Classically Inclined

July 6, 2015

June is busting out all over…

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:28 pm
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…and it’s taken me until July to blog about it. Such is the life of a new mum. I type this with infans in his sling, finally having the nap he has resisted all day, while I reflect upon the changes and developments that have happened in my life over the last twelve weeks.

Arguably the most significant of these is the arrival of the new small person, who is growing and thriving at a slightly alarming but very encouraging rate. We’ve all got the hang of the basics now, so it’s a matter of doing the day-to-day living, which is demanding but rather less intense than the first six weeks or so. That the final output of my maternity leave, when it finishes in September, should be a happy, cheerful and generally content baby looks like a goal that is on track.

However, I will happily own up to the fact that the itch to get back on with research work has already returned, reinforcing my personal conviction that a year’s worth of maternity leave would have had me climbing the walls. I’ve already been surprisingly productive – I finished off the science fiction piece, have done more work for the Family Archive project, and have sorted out the edits to an article about writing for the Companion to the World of Roman Women that started off as a series of blog posts on here.

Most importantly, however, last week I signed and posted back my contract with Cambridge University Press for a book provisionally entitled The Ethics of the Family in Seneca.

As you will probably have guessed, this is going to be the book version of my PhD thesis, and I’ve spent the time since submission in 2011 working on getting the manuscript into a good enough shape for publication. In fact, I’m still working on revising the manuscript, as those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, but now there’s an end date for the manuscript to be finished, and everything feels more… real.

When I graduated, I said that my life goals for the next few years were a baby, a book and abode. It looks like the most elusive of those three is finally getting closer. I may write more about the process of getting here at some stage, but right now, I’m going to go and help infans (who has woken up since I started writing this post) practice rolling onto his side.

March 10, 2015

Classics and sci fi – some initial thoughts

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:59 pm
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As some of you will have picked up on Twitter, one of my current research and writing jobs is for a short-ish piece on the current state of the field of classical reception studies and science fiction for Strange Horizons (the lovely people who, as you’ll remember, published my short article on crossing borders in classically influenced fiction). This isn’t entirely new ground for me, as that piece shows, and I’m thinking quite a lot about sci fi and fantasy in general as part of the monsters project. But being asked to do a review piece is a first for me, and also involves trying to get a sense of the state of a field that I have hitherto been on the edges of rather than deeply involved in.

I’m very lucky to know some of the people who are at the forefront of moving various conversations around sci fi and classics forward, and who are being very generous with their time, knowledge and expertise as I try and put this together. However, one of the problems with coming to this as I am is that – well, let me make a confession. I don’t think I’m really a fan.

I don’t mean I’m not a fan of science fiction, broadly defined – it’s a fun genre, and while I do lean more towards fantasy (allowing that the border between the two genres is extremely fluid), sci fi does some interesting and cool things. I’ve been trying to read some more of the sci fi landmarks since attending the Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space conference, at least in part because I felt I was missing out on a whole chunk of the discourse by not knowing the major texts to which papers and participants were referring. (So I’ve since read the Asimov Foundation trilogy, for example, and got a brief review of Slow River into the Times Higher Ed.) But the problem is that I’m coming to this as an adult who wants to be informed about the field, not as someone with the kind of all-encompassing hunger and passion I remember from my younger years who falls in love with a series or a writer and commits whole-heartedly to their work. I’m talking, and I say this with affection, of the sort of devotion you get in Trekkies. Or indeed in devotees of Buffy and Angel. (Some of these issues are similar to those we encounter when using the personal voice in academic work.) The closest I come, if I’m honest, is probably my irrational fondness for Hope Mirrlees, and while Lud-in-the-Mist is a starter for one, it’s not exactly an in-depth familiarity with the broad sci fi canon.

