PhD Update 3

The start of the year might have been slow, but I’m now again a member of the #1000mph club. Deadlines are coming up fast.

My current chapter focuses on Mary Astell, and while I’m not quite sure of what the argument will be yet, my aim is to look at how she fits into the picture of developing the Cartesian theory of the passions.

I’m going to approach it by beginning with her and John Norris’ Letters Concerning the Love of God, which will give me a nice segue from the previous chapter (on Malebranche and Norris). Ultimately though, I think it would be a mistake to suggest that Astell learns about the Cartesian passions from Norris – she was clearly well versed in Cartesian philosophy from her own studies. She also seems to be pushing back against aspects of Norris’ understanding as given in his Practical Discourses and Theory and Regulation of Love. If I’m careful enough, I should be able to contrast their views as two competing versions of the Cartesian view.

Astell’s own thought comes across much more clearly in her Serious Proposal to the Ladies – especially the second part. It’s clear that she draws on the same kind of Malebrancheanism given by Norris, but she has a clearer idea of the passions (by which I mean, she writes about more than just love, the way Norris does). I think the most promising (for my purpose) element of this text is the underlying philosophical anthropology, which is thoroughly Cartesian. Like François Poullain de la Barre, Astell accepts the Cartesian view that the mind has no gender – which then means, that it’s not women’s natural ineptitude, but rather custom, that keeps them uneducated.

I’ve looked at a few secondary sources to start my discussion, but the problem I keep running into is that whenever I come up with a good idea for what this chapter could do, I find someone else had done it already. Originality comes from the work though, so I just have to keep working through the material until there is a chapter in front of me.

This is the last chapter left to write before I turn my attention to the introduction and conclusion (which I’ll write at the same time), and before I get to editing.

Currently my funding runs out on July 31, so my plan is to have all of the writing done by the end of May, to get two full months to edit this thing. I intend to apply for an extension (on the grounds that 1. my candidature runs until October 31, and 2. I’ve had a number of delays in my research that necessitate a bit more time). Hopefully it’ll all go to plan. However, I also need to be mindful of the fact that I need to have my PhD in hand by March, because otherwise I’ll be ineligible for a number of postdocs I want to apply for.

In other news, I’ve got a few extracurricular bits of writing on the go – an encyclopaedia entry on Madeline de Scudéry, and a book review – I’ll post links to these when I can.

Currently reading: Astell’s Christian Religion

New Book Arrivals

PhD Update 2

It’s been a few months since I posted an update (see previous) on my PhD project.

As it stands today, my funding runs out on the 31st of July – which is functionally my deadline, even though technically I have until the 31st of October. Hoping I’ll be able to get an extension to make sure everything is up to the kind of standard I want to be held to. We’ll see about that in due time – I certainly have good cause for an extension (though I can’t really talk about that here).

I have five chapters at advanced draft stage, one with a very rough mostly complete draft, and one that doesn’t yet exist in any meaningful way. The current word count is 43676, which seems low, given that the maximum limit is 80000. However, the chapter that is partially drafted still needs approx. 2000 words, and the non-existent chapter will be around 7500. The introduction and conclusion altogether will be around 10000 as well, so the final word count for the first draft will be about 65000 – which gives me a healthy ceiling for editing and clarifying things.

I had the somewhat regretful realisation that I am not likely to go to any more conferences during my PhD. The only one I am considering still is the meeting of the Australasian Association of Philosophy in July. But then, given my tight deadlines, that’s looking like a bad idea – I certainly wouldn’t have much time to prepare a new paper.

With that realisation comes the more worrying one, that from August, I might no longer ever have an academic job of any sort. I don’t yet know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’ve been working towards that for about ten years; on the other, it’s not like I didn’t know that there isn’t really a job market any more. More on that as the situation develops.

In more positive news, a group of which I was one of the founding members, the Friends of Mary Astell, held its first meeting at the recent APA Eastern meeting in Philadelphia. It was heartening to see so much interest in Astell’s philosophy. Incidentally, she’ll be the focus of the yet-nonexistent chapter, and I look forward to immersing myself in her ideas for a while. She was great.

Conference Time

I’ve been very quiet on the blog over the last two weeks because I’ve been busy with a few conferences. I gave talks at the Australasian Seminar for Early Modern Philosophy (ASEMP) and the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) conferences.

I’m lucky enough to have been able to go to these conferences pretty regularly (well, there have only been two ASEMP meetings so far…), and I consider both to be pretty central parts of my calendar.

ASEMP is a very productive conference for me because it draws the attention of many scholars of early modern philosophy who are able to give me really good feedback on my work, and who are very supportive of my project overall.

