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After the viva…Can’t stop falling in love with you

“Wise men say, ‘only fools rush in’,

But I can’t help falling in love with you”

- UB40

In the first year of my PhD, my supervisor made an interesting comment about my theoretical reading. He said that I fall in love easily. He was referring to my tendency to want to jump from one theory to another whenever I came across a new one. When I submitted my registration document, three months after initial enrolment, I was proposing to use a theoretical framework that somehow brought together the work of Hegel, Luhmann and Sloterdijk. I soon realised that it was going to be way to unmanageable and I decided to stick with Hegel. After attending a conference, I almost dumped Hegel in favour of Foucault; fortunately my supervisor emphasised the importance of committing to a particular theory. I remember making the decision that I was going to stick with Hegel as the basis for my theoretical framework come what may.

Yet somehow I managed to come away from my PhD viva with the overarching comment that there were too many theories in my thesis  – and as a result they were superficially connected by the use of metaphor rather than exposition from the literature. The irony is that I thought I was being restrained. I started with Hegel and moved to readings of his work by Jessica Benjamin’s psychoanalysis and Catherine Malabou. As far as I could see it was Hegelian. The problem is that having set a boundary, I inadvertently crossed it by looking at psychoanalysis and other work by Malabou. For some reason, I also felt inspired by my supervisor’s work and included that as well, not too mention the more minor interventions. I somehow justified it my head by saying that Hegelian dialectical philosophy allowed for it.  I ended up with a Hegel as my first wife and a philosophical harem.

So the last month or so, I have been trying to figure out which theoretical intervention are essential to my thesis, and which are just fluff. The examiners’ report has been very helpful in that regard. The problem with it is that the examiners themselves have made a number of alternative recommendations as to how I could proceed with my thesis. Perhaps too many recommendations, because I have been having trouble deciding which recommendation I should take.  So then I have to ask myself, what is the primary purpose of my research and what is the dominant idea I want to get across. I have been bouncing from one thing to the other this last month, unable to make a decision, worried that any decision will be the wrong decision. I am also seeing how much my thesis is like a ball of wall; if I try to pull on one particular strand, the whole ball comes apart. I think I am slowly figuring out my favourite theme. Oh where is my supervisor when I need him the most? More importantly, why did I decide that I wanted to have my viva the day before he goes on holiday for two months?

I said in a previous post that my PhD has been an opportunity to learn things about myself as well as my research topic. Well, I have learnt that this tendency to fall in love easily and difficulty with decision making has been an ongoing problem for me, to various degrees. I could write more on that, but I won’t out of respect for others affected. If past experience is anything to go by, I needed the shock of the viva to force me to make a decision (though I wish that the examiners had just made one or two recommendations). Once again,  as with the preparation for the viva, I think the most useful advice  comes from my dad, whom I paraphrase: “Right or wrong, the important thing is to make a decision; if it is the wrong decision, I have to work to make it right.” He said that in a different context. As i understand it though, it doesn’t matter how I decide to deal with the problem of having too many theories in my thesis; I have to be able to justify it with proper evidence.

I give the final words to UB40…

How much do you love your phone?

Girl playing with mobile phone

How do you relate your mobile phone?

I’ve just come out of a 13-year relationship…with a mobile phone operator. We had good times together but in the end she just couldn’t satisfy me completely.

I’m not quite sure how it started. There I was, just living my life. I wasn’t really looking for a mobile phone, when my parents introduced me to one in 1999. Everyone else was pairing off with mobile phones and asking me why I didn’t have one. I kept saying that I was happy as I was, I couldn’t really see the point, telephone boxes on the street were enough for my needs. Really, I just didn’t think I could afford to keep one, they seemed pretty high-maintenance. But, yeah, I did look on lustfully whenever I saw someone with a mobile phone.  So when I was offered one on a plate, I couldn’t say no.