So the biggest challenge for me in writing this particular piece has been overcoming good old imposter syndrome. There are other problems too, of course. I’m drafting so I’m not too worried about the tone I’m taking yet, just getting words on the page will do, but there are issues about the right sort of way to write for a venue like Strange Horizons. It’s obviously not an academic journal, but neither is it this ‘ere blog, where I can be as informal and chatty or technical and jargony as I feel like being. I’m wondering about structure and organisation, and the sorts of things that readers will take for granted and that I need to spell out (the usual concern when writing for a non-academic audience, compounded by said imposter syndrome which assumes that every reader will already know everything I have to say, which is clearly nonsense). But most of all, it’s having the courage to have a go – after all, if I wasn’t up to it, I wouldn’t have been asked.

Now that the writing is underway, it’s actually turning out to be quite fun, and I’ve read a lot of really interesting stuff along the way. So keep an eye out for the final piece, which should appear in April or May some time, and you can judge how successful it’s been for yourself!

March 2, 2015

On disliking conclusions

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:07 pm
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As most of you know, I am currently wrestling with revising a book manuscript. This involves a good deal of looking at conclusions, and as such is making me remember just how much I dislike the blessed things.

There’s a lot to be said for the elegant conclusion – it distils the wisdom of a chapter or article into one or two crystal clear sentences that provide the icing, as it were, on the argumentative cake. But the bad conclusion is far easier to write – one which just recaps what has been said throughout the piece without really taking it through that rhetorical transmutation that creates a satisfying conclusion. The irony, of course, is that while I may chastise students in my marking feedback for offering conclusions which rehash the points they have already made, my first (and second and third and fourth) drafts of scholarly work often contain conclusions which do exactly the same – even when I think I’ve managed the requisite compositional alchemy.

This is something I’m particularly aware of at the moment because I’m trying to rewrite the conclusion to the whole book – not just offering a neat summary for a chapter, but a neat tie-up for over 100,000 words’ worth of point. Despite my best efforts, I’m still offering a rehash of previous points in quite a procedural manner (albeit less so than the original PhD conclusion, of which frankly the less said, the better). Finding the right words to be the last words of the book is also phenomenally difficult. My current strategy is to move into the personal voice, but I would be the first to admit that this is a strategy born out of desperation rather than of conviction. It’s also not quite coming out right just yet – there’s something too colloquial and apologetic about it, which is another risk of conclusions. While you think you have stated your case firmly and authoritatively, it often turns out that you’ve actually underplayed your own original contribution to a debate or the most significant consequence of your own argument.

I don’t think I have any tips for writing conclusions, other than being prepared to write, rewrite and rewrite again, and getting as many pairs of eyes on a conclusion as possible to tell you if you are doing yourself justice. But I am rather surprised at the difficulty of writing the conclusion for a book, if only because I had rather assumed it would be like writing a mini-chapter or article rather than concentrated last-blessed-paragraph syndrome. But maybe I’m unusual in finding conclusions such a particular bugbear. If anyone has any great ideas for avoiding the pitfalls and putting together that glittering wit and glitz that is the hallmark of a fine conclusion, I’m all ears.

January 26, 2015

The Family Archive Project: Advisory Board meeting

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:18 pm
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Last week was an exciting one for the Family Archive Project, as we had our first advisory board meeting. It’s the first time the project team have all been in the same physical space since the original AHRC sandpit, and for me it was the first time meeting our advisory board members, who are more senior academics with experience of doing This Sort Of Thing plus a representative from the National Archives, one of our project partners. The meeting served as an opportunity to update the advisory board on the progress that has been made so far, get some advice from them about things we felt could benefit from their input, and also ask them whether they had any thoughts or suggestions for how we should be approaching the project. It was really energising to be sitting in a room of people who were keen about the project – I’ve been getting more and more enthused since I spent a day in the British Library t’other week and realised that there’s something genuinely interesting here that doesn’t seem to have been picked up on (for perfectly good reasons) on the classical side, and the advisory board meeting reinforced that mood.

