As for the PhD...I finished my draft Introduction (finally), and have (finally) started looking at Chapter 4 again. Alas, today was utterly unproductive because I did not go to the library, thanks to 1) my waking up at 10am; and 2) the shitty rainy weather. I did some work, but it wasn't enough for me to not feel guilty, or to shake the feeling that I ought to be working on my PhD right now instead of writing this entry. I decided to write this anyway because this is an equally important part of my life, one that I have certainly been neglecting.
To be fair, though, there really isn't much to write about. My life pretty much just the PhD, E and running, some tennis...on the plus, quite a lot of reading. Well, I don't know if I've read more books so far this year than I did this time last year, but I've settled into a nice habit of reading a novel in the morning while having breakfast and coffee, and sometimes while having lunch as well. An argument could be made that I ought to spend some of this novel-reading time on my PhD, but this argument is shit because reading novels is one of the few sources of genuine enjoyment in my life these days.
I recently discovered Zadie Smith; devoured White Teeth after enjoying On Beauty, and found the former quite a bit better than the latter even though the latter is one of her later works. I read a quote from her about how her writing as a young writer was ful of aphorisms, which she's stopped doing as a more mature writer. I kept thinking back to this quote while reading White Teeth and, yes, one could fault the prose for being self-consciously clever, but somehow, it was this self-conscious cleverness that gave the book a vitality and energy which, in retrospect, I found lacking in On Beauty. White Teeth brims with joy and an urgency to say certain important things about contemporary British society: immigration, isolation, religious fanaticism, teenaged girls and fitting in, racial politics. And it talks about these issues through characters who are relatable, with whom the reader can sympathise, if not empathise. Having denounced the burnings of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in Britain as mindless acts of religious fanaticism, White Teeth challenged my perception of the incident by painting it, through two characters, as a defence of an identity that is under attack, subtly and overtly at the same time, in a society that is multicultural on the surface, but which balances precariously at the edges of racial faultlines. Interesting, isn't it, that The Satanic Verses is essentially a novel about the plight of immigrants in Britain, and it turned out to be these same immigrants with whom the novel sympathises that participated in the burning of the book. And they did so because the book, or what they were told about the book, was seen as yet another attack on their cultural and/or religious identity by a foreign country who accept them in name only, and only as waiters, taxi drivers, and corner shop owners; not lawyers, doctors, politicians, bankers.
I think this part of White Teeth really made an impression on me due to how strongly I was convinced that the burning of the Satanic Verses was nothing more than blind, stupid religious fanaticism, and that the right to free speech and free artistic expression must be protected against conservative forces that threaten it. It didn't occur to me what the subjective experiences of these 'conservative' individuals might be, or that there may be more going on than stupid religious fanaticism. White Teeth challenged all of that quite fundamentally; more importantly, effectively.
At the end of the day, the power of story-telling is still, I think, more efficacious and impactful than a well-argued, well-researched article about the same topic. But I may be biased here. After all, literature still remains my one true love.
From White Teeth, I went on to read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, a classic mystery novel. I was sceptical at first because I tend not to take well to classics. Something about the style strikes me as false, and I just can't relate to some random Victorian concerns and mannerisms and whatever. The Moonstone has been interesting enough to keep me reading, and in excitement to boot, though it suffers from overwriting. Some parts are unnecessarily detailed, and so I skim them to get to the juicy bits.
What I find interesting about the Moonstone, though, is how the British class system is portrayed in it. I don't know if Collins intended to comment on it or merely presented it as a matter of fact because, obviously, he wrote in that period. Whatever it is, it is an interesting look into how stratified society was, and how rigid its rules and conventions. And the sexism as well! Male characters make sexist remarks with such casualness that they seem to be talking about the weather, which goes to show how deeply entrenched were notions of how a woman should behave--notions which we find sexist today. For instance: men talking about politics at an upper class dinner party only after the 'ladies' have left the room. I have, of course, been reading a lot about how women were perceived and expected to behave in that time period, but only in non-fiction books. Reading it in a novel somehow makes it more real because the novel depicts the interaction between men and women based on how people of that time behaved, thus making it more real and accessible.
Again, the power of the novel, and all that.
I still sometimes wish I hadn't gone to law school. But anyway.
On a different note, I have been eating way too much.