Ok, so the title to this post comes courtesy of Wisconsin's best-ever band, Killdozer. I have fond, fond memories of this band. I remember my freshman year at Northwestern, I went to University Hall for an early-morning History discussion section. And there in the doorway, a copy of the Northwestern Review. And inside, a record review of Killdozer's latest album, 12-Point Buck. The review started as follows: Killdozer Rocks My Ass. Pure freakin' bliss.
I guess I was thinking about this album title three weeks ago, when I was down in lovely Charlottesville, Virginia for UVA's annual Art and Architectural History Symposium. This year's theme was AFTERMATH: The Cultural Response to Catastrophe. The papers were typically excellent: everything from Athenian responses to plagues in ancient times, to the building of the Forbidden City in China, to preservation of stained glass windows in bombed-out West Germany ... everything was on topic, meticulous, etc. That is, except mine. For if everyone else was writing about the true, bonafide cultural responses to catastrophe, I, on the other hand, presented a paper about a corollary situation: what if the cultural response to catastrophe is to prolong and facilitate that catastrophe? For those of you who are familiar with my current research here at Yale, you may see such a description as one of many ways to analyze the myriad bizarre projects undertaken by enterprising architects during the Second World War. But for those in the audience in Campell Hall down in Charlottesville, it was an irreverent situation: artists enacting total war on art.
Also, PhD interviews and visits have unofficially begun. Pigeonholing oneself (and one's project) is a particularly tricky endeavor. I am at that stage where I have to describe my interdisciplinary brand of research as, first and foremost, disciplinary. This means that I have to position myself and my project as a total package that can be supported (financially and institutionally) at the doctoral level. In other words, think of writing a resume that is projective in nature, one that describes skills and attributes that you will soon acquire (but do not have at the moment), and that you will capitalize on. At this stage, the PhD application process has almost nothing to do with what you have done in the past. It is all about what you are doing now, and how that can be transfigured into some type of asskicking doctoral dissertation. So, in the next couple of weeks, perhaps I should describe my ongoing project as uncompromising war under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
But, here's one of the (unintented) benefits of my research: I rely on fiction and literature almost too much. We are the avatars of the archive. We mine data, hunt down the not-so-obvious, teach you how to look at something from a 90-degree angle. I look to literature as my inspiration. So, because my project deals (somewhat) with art forgeries and desert landscapes, I've been inhaling four books: Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, William Gaddis' The Recognitions, and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men.
With unbridled enthusiasm, I recommend Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. He has a command of the most beautiful, visceral, terrfying prose imaginable. This, from that particular novel:
He stood there looking out across the desert. So quiet. Low hum of wind in the wires. High bloodweeds along the road. Wiregrass and sacahuista. Beyond in the stone arroyos the tracks of dragons. The raw rock mountains shadowed in the late sun and to the east the shimmering abcissa of the desert plains under a sky where raincurtains hung dark as soot all along the quadrant. That god lives in silence who has scoured the following land with salt and ash. He walked back to the cruiser and got in and pulled away.(2005:45)
I wish my "contribution" to academia would read something like that. Once can only hope to write a sentence like the one above. No one writes like that.