My talk was titled Margaret Cavendish and the Cartesian Passions. Despite some rather frustrating technical issues with my slides – I managed to crash the computer I was projecting them from – the talk was well received. I got some good discussion at the end, and nobody pointed out any obvious problems with my ideas which is always a plus.

The highlight of the conference, as it is with every conference I go to, is seeing all of my philosophy friends who live far away (being a historian of philosophy in my department is lonely business in terms of having other historians to talk to). I’m fortunate that my supervisor has introduced me to a number of her colleagues and collaborators, who are all super supportive of my work, and having the ability to meet and hang out with so many philosophers whose work I admire is super fun every time.

ASCP was a very productive conference for different reasons, that I can’t say too much about. The ASCP is a very pluralistic group, and while ostentatiously their focus is continental philosophy, the term itself is rather meaningless these days. And while the conference prioritises and draws a great number of researchers whose work is informed by 20th and 21st century European philosophy, they also attract a good number of scholars working in non-European traditions and in the history of philosophy.

My talk here was titled, Walter Charleton and the Cartesian Passions. I had a very good audience, and this time no technical issues. The discussion afterward was very productive and opened up some possibilities for collaboration, which I hope end up happening. For now, I can’t say much.

These two conferences were a bit bitter-sweet for me. I currently have just over seven months of funding left. After that, it’s hard to say when I’ll be able to speak anywhere else. I guess that’s some motivation to keep hustling.

EDC: Conference Edition

I’ve always found the #EDC trend pretty cool. I enjoy seeing the kinds of tools and stuff people from various walks of life bring with them as they go about their daily business. I also find setting out all of your stuff on the coffee table like I did above super satisfying. So please indulge me.

My EDC is probably boring, since I’m a very average office type guy; to do my job I need a desk and my laptop. But still, I’m going to be mostly working remotely for the next two weeks as I attend a couple super sweet conferences (First the Australasian Seminar for Early Modern Philosophy in Brisbane, then the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy, in Melbourne). It’s as good an excuse as I’ll ever get to do one of these. So here are the contents of my backpack that I need to work from basically whenever.

Photo camera:
It’s a pretty aged Nikon Coolpix s7200 (I think). For most photos I can use my phone (iPhone SE) but sometimes a nice compact camera will do the job way better.

iPad and computer:
I use maxed out 2017 MacBook Air and an iPad mini 4. The laptop is my main machine and when it inevitably dies I’ll likely replace it with whatever model is current at the time. For software I rely on Word and EndNote for my research, IA Writer for anything not-research related, and then pretty standard stuff, like Chrome, Gmail, etc.

I use the iPad mainly to not carry my laptop around all day every day, and to do most of my reading on the road. When I’m home, I do most of my digital reading on the iPad – it’s not ideal for the task, but it’s much better than the laptop. I’d like to get one of the newer ones with pen support sometime soon, I think that’d fix a big part of the problem I have with my current setup.

Misc Electronics:
I carry around an Anker powerbank (5000 mAh), a micro USB cable and a lightning cable. I have a dual charger, so I can power up multiple devices at once. I also have a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35s (?), they’re awesome for blocking out just about every awful part of the world. I often have two lightning cables, since my powerbank can handle my phone and iPad at the same time, but I seem to have misplaced one of them. I also lug around the charger for my laptop. I keep all of this in a handy pouch I picked up at Muji – I think it was originally meant to be a toiletry bag.

Eyewear:
Sunnies and reading glasses. Can’t leave the house without them!

Stationery:
I have a small leather pen case in which I keep two fountain pens (one is Lamy, the other is Kaweco) and a mechanical pencil (0.5mm, HB) that I picked up in Japan. I write in Moleskine Cahier notebooks (see more here). I used to have several notebooks that I’d lug around everywhere, but I’ve switched to an everything notebook. I also have a whiteboard marker in my bag, just in case.

Meds:
Painkillers (usually paracetamol, always generic) and antihistamines (also generic). I got allergies and I get headaches. The allergies are also why I have some tissues in my bag.

Snacks:
At conferences it’s not unusual for me to be too busy to have lunch, or to just not have time to get a snack when I want one. So it’s pretty handy to keep something around.

Casual reading:
It’s weird to me that not everyone carries a book with them when they leave the house. What do you do when you have to wait a few minutes for someone? Or if you are waiting for the bus? Or if you just want to look intellectual while outside? On this trip I’m taking Ryu Murakami’s In The Miso Soup. Looking forward to it.

