Editors’ note: In his video keynote, Dr Matt Hayler discusses the ‘relationship between us and our things, the entanglement between our minds, bodies, objects and environments’, how ‘to be human is to be wrapped up in a life of stuff that often does its most potent work when we forget about it, and we think that we are working alone.’ Continue reading
I began researching Marshall McLuhan on the internet to explore Marshall McLuhan’s ideas about how the internet effects research. The symmetry was pleasing.
One thing the internet tells you pretty quickly is that McLuhan did not say or think anything about the internet because he died in 1980. But Amazon customer Mark B. Cohen assured me we could still learn something.
You can be a scholar on the internet, but why be a scholar when customers get better treatment? Sometimes it’s easier to treat the object of your research as a commodity. Continue reading
Books – in the form of tangible, material objects that collect in vertical and horizontal arrangements on my shelves and desks – are my most conspicuous possessions. In the context of my research, which looks at the publication of sixteenth and seventeenth-century history plays, and draws on bibliographic studies and the (affectionately dubbed) ‘New Boredom,’ my attachment to the printed text is perhaps understandable.
I relish the feel, texture, dimensions and physical presence of a printed book, and the ways in which my books contain little histories of my reading experiences. Pages are downturned in the corners and covered in markings and marginalia, recording my thoughts, ideas and tangential observations, many of which I have silently ‘updated’ to improve upon the inarticulate musings of my undergraduate days. Rather than replacing my worn editions, I am still drawn by these old, faded texts bearing layers of comments and providing a context for nostalgic reminiscences, as well as the occasional insight or grimace. Continue reading
I’m sitting at my desk, time-travelling.
Outside, 21st century Paris is heavy with the first infestation of springtime tourists, snapping up the Opéra on selfie-sticks as they emerge, blinking, from the Métro.
Inside, in a stuffy room in the Bibliothèque national de France, unbeknown to those around me, I’m not there. I’m in 1913. Continue reading
Sound has always filled my house.
Wind whistles through the old doors and windows, stairs creak and floorboards groan. Every genre of music has issued from multiple instruments and iPods. My house has never been silent.
I am a dreamer for what could be and what might have been. I am a lover of fantasy. Find me a literature student my age who didn’t grow up with Harry Potter? I read my horoscope. I am interested in the nature of dreams. I am absorbed by a good story.
Medieval literature, particularly the dream visions, ticks all my boxes.
Charlotte Rudman is a second year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London, researching sound and sound representations in medieval dream vision poetry, @charrud.
Our first print issue is here! Printed, delivered, unpacked and neatly-piled. The journal includes fourteen pieces of creative non-fiction, poetry and visual work, produced by researchers in London. And it desperately wants to be read by you. Continue reading
‘Piling, not filing’ is a piece of advice to which I attribute my relative sanity. It was given to me in the very early stages of my PhD and has remained the keystone of my self-help litany. Spending the first couple of months meticulously taking both type and handwritten notes, I had been filing these away in neatly labelled folders (both real and virtual), ready to be instantly recovered and referenced at a later date. This, I told myself, is the year I get organised. This is the year that I streamline my life, via my research, into a super-efficient, well-oiled machine. No more messiness, no more chaos. All this was epitomised in and enacted through my filing system.
Imagine my horror, then, as it started to fall apart at the seams. As my research simultaneously broadened and deepened, the neat dividing lines between my files and folders and categories started to distort under the pressure. One set of notes was no longer only relevant to one avenue of investigation; one label no longer quite defined the uses and abuses of the notes it was supposed to contain. As hypothetical chapters began to emerge in my mind, both paper and virtual notes needed to be in several places at once, rather than in one folder forever. In what I now see as a vain attempt to control this burgeoning chaos, I flitted from one filing system to another. Expandable folders to contain the different sections of a chapter; a ‘current’ folder in which I would assemble that week’s work before deciding what to do with it, or in which to insert older notes that had permanent homes elsewhere. It was all getting rather complex, and my Ryman’s bill was steadily rising.
