The Dissertation

A very belated “I’m a doctor now” celebratory update and a return to a regular blogging schedule

While over on Twitter I’ve made the announcement, I realize that this blog has not been updated on the exciting news: On Wednesday September 19th, I successfully defended my dissertation and I am now a doctor! Hurrah!

Leading up to the defence, I was quite nervous – although not so much for the question period. Instead, I was nervous about my presentation. At Waterloo, the defence goes something like this: You are given 30 minutes to present on your dissertation, and then that is followed by 2 rounds of questions. When I told a friend that I was most worried about the presentation part – because I wanted to make sure I could deliver a not-dull presentation that was both accessible to the general audience who hadn’t read my diss and nuanced enough for those who had read it – my friend said that I was the first person who expressed concern about a good presentation. “Usually, it’s the other way around: people are concerned about the question period.”

And leading up to the defence and talking to other people, I found similar sentiments: looks of puzzlement and confusion as I explained why I thought the presentation was so important. Even one person said, “I didn’t care about my presentation. I just used 10 minutes and went right into the question period.” I also heard a story where someone refused to present – and they still passed.

The word that went around was that no matter how bad the presentation, you were “graded” on how well you answered the questions. And, I guess, that could be true. But still: the presentation was important to me.

Looking back on my defence, I was quite proud of my presentation because it did a lot: by focusing on the presentation, I felt more engaged with my entire dissertation and it kept me thinking about my dissertation leading up to the defence (the strong and the weak parts); it helped me anticipate questions that I may receive or address questions I was anticipating; it helped frame the discussions that were happening in the question periods; it demonstrated my critical media projects, ensuring that those projects were highlighted and could be brought into the questions (or referred to in the questions); it warmed me up and made me feel ready for the questions. There are probably other factors the presentation played into but these are the one I want to highlight.

And although there were times when I felt like I was rambling in the question period, apparently I was not. I was surprised to find out from the report my supervisor shared with me that I am really good at vocally articulating my research and complex ideas. This floored me because I have had a long history of struggling with anxiety during presentations, tripping up on words, physically shaking, etc. I still struggle with it today. As one student commented 2 years ago, “I noticed you are shaking while talking in class. Don’t worry, you are doing a great job.” (I’m paraphrasing, but they did point out I was shaking and did comment I was doing a good job, I swear!). And I know that this still happens today. So, when finding out that I’m really good at speaking and answering questions, I was blown away and so happy.

So if you were just keeping tabs on me with this blog, rest assured – the silence was not the result of a bad defence. It was a great one! And since then I’ve been busy with writing job applications and teaching two courses, while also trying to continue some research!

That being said, I am going to make a conscious effort to return to regularly blogging here. I want this blog to be a space for thinking through teaching moments and research ideas. I’ll be starting that next week, so stay tuned!


Dr. Philip Miletic šŸ™‚


The Dissertation

Weeding out the Theory Dump to Make a Garden U & I Can Move Thru: Figuring Out My Diss Introduction

At first, I thought dissertation introductions were a theory dumping ground, a heaping pile of “here’s all my theory so you don’t have to deal with it later on in the other chapters” served with a “this is what my dissertation is about, in a nutshell, but also here’s the theory of my dissertation.”

And at first, that’s what I wrote. It was only until last week, 4-6, revisions later (and these revisions were all pretty major), that I finally figured out what my introduction is supposed to be and does. Last week was also when my supervisor and I were both happy with the introduction. So, I thought to reflect on and share this process because dissertations are a strange thing that, typically, only get written once, and dissertation introductions are an even stranger thing (see Stranger Things 7) for this very reason.

The First Draft is the Worstest (but goes a long way).Ā Despite all of my advice to undergrads, I wrote my introduction first before all other chapters (there are 4, not including the Conclusion). Despite this introduction being absolutely horrid and an absolute garbage dump of theory, it was actually kinda necessary for me to get a handle of the theory and be comfortable with it.

This first draft of the introduction is full of jargon, but I wrote it so I wouldn’t have to deal with the jargon later on and in the final edits of the new and final-ish introduction. From what I remember of this draft, it is largely organized into “Community Theory,” “Affect Theory,” and this weird category of “media studies and auto/biography theory” (perhaps it was the “automedia” category). In short, it was all show off-y theory ramblings. These were introduced with some context for my project, taken from my proposal introduction, and had the chapter summaries, also taken from my proposal.