Misc:
I carry around a keep cup. I drink a lot of coffee, and single-use coffee cups are non-recycleable garbage. I also have a small combination pad lock, which comes in handy way more often than expected. Usually I use it for the bike station lockers at work, but it also comes with me when I travel.

 

 

On Reading as a Grad Student

This year I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I’d read. I’ve done this before (and I’ll write more about why at the end of the year), but not consistently (I’ll write about that too). I had a look over the reading list for this year and was struck by how few books I put on the list from my thesis reading.

It’s November and there are only 8 books that I’d read from cover to cover. I found that somewhat surprising – but on reflection, not at all surprising.

The PhD is a peculiar beast, as I’d noted elsewhere, which means that the kind of research you do for it is also peculiar. I simply don’t have time to read every secondary text in full, no matter how much I’d like to. Indexes are my friends – I look for the discussion of what I’m working on, get the arguments I need and move on.

I devote much more time to primary sources – I try to make sure I read the texts I’m actually writing about very carefully and usually more than once (except Malebranche’s the Search After Truth because it’s an absolute brick).

This reflection on reading reminded me of a passage I’d read in Malebranche’s text recently:

“There are people thirty years of age who quote more evil books for you in their works than they could have read in several centuries, and nevertheless they hope to convince others that they have read them very closely.”

Thanks Nicolas, I feel seen.

PhD Update

I always intended to use the blog to reflect on the progress of my PhD as I write it. I’ve not been good at this, but consider this me trying to make amends.

This is an opportune moment for me to reflect on how much I’ve done, since I’d just put a bow on one of my chapters and I’m shifting gears to read things for the next major section of the project.

At this point, I’ve written five chapters (of a planned seven). They’re each about 7500 words, so I’m looking at just over 50k words before I get into the introduction and conclusion, and before I get into editing. Editing invariably leads to things expanding, so I’m feeling pretty comfortable with the word count.

The thesis is a particular genre in that it is garbage. People often talk about the requirement for the thesis being “advancing knowledge in the discipline” – but this doesn’t really gel with it’s ultimate audience being my supervisors and my two examiners. I can imagine nothing worse than writing 70-80k words over three years just to impress four people. Not to mention, it’s hard to see the contribution to knowledge made by something only four people are likely to read.

For this reason, I’m gambling a bit and not writing a thesis but a monograph. Given the requirements of the degree, the aim is then to write something as far from a thesis as possible (with it’s needless literature reviews and such) while still satisfying the requirements of my degree. The hope is that at the end, I’ll be able to quickly convert the manuscript into something a publisher would be interested in, and hit the job market with a book contract in hand.

The pragmatism behind this all makes me somewhat cynical. While it’s obvious that one needs a PhD to have an academic job – a job I’d very much like to get – it’s not clear to me that the goal of getting a job after the PhD can consistently be held with the goal of advancing the discipline.

For me, the reality is that my PhD in itself isn’t worth much on the job market. Not that anyone’s is. But I’m in a mid-tier university – prestigious and well known enough in Australia, but not so much outside. All things being equal, if you had to choose between someone with a prestigious North American PhD and me, I’m not likely to win.

What will distinguish my CV from others are the publications – the more and the more prestigious the better. But churning out papers that are publishable and churning out good papers that are publishable isn’t the same thing. Wanting to actually advance the discipline in my work is much harder than merely wanting to get published.

So I’m forced to have two goals contrary to one another – publish a lot, and publish good things (a lot).

My gamble is that with my thesis project I can avoid the issue somewhat, by getting a book out quickly and making myself stand out in the job market that way.

So how’s this all going?

  • 5/7 chapters written
  • Introduction is partly drafted
  • Conclusion doesn’t exist yet
  • 1 co-authored paper is on it’s way to publication (in an edited collection – more details on this once it’s all finalised)
  • 1 paper is currently under review (it was rejected twice so far: once with feedback, once by the editor – more on this if and when it gets accepted anywhere)
  • 1 paper is drafted but just needs a few finishing touches before I submit it somewhere.

There are also two projects I’m trying to get together:

  • a response to one of the calls for papers in the Australasian Philosophical Review\
  • a paper on some issues in Stoic and Epicurean philosophy (with an, as yet, ill-defined topic).

Beyond this, I’m switching gears to write the next section of the thesis. If you follow me on twitter you’ll have seen that at least part of that will be on Malebranche. I’m slowly making my way through his The Search After Truth – trying to figure out what he takes from Descartes’ theory of the passions. I’d not had a chance to read Malebranche before, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the text – it’s much more accessible than many of his contemporaries. Though, I suppose a lot of this comes down to the translation.