Two major things came out of it for me. The first was that the unique strength of this project is the chronological scope that the research team bring to the issue, and the possibilities that this opens up for interrogating contemporary practice and building new frameworks for understanding how people approach family archives, both consciously and unconsciously. I think we’d all appreciated that this was something special about the project as we put it together, but hearing other people articulate it certainly brought it home to me. The second was the potential that this work has for making a difference not only to other academics but to people in society more broadly, and how important it is to make sure that we’re keeping track of the needs of the communities and groups we’re working with. At the moment, we’re only operating on a comparatively small scale, but it’s something that simply hadn’t occurred to me before.

A side issue, but no less important, that we spent a bit of time discussing was how we are actually going to write the two articles we hope will come out of this work, beginning with one based on our historical case studies. We found working on the grant proposal through shared documents on Google Drive worked rather well, and I’d assumed we’d try that approach again; one thing the advisory board suggested was that one person took responsibility for calling time on the collaborative drafting process and then gave the article a coherent authorial voice before asking for feedback from everyone on the neatened result. Collaborative writing is not something that my field of the humanities tends to play with very often, although some people find it very productive; certainly it’s not something I’ve ever done. Given that there are four of us on the project team, I think we all appreciated some advice from people who have had more experience producing collaborative writing about what works and what doesn’t!

The next big milestone, other than getting a research assistant appointed for the project and setting up our focus groups, is getting together the meat of the case study article and working out what shape that would best take. Obviously because of oncoming maternity leave, I want to get on with that sooner rather than later – so I can see plenty more reading and note-taking ahead of me in the next few months. I’m looking forward to it.

July 24, 2013

On editing and catharsis

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:55 pm
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Things have been a little quiet here on the blog, partly because I took some time off to go to the seaside, and partly because what I’m doing at the moment doesn’t necessarily translate terribly well into exciting blog posts. For, dear readers, in line with my summer goals, I am trying to work through edits to my book manuscript in order to get the chapters which are coming out of the PhD into shape.

Now, this does not mean that I have been quiet on the internet. Any of my very, very patient Twitter followers will be able to tell you that I have been whinging like mad about this process over there, because let’s face it, if you need to vent for more than 140 characters, you should probably rethink your venting forum and whether there’s a bigger problem there. That said, thinking about this process honestly made me realize there was probably a blog post in here.

I should point out here that I’m already doing something a bit unusual in trying to convert the PhD into a book to begin with – plenty of academics just don’t bother. Well, that’s not quite accurate. They decide that the PhD was a thing good in and of itself, but that it’s best suited to life as a series of articles than as a monograph. Or that this chapter and this chapter are worth keeping, but the rest of it can go and they’ll write the rest of the manuscript from scratch. Or that now they actually want their first book to be on this topic instead. All of these are totally reasonable and sane decisions to make, but I’m in the minority, because I want to keep the structure of my PhD and add an extra chapter.

I’m currently up to my elbows in trying to deal with chapter one. Ah, chapter one. This was the ‘let’s see if it works’ chapter, the cocky chapter, the ‘I’m completely sure that there will be no problems whatsoever with this’ chapter, but also the ‘what if I’m wrong’ chapter, the ‘I have no confidence in my own writing’ chapter, the ‘excessive deference’ chapter. I started reading and writing for it in summer 2008. That’s five years ago. Just sit with that for a moment. Five years. In between which, I have won my PhD, had my first peer review articles published and accepted, and generally just… grown up a hell of a lot academically. But I’m trying to get something I wrote when I had just passed my qualifying exams into shape. It’s come a long way – from those first early steps to the last-minute restructuring a few months before submission to the first-round edit it had before going through the department’s work in progress seminar, and now my attempts to edit according to that feedback. And, you know, it’s hard to keep all that development in perspective.

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November 26, 2012

#acwrimo 2012 – some reflections

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 3:47 pm
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It’s the final week of #acwrimo, and I wanted to have a bit of a reflect on how the process has gone for me. I set off with some very elaborate plans, in the spirit of the thing, and it seemed like a good thing to have a pause and a think about the process before crossing the finish line.

