Do you count as ABD if you haven’t turned in your prospectus? Do you count as mentally ABD if you’re terrified of starting your prospectus? I’ve been wallowing, really wallowing, in the latter condition–I think I’ve begun to pull myself out of it, but alas, the prospectus is as yet unbegun in terms of words on page, or screen, or cloud, or what have you. Things are beginning to coalesce, but I still don’t feel ready to begin. Part of my problem is I’ve had a bunch of random ideas that I think will fit in well in the intro and/or epilogue, i.e., they’re non-Victorian and kind of anecdotey. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Susan Sontag’s short story “Project for a Trip to China”: It’s not really much of a story, so I hope you’ll forgive me for giving away the last line: “Perhaps I will write the book about my trip to China before I go.” The story consists of disconnected working notes towards her personal connection to China, its place in her imagination. Some dude in the NYRB called it “an embarrassing bit of Chinoiserie, however dismantled and self-consciously post-modern.” I actually don’t find it all that post-modern. Yes, there’s no narrative to speak of, except for writing about writing, but Sontag’s point doesn’t seem to be ironize the narrator’s orientalist tendencies–rather, it seems a sincere attempt understand those tendencies and their roots. The story’s apparently autobiographical: the narrator, like Sontag, was conceived, although not born in China. “Conception, pre-conception,” she writes (or maybe it’s the other way around.” I’m attracted to this story because in the Western tradition, China is perhaps the place most defined by preconceptions, self-consciously so, the most removed from Western “realities,” due to its distance, but also its self-isolation. There’s a parallel, I think, between the “opening of China” post Opium War #1 and the visits to China in the 70s by Nixon, Sontag, the Tel Quel crew.
  • Brian Massumi on affect: “The ability of affect to produce an economic effect more swiftly and surely than economics itself means that affect is itself a real condition, an intrinsic variable of the late-capitalist system, as infrastructural as a factory” (“The Autonomy of Affect” [link opens PDF]) What was the affective infrastructure of Victorian globalization? Is this affective infrastructure different from that of imperialism/colonialism? I think my close readings will go for the affective infrastructures of texts–what Sianne Ngai calls “tone” in her reading of The Confidence Man. Plus “structures of feeling” a la Raymond Williams.

More odds and ends to follow!