures to students, if I have students.
And then there is the familiar feeling of most, if not all doctoral students, where you survey the last years of work and fear that you have nothing at all to show for it. And what’s worse, you fear this lack will be patently obvious on the pages that must pass under the eyes of your supervisor. If you are one among the most fortunate, and have a supervisor who you respect and admire, you will feel shame and dread, not just dread, at the prospect.
I don’t actually have anywhere to go with this blog entry. I felt I needed to write something, for myself, if not for anyone in particular or for the blog itself, in some abstract, slightly anthropomorphic way. No one has to read it.
Maybe it’s best to end how I always want to; obscurely.
“His greatest ambition was to produce a work consisting entirely of quotations.” **
* J.L. Borges, ‘In Memory of Angelica,’ (1979), quoted in Colin Richmond, John Hopton: A Fifteenth Century Suffolk Gentleman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. xvii.
** the concluding line in the final chapter of Colin Richmond, ‘Dung ABC’, in The Penket Papers and Other Stories (Alan Sutton, 1986), quoting the introduction by Hannah Arendt of Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (Shocken, 1970)