I set myself a content-related goal and a time-related goal. I sincerely doubt I am going to make the content-related goal, which was to revise the introduction and first three chapters of my book manuscript. However, I have revised the first chapter, and am in the middle of revising the second chapter; I’m hoping to make a start on the third chapter before the end of the week (fingers crossed!). The thing that has taken me more time than I had expected is not the writing, but the additional reading I’ve needed to do. For instance, for the chapter one revisions, I needed to include a couple of paragraphs about the Roman concept of motherhood and what a Roman mother looks like – this is a bit of social history background that all my other chapters included, but my first chapter (which was the first thing I wrote for the PhD) had managed not to think important. (And this demonstrates, as if proof were needed, just how much better you get at writing as you do more of it.) This was also an area of scholarship that I knew was important but hadn’t really got to grips with before, so I needed to put together a bibliography before I could start doing any reading. And so, if you look at the Academic Writing Accountability Spreadsheet, you’ll see that I spent five days gathering citations and doing extra reading which, in the end, resulted in three extra paragraphs.

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November 13, 2012

Seneca and writing for multiple audiences

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:15 am
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In the process of tidying up the Ad Polybium article and working on turning the first three chapters of the dissertation into the first three chapters of a book, one methodological theme has been making its presence known again and again. It’s something I find I’ve hinted at in the dissertation itself, but one of the referees for the Ad Polybium article gave me the language to talk about it in a rather more sophisticated way. It’s the issue of what can be called “two-level discourse” and how that relates to philosophy.

Let’s start with the idea that a text can be multilayered. We’re all pretty comfortable with the idea that a text can have multiple meanings – George Orwell’s Animal Farm, for instance, can be read as a fictional story about rural agricultural life or as a metaphor for life in the Soviet state, depending on the amount of background information a reader has available to inform their reading. The same principle applies to films (which are also texts, in the theoretical ‘everything is a text’ sense) – when I saw the recent remake of Alice in Wonderland (2010), I saw a parable of the adolescent girl’s struggle to come to terms with menarche, which may not have been a univerally shared interpretation…

This idea, which works well (as Animal Farm demonstrates) for political writing, transfers to philosophy, particularly Stoicism. Most of our evidence for hardcore Stoic theory in the Roman period comes from Cicero, who was not a Stoic himself, but wrote a number of dialogues outlining Stoic, Epicurean and Sceptic theories and their flaws. Seneca also has some moments of heavy doctrinal theorising – On Benefits is full of it, which makes it heavy going in places, and some of the Moral Epistles are fairly dense. But, in the main, Seneca doesn’t write doctrinal tracts designed to lay out the practical workings of Stoicism. What he does instead is write work which on one level wants to be accessible and relevant to the average reader, and also seeks to speak on another level to those who are aware of the Stoic importance of seemingly everyday terms.

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October 31, 2012

The Harryhausen article: next steps

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:51 am
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Some of you may remember that I sent off an article on Ray Harryhausen, the two Clash of the Titans films, monsters, gender and landscape at the start of February. (For those who don’t remember, here’s a Wordle of that draft, and here’s an outline of the conference paper on which the article is based.) This morning I’ve heard back from the editors of the collected volume of which the article is part, with the reader’s report – and I’m delighted to say that the reader thinks both my paper and the volume are Good Things!

