“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…