Month: March 2015



I’m not sure, really.

It could be laziness. It could be another bout of depression. I suppose it could even be all of the above. I don’t seem to have the objectivity or perspective to identify it at the moment.

The word ‘doldrums‘ is probably a suitable term, actually: ‘a state of inactivity or stagnation’; ‘a belt of calms and light baffling winds north of the equator between the northern and southern trade winds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans’ (okay, maybe not so much that one); ‘a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits’.

I’m really feeling it today, but I have had this problem for a long time. It’s beset me sporadically for years. It’s a problem where I have trouble getting started. It’s coupled with perfectionism and performance anxiety and at the moment it’s really closely tied to my work (=research) stuff. And the reason it’s so hard to get started…? I don’t actually think it’s because of all of the available distractions the world and especially the internet has to offer, although I’m sure that they contribute to the cycle. I don’t know what the reason is at all, except a general reluctance.

And I know I am not alone in experiencing this. Not by any means. I have seen the same or a very similar lack of motivation in many people I know, including parent figures, which is awkward, because I guess it might partly be a learned behaviour as well.

Anyway, this is also a day, and it is only one day. I suppose, if we stay with the naval metaphor, if I am indeed in the doldrums, there’s nothing for it but to let the ‘calms and light baffling winds’ do their thing, and keep the anchor up and wait for a friendly tide.


Acknowledging adulthood

Downstairs, the kids in the neighbouring colleges are singing drinking songs and encouraging their peers to drink copious amounts of alcohol. They are, as I believe it is called, carousing. It is Thursday night. This is what they do.

Last week, I passed by a similar scenario. I was walking to my office. Not home from, to my office, because one of the beautiful freedoms of postgraduate study is that I can make up for my sleep-in or self-care or whatever by heading into the office at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon. To get to my office, though, I pass by the back of one of the neighbouring colleges, and last Thursday I was treated to watching my distant neighbours dragging out couches and crates and sitting under the trees, in the late afternoon sun, drinking and playing unimaginative pop music and yelling at each other over the autotune.

I never actually participated in these sorts of activities when I was an undergraduate, but it still made me…nostalgic.

I don’t miss undergraduate life, exactly. Like I said, when I was “their age” I wasn’t doing what they were. But it was clear that for them the day was over, and they didn’t have to do anything tomorrow, and I envied them the absence, however temporary, of thoughts of the future.

That was when I realised I am probably a grown-up now.

Another poignant example is that the other week, I ironed my trousers. I was doing casual work at a conference, for money, but the fact remains I ironed my trousers, voluntarily, and more or less successfully.

My girlfriend and I still don’t pay bills, as such, as our utilities are covered in our rent. (At the price we pay, you would hope so.) But there are all these little adult responsibilities that have been creeping into my life over time, and I have been, for the best part, responsible.

So I guess that’s actually something I can be proud of.

This is a shout-out to all you folks who are slowly acknowledging adulthood out there. We’ve got issues, but we’re getting along alright. Keep on trucking!

(Disclaimer: Really, I’m just trying to make myself better for the fact that I didn’t successfully translate any of my text today.)

Somewhere to hang my hat

I picked an obscure topic for my MPhil thesis (which is a Masters of Philosophy, for those of you unacquainted. Or, as I like to call it, a Truncated PhD: two years and 60,000 words).

In some ways, I am glad I did. In other ways, I regret it quite a bit.

See, I am convinced that my work matters. In this I am fortunate.

I also have the full complement of advantages and disadvantages of working in a very small field.

I work with classical Chinese texts in non-Chinese environments. (I won’t get started on the debatable nature of ‘China’ and ‘Chineseness’; although I do think that methodological nationalism is an important issue, and one not yet sufficiently discussed in relation to history and literature. If I am wrong, then please email me with articles you know of, or even your own thoughts on the subject, because I would dearly love to read them.) At the moment, I am working on a 16th century Joseon dynasty text. Both as a thesis topic and as a text it is unusual and obtuse.

Moreover, I am what I have seen termed elsewhere an academic orphan for several reasons:

1. I am a premodernist (and, currently, a Joseon dynasty-ist)

2. I am a classicist (if that is the right term)

3. Before or beneath all of these things I am a historian

With the combination of the above factors, one might expect me to fall somewhere between Chinese and Korean studies, but let me go through the factors one by one. As a premodernist and a Joseon dynasty-ist, I do not believe that the concept of the nation-state is relevant or helpful to my work. As a classicist, I am working with classical Chinese, which is perceived as a language of more than one hegemony: the ‘Chinese’ imperial sphere, for one, and the Joseon dynasty elite for another. Experts in classical Chinese are usually based in China studies, while studies of the Joseon are usually firmly fixed in Korean studies, and my access to Joseon dynasty specialists is restricted by my limited Korean language ability. Finally, the text I have chosen to translate is usually formulated as a work of Korean literature and evaluated in terms of its contribution to emergent Korean literature. So, in short, I am attempting to read ‘literature’ (an irritatingly vague term, like ‘intellectual’) as a historian, dealing with a dead language that was first rejected and then reincorporated into national literature discourse, and trying to review a text that has already been carefully incorporated into national literature discourse by extricating it and reading it in terms of its immediate historical context.

I have no idea where to hang my hat.