This is excellent news, not least because of being able to update the CV. It’s good to see the project moving forward, and especially good to get positive feedback about my approach to monsters and space, given some of the vague thoughts I’ve been having about doing more general research in this direction. It’s also good because the revisions the reader requests are fairly minor – they would like me to think about how Wrath of the Titans (2012) affects my argument, which was impossible in the original draft as the film had not yet been released. I have with some pleasure put ‘buy DVD of Wrath’ into my work objectives, and look forward to blocking out a research afternoon in December for Serious Academic Viewing…

I’ll also admit I’m relieved that this won’t affect my plans for #acwrimo. The reader’s suggestions are, as I say, pretty minor, and while I’ve had some other helpful feedback from other readers, I don’t want to spoil a good thing by reworking the paper too much. The timescale is also sufficiently generous that I can keep November as a dissertation-revision month – the volume editors would like the paper back by 1st February, so if I set aside enough time in December, I should easily meet that deadline; #acwrimo will give me the comfort blanket of knowing that I’ve done enough on revising the manuscript not to feel guilty about spending some time on another project. It’s wonderful when a plan comes together!

October 25, 2012

#acwrimo and me

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:43 pm
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Most people will now be familiar with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which has been running since 1999 with the goal of making November the time when people let out their frustrated inner novelists. Last year saw the arrival of AcBoWriMo, or Academic Book Writing Month, in an attempt to bring a tried and tested method of productivity to the field of academic writing. This was not without its problems – a lot of constructive debate took place about whether this was a healthy thing to be aiming for, giving the need for academic writing to simmer and mature, and the general pressure on academics to work flat out doing all of our seventy-two top priority things at once anyway. I didn’t take part – I certainly didn’t have a book to write, was finding my feet in a new job, and generally looked on in a ‘good luck if you’ve got it in you’ sort of way.

Well, this year, the project is back and it’s developed a bit as the result of the discussions last year – now it’s simply AcWriMo, or Academic Writing Month, recognising that academic writing isn’t always about generating fresh text, and isn’t always about books. As the Thesis Whisperer has noted, this explicit widening of the project to all kinds of academic writing makes the project more hackable to suit where each individual researcher is at when November starts. NaNoWriMo asks potential novelists to make the committment to generating crazy amounts of fictional prose; AcWriMo asks researchers to set crazy goals suitable for them. If that crazy goal is to prioritise your own research for an hour a day through the month, then that’s a crazy enough dream to head for.

I’ve been pondering this for some time, and I’ve been thinking about whether this will work for me – and, do you know, I rather think it will.

As some of you may remember, I have that whole thesis thing sitting and waiting revision into a book manuscript. I actually made a start on that this Monday (shock! horror!), and it’s not half as bad as I thought it was going to be. But I need to get on with it, and I need to prioritise it – there is a real pay-off here, in that the sooner I can get enough revised text to my publisher, the sooner I have a chance of getting a book contract, and the sooner that contract can appear in job applications and on my CV. (Mercenary, I know, but the current market doesn’t leave me much choice.) So here I am, getting on the #acwrimo bandwagon by publicly declaring my goals:

  1. By the end of November, I will have revised the introduction and first three chapters of my book manuscript.
  2. From 5th November onwards, I will spend at least one hour every weekday working on revisions.

There’s no point in me setting a word-related goal, as I’m not generating new material but reworking older stuff. As I’ll have prepared my teaching notes up to week 9 as of next week, I should be able to find the hour a day without taking away from teaching-related work. Having the pressure of revising three chapters over the course of the month should stop me getting precious about the whole affair and fussing that it’s not quite perfect – and should also capitalise on the sudden burst of confidence I find I have now that I’m coming back to the revision process after eighteen months thinking about the project but not looking at it.

And if it doesn’t work out to plan? Well, I’ll have a couple of revised chapters in hand, and that’s still going to be a positive result.

October 5, 2012

Creating an index

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:56 am
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In some ways, this is an extremely dull post, and relevant to very few people. However, I recently had to create a list of index entries for a chapter that I am submitting to a collected volume. I have never had to put an index together before, so this was completely new and a bit scary for me! Given that this task involved quite a steep learning curve, I thought it was worth putting down the steps I went through to create an index, both for my future reference, for the reference of others, and to provide a forum for those more experienced at this sort of thing to tell me what I’ve missed!

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