Our relationship was pretty casual for a long time. We went when on dates on a pay-as-you-go basis and I used the phone sparingly, mainly just to ring to say I’ll be late or to confirm meeting or text. I remember that she was pretty in the beginning – not ugly, but not totally hot, but she looked fine to me. She had a number of plastic surgeries for my sake and I was always happy with the result. After a while, others started commenting that she was a bit chunky but I didn’t care.

It was only perhaps in the last couple of years that our relationship became more serious. We went from simply dating on a pay-as-you-go basis to a more long term contract that required regular investment. It was then that she really began to satisfy me with mobile internet access. We spent a lot of time together. I no longer had to wait to get a desktop PC to check my emails or tweet, she let me do it any time, any place.

But it was in the last couple of years that I noticed how chunky she was. It was so embarrassing being with her, when everyone else had slimmer, younger smarter models. Plus, she ran out of energy pretty quickly. So my eye started to wonder. I wanted a slimmer, younger, smarter model too. Unfortunately, I could not find one that was within my budget. So I reluctantly stuck with my existing phone, although of course I told everyone else that we were very happy.

Until last week. I finally found a slimmer, younger, smarter model that I could afford. It was love (or lust) at first sight. I reckon she could satisfy me more than my existing phone and she’s within my budget. I’m just worried that I will not be able to live up to her expectations. But after 13 years, it was not easy breaking up with who is now my previous network operator. I told her I wanted to go. She begged me to stay. She asked me what I wanted. She said she could change. We had a long conversation. But it was already too late, I had made up my mind to go and I was no longer in love with her. But it was still a bit painful.

Anyway, she is my ex-mobile phone operator now. We no longer have a relationship. Sort of. I still need to shift my contacts but keep putting it off.

What did Hegel do on Valentine's Day?

Thank God Valentine’s Day is over. Dont get me wrong, I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. I am pleased that there are plenty of people who can celebrate it and I hope to join them some day. I just haven’t found anyone whose into, er, group activities. Just kidding.

Even Hegel, the 18th Century German philosopher and father of the modern state, believed that love is fundamental basis of the world, it’s what makes the world go round, because it cannot be broken down any further into its constituent parts. (He also called it Recognition.) In his “Philosophy of Right”, he wrote: ‘Love is in general the consciousness of the unity of myself with another. I am not separate and isolated, but win my self-consciousness only by renouncing my independent existence, and by knowing myself as unity of myself with another and of another with me. But love is a feeling, that is to say, the ethical form of nature…The first element of love is that I will to be no longer an independent self-sufficing person, and that, if I were such a person, I should feel myself lacking and incomplete. The second element is that I gain myself in another person, in whom I am recognised, as he again is in me. Hence love is the most tremendous contradiction, incapable of being solved by the understanding. Nothing is more obstinate than this scrupulosity of self-consciousness, which, though negated, I yet insist upon as something positive. Love is both the source and the solution of this contradiction. As a solution, it is an ethical union.’

Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with. Well, no-one real anyway….oh wait, I have plenty of people to celebrate it with, they just don’t want to celebrate it with me.

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A Love Letter to God

Dear God,

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a Christian.

That is, sometimes I wish you hadn’t saved me. But before you get angry and rip up this letter, please read on.

It can be frustrating, Lord, having to say no to things that displease you, when every bone and organ in my body, that you created by the way, is screaming yes. It’s not just because I like the idea of abstract rebellion; it’s because a lot of these things I did before I met you, in my pre-Christian days. I didn’t do them because they made me feel bad; as you know, I received a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from them. It’s not easy resisting that which I know from experience actually does taste good.

But it’s not just the way they make me feel. It’s also their prevalence. It’s like being in Brick Lane, London, and deciding that I don’t want to eat Indian food.

For example, Lord, I get why you would like me to be chaste until marriage and I get why you’re not happy with adultery, but why then give me such strong sexual urges and make me wait? It seems a bit sadistic. Everything comes from you, so I know you have a well-designed woman somewhere in your sack. I’m not fussy Lord and anyway, you’re a great designer so everything you make looks good.

Ok, so you want me to wait, but would it really be a problem to provide an alternative solution. After all, even vegetarians can have substitutes for meat, like Quorn. Please give me a break, Lord!