I never quite committed to either handwriting or word processing the notes I was supposed to be filing. Seeing advantages to both, I wanted them all. For a while I experimented with a division of labour: I handwrote less important notes, and typed notes from texts to which I thought I would need to refer more regularly and in greater depth. Of course, this was based on the naive assumption that I would be able to make this distinction before I had read the texts in question. This prescriptive error, as it turned out, was at the heart of the collapse of these systems. Instead of being led by my research, I was trying to force it into pre-ordained shapes and categories, the ultimate consequence being that I didn’t listen to what the words in front of me were saying. Not only was I prescribing how I was going to understand them later in my research, I was also, inadvertently, trying to file my notes before I had written them.
Before I realised what the problem was, it just looked and felt like I was unable to handle my own work. In a state of confusion and mild panic, I had a conversation with my second supervisor. Trying to conceal the fact that I thought everything was already falling apart, I casually mentioned to her that some of my notes seemed to want to be in lots of different folders at once. In an equally casual reply, belying the profundity of the sentiment, she told me, “There’s a lot to be said for piling, not filing. Trust yourself.”
I have been learning to trust myself ever since. I stopped filing. It felt at first like giving in to disorder, like losing control. But I gradually realised that gripping things too tightly suffocated and contorted them, and that the less I did this to my notes, the less it happened to my thoughts.
Most of my notes are now in a series of notebooks (albeit meticulously numbered, with handwritten page-numbers and hand-drawn margins), each one physically different from the last to facilitate recollection. I write down the date and location each time I write in the books for the same reason; I am, I have learnt, much more likely to remember something I have read or written by remembering where I was when I read or wrote it. I will also probably remember whether it was in the large purple notebook, or the small Mr Men notebook, or the mid-sized stripy notebook. I think of my notes as a kind of horizontal pile, or a series of diary entries, documenting not only what I have read, but how I read it, where I read it, and how I felt about it at the time. If a text particularly takes my fancy, I make notes on loose leaf sheets, so that they can circulate around and about the notebook bedrock, and can be read alongside complementary theory and scholarship. But the lion’s share of the notes are in the notebooks, and they are what I would rescue from my burning flat.
I can’t search my notes, but I know them well. I have much more involvement with them as I write them without a filing cabinet in mind; drawing in the margins, circling and highlighting, sticking in addenda and going back over them, days or weeks or months later, with a different frame of mind and a different coloured pen. I feel, when I write my notes, that I am having a conversation with the words and ideas I am reading. It is much easier to recall a conversation in which you have been personally involved, than one you have observed at a distance.
For what it’s worth, I have kept the notes I tried to file in the folders they were in when I started trusting myself. They were put there when I was in a particular frame of mind and had a particular perspective on my work. They, and their plastic homes, are part of an era of my research from which I have moved on, but which I can’t erase.
Alice Hazard is a third year PhD student in the French department at King’s College London. She works on faces and faciality in twelfth and thirteenth-century vernacular literature.
Adrian Henri at the Liverpool Biennial
(On the train back to London).
If I had the energy to write, I’d write about Adrian Henri and the Mersey Sound.
I’d write about the sounds of Liverpool and how these sounds and the chiming of Liverpuddlian, can be lyrical, sensual and richly musical.
I’d write about how you can stand in the research centre discovering Adrian Henri for the first time and overhear two Scousers talking about their own adventures with the Liverpool Scene, and about a singular meeting with the round, black-bearded and be-spectacled Henri himself.
Yes, if I had the energy, that’s what I’d write about.
Alice Oswald- Tithonus
A poetic jig.
A foot tapping.
But shouldn’t they have driven us out to some field at dawn?
I will reflect a little more later, I promise.
Ali Smith: Living Translation
It began with Ali Smith’s ‘Provocation:’ a rolling, breathy work of sound and voice and soft (irresistible) accent.
Smith speaks like a poem. She holds her breath until she reaches the end of her thought-rhythm, before introducing the next etymological haiku. What genius it takes to craft a polemic into a sound poem: a rapid fire, perfectly formed stream of provocation.
Smith says that “translators are more writer than the original writer” for this is “a double layered writing, a twin responsibility, an osmosis of the self.”
Smith says that we should be learning languages when we are so young that “language structures sink into us like butter into toast.”
Smith says “the translator sees what the writer did not write – it takes that level of close reading.”
Smith says “look and all languages display relation.”
That’s all for now, I will write more later.
