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“Wise men say, ‘only fools rush in’,
But I can’t help falling in love with you”
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…
What more do I need to say?
Recently I was sent this video of the Tamil song “Why this Kolaveri Di” (English version at end of post). I’ve only just found out that it was probably the most popular song of 2011. I have to admit, I have a rather slim grasp on my Tamil roots, so I had no either what it meant or what it was. So of course I went to Wikipedia: apparently, the song title translates as ‘Why This Murderous Rage, Girl?’ and the song is from the soundtrack of an upcoming Tamil film 3, due out this year, about a guy who is rejected by a girl. Anyway, this blog post is way behind the times, given that the song was released in November.
What’s really interesting is that the song is written in ‘Tanglish’, a Tamil/English hybrid, but that’s what interesting about Tamil, you don’t need to be really fluent in it to speak it, you can mix Tamil and English together in a way that you can’t (or not allowed to do) with English and other European languages (although not Tanglish). So listening to people talk conversationally over a period time I have found that slowly I have been able to understand things. I can speak Tamil, although perhaps not to the same level of my parents who came to England from Sri Lanka. When I was a child, they would often speak in Tamil if they didn’t want my sister or I to understand what they were saying, but as I got older, this became more and more difficult as I understood more and more.
Here’s an example of how Tamil and English fit together (not that you will probably need it). If you want to say “I would like (want) some food/dinner” in Tamil only (apologies for the English spellings):
Ennakku sharppadu vernum (Literally, for me dinner want). “
But you could also say:
Ennakku dinner/food-ikku vernum.”
Of course, probably because of colonial times, there are a number of English words for which there is no Tamil equivalent anyway, such as apple, (motor) car, orange and (ironically) tea, although they may be said in a Tamil accent – Ahpple, mohtar car, thear. And, there are apparently Tamil words that have become a part of English, such as catamaran and mulligatawny. So, and this post would not really be complete it I didn’t mention Hegel, there is arguably a Hegelian dialectic between Tamil and English. The two languages are plastic, where they shape and are shaped by each other, whilst at the same time resisting deformation. The language of ‘Kolaveri Di’ (the song) appears to a manifestation of that plasticity. (As an aside, the single video at the top of this post indicates the dialectic between creator and created, particularly where the studio instructions are included.)
There are a number of videos for ‘Koleveri Di’ on Youtube but I particularly like this English R&B version, which I think captures what ‘Koleveri Di’ (Murderous Rage, Girl) is all about.
And of course there’s already a Downfall parody.