I know you want to me focus on my relationship with you, but even though I’m doing a phd, my mind is still too small to grasp you in your entirely and what having a relationship with you means. It’s pretty difficult trying to ‘get to know’ someone you cannot see. I suppose I could pretend it’s like cybersex, but response times not really that great. I do have strong feelings for your Lord, but I just want to feel your body close to mine and feel your arms around me.

I love you Lord, I really do, but you don’t make it easy. I know you’ll be here physically one day but what I am supposed to do in the mean time. I have all these feelings and no way to express them. I guess that’s why I’m writing this letter to you.

Still, despite all my questions about this relationship, I do know that you will  get this letter and I know you will respond in your time and in your own way. To be honest, Lord, I’m just thankful that you want to be with me, even though I don’t deserve you.

Look forward to seeing or hearing from you.


Your follower

P.S. What do you think of the girl sitting opposite me on the train?

P.P.S Do I have to call your Father? It’s seems a bit incestuous. Couldn’t we just be really good friends with benefits? ;)

If a blog is a baby, am I a neglectful parent?

Baby‘Not a PhD Thesis’ is not my first blog, but it is certainly the one that has lasted the longest. Actually, my first blog was born in 1998/9. At that point, I don’t think there was anything like the web tools like WordPress or Blogger (or at least I wasn’t aware of any). No, I had to get down and dirty with basic HTML, a skill which has proved valuable since but of which I am a bit rusty. Anyway, that first blog, my eldest, was simply an online diary focusing on the last few months of my Bachelor’s degree. It was called ‘Pravin Jeya’s Corner of Cyberspace’. But after I graduated and once I got into the lazy summer, I just lost interest in it. So, I killed, I mean, deleted it.

For a while, I didn’t do any serious blogging, but that didn’t matter, because I was working as a journalist or copywriter, i.e. taking care of someone else’s editorial requirements. I think there have been a few aborted attempts using various other tools, but – to be honest – I just couldn’t see myself getting excited about them. And then I discovered WordPress. I think it might have been top of the Google search result. And I was impressed.

My second blog was not born until 2009. It was called Low Salt Foods. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, that’s an even worse name than Corner of Cyberspace. Possibly. Truth is, I probably could have been a pushy parent, because I saw Low Salt Foods as part of my plan to start an information service for people with low salt requirements. But once the blog was born, I realised that there was more to it than that. Anyway, it ended up helping me through a period of unemployment. Then I started my PhD and I got bored with Low Salt Foods. I kinda ignored it for a while but eventually got round to killing it shortly after Not a PhD Thesis was born.

I have to be honest, I think Not a PhD Thesis is probably the first blog for which I have felt any real emotions. And, it’s strange, but it has had a real impact on me as a person. I can see that I have changed in the 10 months since it was born. Perhaps it was the advice I received from an old school friend not to be neurotic about blogging, just allow it to grow at its own pace. The irony is, in doing so, I have felt a real desire and interest in its development.

Indeed, I have become more confident has a blogger as a result and I finally decided to create a second blog, From Tweet to Thesis. They say that the oldest child is usually a guinea pig, the one on whom stuff is tried, so that parents have a much better idea what to do if more children are born. But the amazing thing is that I don’t love one blog more than the other. Indeed, I even use Not A PhD Thesis (the oldest blog) to help look after From Tweet to Thesis (the youngest).

Now, I have to admit, I perhaps haven’t paid as much attention to Not a PhD Thesis since the second one was born. I have found myself worrying about the second one. But, contrary to before, I have not felt any desire to delete the first. That thought would be kinda disturbing.  In fact, the first blog has helped to promote the second blog.

I guess my confidence as a blogger has meant that I have ended up blogging for other people too. (If you want to see From Tweet to Thesis or the blogs I’ve contributed to, see the ‘My Writing’ photo album.)  Still, when I look at other people’s blogs, I realise I still have a lot to learn, but I guess that’s the best bit.

N.B. I am not actually a parent in real life, and is only based on what could be my single person’s prejudices of parenting.


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