Hello, update here: I have regretfully abandoned posting in the past few weeks, so here are a few additional signs of life.
First of all, my thesis has begun taking on its final form. The first 20,000 words are looking very good – I’ll have to wait for what my supervisors will say when I send the excerpt to them after Easter, but it feels great to see where things are going.
That said, the number of condolences and kind words I have received after Terry Pratchett’s passing are amazing. When I heard the news, it felt like a remote but nonetheless much beloved friend had gone out of my life. Then the messages started coming in. In the beginning I thought it rather surreal – Pratchett and Discworld have been my ongoing project for more than three years now, but I had had no personal contact with him except through his books. As more messages of condolences arrived, however, I felt touched. More than that, I felt not alone. A student and good friend of mine even called to see whether I was all right. Parts of me were.
I regret never meeting Pratchett. I feel sad about knowing that Discworld – if there will be future novels – is never going to be the same again. And I could still cry thinking about Neil Gaiman and what he must be feeling now.
But then again, I have written so much these past few weeks. It is looking really, really good. Many things will still need to be changed. But I know where it is going.
And I also know whose name will feature even more prominently in my acknowledgments.
Sir Terry Pratchett, 28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015
“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”
Art by Paul Kidby
Thank you for everything, Sir Terry Pratchett. Thank you and rest in peace.
Just a very quick sign: I’m still here, but my thesis isn’t yet. More news soon.
If you ever give a paper at a conference and two days later start receiving very friendly emails from journals such as David Publishing or Lambert Academic Publishing, do NOT under any circumstances feel flattered.
Should they express interest in your paper and state that they would be happy to publish it in their journal, do NOT feel tempted to send it to them. They charge you at least 60 dollars for your paper – yes, you give them money for your intellectual property – and then publish it without proofreading, without proper footnotes and bibliography, wedged in between advertisements and bad grammar.
I was lucky. I received the first email on Monday morning following the conference weekend. After the first paragraph, I felt honoured but also slightly suspicious. In the second paragraph, they mentioned they found my paper abstract “in the electronic archives” of my university (which doesn’t make sense as my university does not even know about this paper). In the third paragraph, they asked whether I would like “to publish it in the form of a book” – quite a feat for a 20-page paper.
The second email arrived Tuesday afternoon. It looked much more elaborate and was happy not only to publish my conference paper but all my “other original and unpublished papers” were welcome. Yes. Right.
These kraken-like publishing companies are the predatory lenders of Academia. They are interested mainly in money. Your money. If you happen to send them something good, it might get published in semi-decent form provided you stuff their editors’ board with enough cash so they will actually read your paper before putting it online or print it on-demand (for more money, of course). Doing so repeatedly can damage your academic career severely.
They are still here. They have been around for years:
Watch out for companies such as these. Always double check. Always google them. If you can’t find a real person behind the email or the grammar seems slightly off, check again. Your career is worth more than this.
Ok, I have just sent off my paper proposal for the Hamburg conference in September. Hope they’ll like it!
My proposed topic is called “Reframing the Gothic: Narration and Reflexivity in House of Leaves and The Southern Reach Trilogy”. In one sentence, I claim that both of these works use fantasy techniques to confuse readers. Let me elaborate that a bit:
Nearly all fantasy literature features a secondary world – a complete world which is not crucial for the story per se, but which gives us nice and interesting background information about flora, fauna and all those bits of history in between. In fantasy, this technique is used to make the world appear real.
Now Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy both also feature extensive background information that lurks around the corners of the main story. Yet instead of making the worlds of the House or Area X appear to be real, they add to their irreality. Why do we have all those footnotes and excerpts from diaries in House of Leaves? Why do we learn of the true implications of the twelfth expedition into Area X (and what really happened to the eleventh) only when it is already too late?
In both of these texts, the world continues off-page, but you don’t want to leave the marked paths…
towards a gentle academic:
- be up front and honest about the things you do not know
- acknowledge the intrinsic value of others’ knowledge bases, even if they do not seem important to you from your institutional context
- do not feign mastery where you have none
- respect the gaps in others’ knowledge bases
- be generous, not only with others
- but also with yourself
- you overwork yourself at the risk of legitimizing a culture of overwork
- privilege voices and perspectives that have historically been left out of the academy
- nothing is ever neutral or apolitical
- support the progress of other scholars
- collaboration over competition
a really helpful thing that a good education-minded friend of mine has had me do lately is to explain things to people outside of my academic microcosm regularly and using terminology that’s accessible. it’s good practice for honing your own understanding and it keeps you from replicating the intentionally inaccessible nature of the academy.
I try doing this whenever I can. I do not believe in the old bias that you cannot explain the core of your thesis/paper/research in everyday language – this is keeping information to yourself and excluding others from sharing their point of view. Apart from this sharing, the biggest bonus is that you get to see your own work from another, less cryptic perspective. I cannot stress enough how valuable such shifts in observing yourself are – getting proven wrong or doing so yourself is not failure, it is part of learning. Thanks for spreading the message!
So here’s the middling-to-major update I promised you almost two weeks ago:
– First of all and the cause of my delay: My conference paper is finished! I have tried to approach Mervyn Peake’s Titus books from a postmodernist Gothic perspective, claiming that the humongous size of Gormenghast castle creates a labyrinth both in stone and in mind – if something horrible appears to be infinite in all directions, it sooner or later will screw up your mind. I will be presenting this claim today in a week at the conference in Zurich and hope to publish the paper afterwards.
– Secondly, I have also one week left to decide about whether and what I want to send in as a paper proposal for another conference in November in Hamburg (or was it Marburg? I’ll have to check later). So far, my ideas are circling around Frankenstein, Piranesi’s Carceri d’Invenzione and a really obscure Swiss author you have never heard of.
– Apart from that, business as usual. I am already missing England again (blame it on the remarkable choice of good ales, ciders and foods in general) but I’m not sure if I’ll make it there anytime soon. My thesis demands more attention and would like to be finished by July, and to do that, I more or less have to lock myself in my office and hide under my desk whenever someone knocks on the door.
More news whenever they arrive…