Friday, October 05, 2007

Signs of Progress

Now that the worst of the postdoc application process has passed (with application #1 out of the way, there is basic material to use for the others), my thoughts return to the actual dissertation.
Before the onset of postdoc frenzy and computer annoyance, I was in the throes of rendering my first three chapters presentable to members of my committee. Not done, of course, just in a state where it would be possible to make comments. (It's not usual to finish Chapter 1 until everything else is done, as presumably there will be some breakthroughs and inspirations along the way that should be taken account of in the introductory material.)
While that process was not being unusually troublesome, I was putting off writing the section on Jindřich Štyrský until I could get my hands on the big catalog that should be in Czech stores right around now, and the section on the Devětsil group was being rather slow to coalesce. The former problem, I felt, was not something I could do much about, while the latter got on my nerves a bit. After all, it is not as though I was expecting to say anything very new or earthshaking about Devětsil (not every portion of a dissertation is actually stunning new material). No... I merely wanted to give an account of aspects of the group that seemed useful for readers to know for my purposes. Little things like that it was large, active, interdisciplinary, and internationalist. That it changed theoretical direction periodically. That Teige wanted it to go in a Constructivist direction, but paired that with something he called Poetism. And so forth and so on.
I doubt that anyone has written a plain history of Devětsil, as this would take considerable doing. Nonetheless, there are some useful English (not to mention Czech) texts covering the basics, and I have copies of many of the articles and polemics written by the members. My goals for this section were not, as I say, particularly ambitious since the dissertation is not about Devětsil per se. Its Proletarian phase does not relate to Toyen, nor do, especially, the activities of its architects. But Poetism is important and slippery. So I wrestled around with whether the pieces I had written were in a reasonable order, and what more had to be done, and all that.
Fortunately, it is often beneficial to take a break from a recalcitrant piece of writing, so the postdoc frenzy has proved to have a purpose beyond the mere desire to obtain prestigious funding for the next year or three.
I am pleased to say that the Devětsil section is now responding nicely and sounds reasonably intelligent. While I don't imagine it to be a stunning and brilliant addition to the literature on Devětsil, I think it will perform its function nicely and say at least a few things I don't remember reading elsewhere.
This makes me feel very lighthearted as I prepare the next two postdoc applications and prepare to turn in chapters 1-3, all planned to be out by Monday.

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