Saturday 28 May 2016

Reading and writing

Sometimes this cartoon shows my writing process, and it has certainly been true these last few weeks, but this is probably because some of my work has gone to an outside reader, and I'm quite anxious about whether it will be okay or not.  I've been quite good at imagining readers (usually ones who agree with me) and writing with this reader in mind.  At times, my imagined reader can be a benevolent being, encouraging and supportive.  At other times, the reader in my head is an absolute harpy.  This usually means that any real readers I do have are very much kinder than the imaginary being I frequently contend with.  What a relief.

Last year though, I read a book called 'Hallucinating Foucault' which focused on the relationships between writers and their readers.  The book told of Paul Michel, a fiction(al) writer, and his relationship with Foucault, the French philosopher.  Michel was in an asylum and said to be suffering from schizophrenia.  The book told the story of the relationship between Michel and Foucault, and how Foucault would read Michel's work, never publicly acknowledge having done so, but then give a(n academic) response to the work.  

Foucault was Michel's beloved interlocutor and reader to the point that Foucault's death completely destabilised him.  He never really recovered, despite his later fans stating that "I was your reader too."  And it got me thinking about the value of having support and even dialogue, when it comes to writing.  I've been lucky in that regard, because I have a lot of support (except, sometimes, from my own inner critic).  But the PhD journey could be a lonely one without it.  

I shaped my PhD based on a blog I started at the end of 2013.  As I started writing, I started to realise what mattered most to me within the work I was doing, and the ideas eventually turned into a proposal.  I left the blog behind because it formed the basis of my literature review, and I thought it best to work on that on a more official level.  But the support I got from readers was very welcome.  I also picked up a troll, and though annoying (and very rude) I found the questions helped to clarify (for me) what I believed in.  

This time, it isn't the literature I'm as interested in blogging about, as much as the process of starting a PhD, dealing with those moments where I wonder what on earth I am doing, and the big question, will anybody actually read it anyway, in the end?  There are times when I wonder about my own sanity.  I wonder what I am thinking, giving so much time to work which may just end up on a dusty shelf, read by nobody.  It feels a bit like banishing an imagined friend to the depths of the library and telling him/her to stay there forever. 

And yet, and yet, I learn so much as I go along that I love what I am doing.  I'm more of a researcher than a writer.  I know this because I am more interested in answering questions than already having the answers.  I want to seek out new ways of looking at a situation rather than share what I know.  I love the way research changes my perspectives, and shakes up everything I thought I knew.  And for this reason, it is worth it.  But there are certainly times when I wonder whether I am simply caught up in a moment of madness which takes up a lot of time and contributes little.  

It is at times like this that I can understand Paul Michel's grief at the loss of his reader.   I can understand why a reader could be such a beloved character ("It is you that I love").  Because Paul Michel was diagnosed with schizophrenia, there were moments when I wondered whether Foucault had actually responded to his work, or whether the relationship was an imagined one.  And there were moments when I could understand the need to hallucinate a reader, somebody as interested in your work as you are that they are willing to move it forward or engage with it.  What greater compliment could any writer be given, after all?  

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