I feel like the time since my last post has been even longer than the not-yet-lapsed Catholic’s time since her last confession. Forgive me, reader, for I have begun to dissertate.

I wish (don’t we all wish) I could say that I’ve been working so hard on my dissertation that I just haven’t had enough time to spend on blogging. Depending on how you count, I’ve averaged maybe a third of a page a day in the summer (let’s not talk about the spring semester, okay?). So obviously there have been plenty of waking hours not spent dissertating, not even spent thinking about my dissertation, but whenever I think about it, I feel guilty, boot up the old word processor–and resume flipping through the browser tabs. So, I’ll try to kill two birds with one stone (or the cruelty-free equivalent) by blogging part of the chapter I’m working on.

The chapter is about Little Dorrit, Hard Cash, and some other mid-Victorian novels that have scant references to China. Right now I’m working on the Little Dorrit section, which should be easy, since I’ve presented twice on it and received good feedback. Instead, it’s been a real slog, and most of what I write feels belaboured and dull grad student-y. I started one draft of the section that I knew was a disorganized mess but knew that I should just grit my teeth and write a shitty first draft, but that’s never really been my MO. Usually, I make a few false starts at a first draft, finally cobble something together that’s between first draft and a second draft (but still shitty), and go from there. I’m going to present my third shot here.

Let me preface this by saying that the impetus of this new intro, as you’ll see in the epigraph, and for this blog post, was my rereading of Eve Sedgwick’s “Melanie Klein and the  Difference Affect Makes” (from 2007 in SAQ–stop what you’re doing now and read it if you haven’t already–you’ll thank me). I was particularly struck this time around by her comments on the difference affect makes to what we (assuming you’re an academic, and if you weren’t I’d assume you’d stopped reading by now) do: not the already humdrum distinction between paranoid reading and reparative reading, but writing, l’écriture:

Even Freud, after all, who, unlike Klein, invested so
much of his best thought in issues of representation, had to either interpret actual creative work in diagnostic terms or bundle it away under the flattening, strangely incurious rubric of sublimation. Paradoxically, though,
this is one of the areas of Klein’s greatest appeal: she makes it possible to be respectful of intellectual work without setting it essentially apart from other human projects. That our work is motivated—psychologically, affectively motivated—and perhaps most so when it is good work or when it is true: with Klein this is an extremely interesting fact, much more so than
an ignominious or discrediting one.

Anybody who’s had to teach comp has had to say that writers write much better when they’re interested in what they’re writing. That this passage is more than a repackaging of the old cliché comes that the fact is not a truism, but extremely interesting. It’s extremely interesting to think of writing not as the conveyance of information or ideas in which one might be very interested, or even as the expression of some recalcitrant psychological state, but as necessarily an epiphenomenon of some affective position. The focus–at least the way I’m reading it–becomes not so much find something you’re interested in so you can write something better, but be mindful of the complex affective dynamics involved in your intellectual work–especially when it is good work.

Well, that’s 600 words before I’m getting to what I really wanted to blog about, and it’s 1:30am, so I’m calling it a Part I and I’ll actually blog/write the dissertation excerpt tomorrow. I swear.