Caroline Bergvall- Drift
The tking of the voice, almost the sound of a typewriter or a haptic phone dialling, signals a visual layering of type – a streaming of new letters sounded into illumination.
Understanding is a process of fluctuation.
Letters shrink into illegibility but become small islands of type, shifting land-masses of notation suggesting a map; or are they the lights of the distant city which Bergvall speaks of, the hallucination on the horizon which promises respite yet is not as solid as a land-mass, but is a gathering of sound in words: as material (or immaterial) as the voice which resounds in space until it fades away.
I will write more, later.
The Joy of Influence: Paul Mason and Anne Enright on Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow
This is all I wanted to note down from the event last night.
During questions at the end (this is more of a comment than a question), a Scottish man in the audience says: “I sped read the book again on the train down from Holyhead to London with some page notes I made in the 1970s. I finally think I know what the book’s about.”
Francesca Brooks is in the first year of her PhD at King’s College London, her research looks at multilingualism, translation, and aspects of orality in Old English manuscripts and the printed poetry of David Jones. Follow her @Frangipancesca
When I was fifteen years old, I was tired of waiting around for my Dad to find the right weekend. During Spring half term, I rolled up my sleeves, tore down the pages of the NME that adorned my walls, and painted my earnestly floral bedroom chalk white. The gig tickets and photos that were plastered everywhere were carefully tucked away in scrapbooks and wood drawers, and I arranged my clothes into colour order, and band t-shirts into order of preference, with AFI first. AFI were always first. Though this was procrastination at its purest (which I’ve never really grown out of), as I inhaled the fresh air through my curtains, I knew I could handle my looming GCSEs from this place of newfound clutter-free serenity. And I did.
Ten years later, I’ve been somewhat seduced by the minimalist movement again. There’s something about all those white, peaceful, Scandinavian Instagram feeds that has really captured my imagination; those tiny squares on my phone somehow conveying that glorious sense of space. While so many of us may fall in love with the minimalist aesthetic, however, it can be a little hard to live it. Who are we, if nothing else, without our stuff?
For a PhD student, one might argue that the constant budgeting and moving from overpriced London bedroom to overpriced London bedroom prepares us for the minimalist lifestyle rather beautifully. One doesn’t, however, tend to factor in the inextricable clutter of the Arts & Humanities researcher: books. Though my books have recently undergone a 3am colour-ordering session to fit in with my rejuvenated bedroom, they are still everywhere, and will likely remain so. I leave a paper trail wherever I go; so far, not so minimal. But minimalism isn’t merely an aesthetic; it’s an approach, and an approach us new researchers might benefit from.
In William Strunk Jr.’s classic treatise on minimalism, The Elements of Style, he offers young writers his golden rule: ‘Omit needless words’. This is not that all sentences are short and mundane, but that ‘every word tell’; we all apply this rule in our feverish editing of essays that have found themselves miles past the word count. But perhaps we might swap ‘words’ for ‘things’, and widen the realm of possibility for this principle, taking the unnecessary clutter out of our lives and away from our research. If we keep what is necessary to our work and our happiness, and omit those drains on our energy that are not, surely our research can only improve. Minimalism, to the PhD student, isn’t only a neat, tidy and white workspace; it’s learning to say no to seven conferences and three undergraduate classes. It’s identifying where your time needs to be spent, uncurling those shoulders from eight hours of solid work to have a look around you. It’s also having a good clear-out, seeing what you can sell on eBay to bump up that funding packet, because every little helps.
Minimalism is not having or doing as little as possible; it’s knowing that everything you have or do counts. So I’m striking a couple of things off of my ever-growing ‘to do’ list, paring back on my aims for the week to focus on my writing and give myself space to breathe. Time to dream and sit quietly with a hot drink fall under the category of ‘necessary’ to me; the dangerous glorification of ‘busy’ is everywhere, especially in this strange world of academia. By omitting what is needless, our work can become clearer and more purposeful, and our sense of wellbeing might even defy all the horror-stories of PhDs past.
I’m keeping my books, though. They will remain necessary in their white bookcases, bathed in natural light and the perfect Instagram filter.
Sinéad Kennedy Krebs is a first year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London. Her research examines the cultural legacies of the Great War in Ireland. Follow her @sineadkk, or head to sageolympia.blogspot.com