PhD Update 5: Lockdown Edition


It’s been a little while since I had much to say for a substantive project update. I’m continually rather pressed for time, because the PhD deadline is looming and the continued stress of isolation and the pandemic hanging over everyone’s head means I’m far slower now than I normally would be. That’s okay – we’re all stressed, we’re all having a hard time. We will get through it.

So maybe just dot points this time?

  • There are now exactly 4 months left until my deadline.
  • A full draft of my PhD thesis now exists. There is much work to be done before it’s ready to be submitted – first on the line is merging what was previously chapters 1 and 2 into a megachapter covering all of Descartes’ theory of the passions. Why? Because it will make for a much clearer and more useful reference point for the rest of the project. Currently the new version is sitting at around 11k words – there’s still a fair bit of writing to be done, but the structure is coming together.
  • Since I first wrote the draft of this update, I’d spoken to my supervisor about the chapter. It’s going well, but I still can’t get out of the muck and the grind of getting the details right.
  • You might have noticed I’ve not posted much in the way of updates on the Chinese philosophy reading group. This is still going, but I’ve not been able to sit down to write out my thoughts in any length. At this point I’m hoping to come back to writing up a few posts about Confucian philosophy – especially Mengzi and Xunzi. I’ll do this as time permits.
  • I just finished reading Olga Tokarczuk’s Books of Jacob. It’s a true masterpiece, deserving of far more thought than I can afford to give it right now. An English translation by the brilliant Jennifer Croft is forthcoming next year from Fitzcarraldo Editions and I would encourage everyone to get it the day it’s out and to set aside the time. Though at times it’s hard going, it’s very much worth it.
  • The stack of books I’m working through at the moment is a bit fluid. I’ll try to give it some semblance of form and post a picture soon – or not. We’ll see.

New Writing!

My review of Huo Yan’s Dry Milk is now published at Mascara Literary Review, please have a read!

Works in Progress!

  • Thesis, always, forever, eternally.
  • Project Herzog (essay, criticism, on film)
  • Project Hardwick (essay, criticism, on literary criticism)
  • Project Rhyolite (fiction)
  • Project Crocoite (essay, academic, responding to a CFP)

Hope you’re staying safe.

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