So, basically, this first draft was my proposal as the buns, and the theory as my hamburger patties + ALL OF THE CONDIMENTS AND TOPPINGS + MORE PATTIES. Yeah, it was mess. But then, I just shoved it to the side and wrote comfortably about affect and community without worrying about explaining everything. The weight of “I have to explain x + y+ z of this theory and include all 10 theorists debating A” was off my shoulders, and I was getting an idea of what I found the most important aspects about whichever theory as I was working through the dissertation.

3rd times a charm…for a better direction. By the second or third draft, my supervisor made a list of all of the theoretical jargon or jargony words/key terms in my introduction.

I had over 30.

My task: define each of these words/key terms and argue why they are relevant to my dissertation. Then, remove the ones that aren’t important. Draw connections between certain terms, group related terms together, and figure out a way to introduce these terms up front and not near the end of the introduction or in a constant stream of never-ending new key terms.

My other task: Be more clear about your dissertation: Why this radio and internet comparison, why Stein and Wallace? Why these research creation projects? Is it research creation? Critical media projects? etc.

For my “other task,” I used a recent New YorkerĀ article that was a comparative think piece on radio and recent internet controversies, especially around their so-called “democratic revolution” of the internet, Ā which was perfect for introducing my dissertation that narrows in on these debates. Yet, I half-committed to this, and despite having other sources that made the comparison between radio and the internet, those stayed in my notebook. And I still had trouble with my first task. Granted, it was great to get rid of some key terms, and to try introducing these earlier. But I struggled with making these two tasks work in concert: to define key terms alongside describing my dissertation.

But what was important for this draft was identifying the key terms of my dissertation, and to start really thinking of these terms in conjunction with my dissertation and the arguments of my dissertation. Basically, I was clearing out the rubble of the theory dump and started to see the introduction as part of my dissertation. Did I make all of the charts and tree graphs and define all of those thirty terms? Er, not entirely. I gave up midway through the process, but that’s because going through with this process immediately pointed to where I needed to go.

The 5th Element.Ā Ā By the 5th or 6th revision, I think I figured it out. But I took major editorial risks that had me anxious AF when handing it over. Ā While the previous draft was in better shape, a shape that could’ve been “acceptable,” my supervisor pushed me to address the main problems of the previous drafts. By this draft, I no longer was thinking of the introduction as a theory dump. In fact, I didn’t really have theory in mind. I stripped away a lot of theory. I just wanted to introduce my dissertation.

The idea that drove these revisions was thinking of the introduction as setting up the context and being clear of situating the argument within that context. The theory was moreĀ contextual to my arguments and/or contextualized by my arguments; the key terms were more or less whittled down to under 10, and they were introduced within the 10 pages of my introduction by being pulled out from that New Yorker article I used to set up my introduction as a hook; theĀ New Yorker article wasn’t alone, but was now joined by a bunch of articles that compare the internet and radio and similar rhetoric from early radio and early internet days; and I defined my approach as media archeological to justify my juggling of media, critical media projects, literature, and rhetoric. Here’s a snippet from introduction:

In my dissertation, I compare Modernist imaginations and applications of early radio with Late Postmodernist imaginations and applications of the early internet. My inclusion of literature is both a techno-cultural barometer and an intervention in debates about these media to ask questions of democratic participation, community, and identity formation. My method is media archeological, as my juxtapositions are archeological ā€œcutsā€ to critique techno-determinist notions of technological progress and interrogate the shared protocols (cultural and technological) of radio and the internet (See Zielinski 7; Emerson xiii).

I quite enjoyed writing that sentence. And a whole lot of other sentences I enjoyed writing because my mindset is “I’m not explaining theory, I’m explaining my dissertation.” The major key terms driving the introduction is “democratic participation, community, and identity formation,” and I stuck closely to those throughout, these being mentioned right from the get-go. Affect comes in, but is importantly linked to community, the affect of community, and is less about affect theory. Auto/biography is there, but is connected to Stein’s and Wallace’s concepts of “democratic participation” and “identity formation” (and “community”). In short, if I threw in any other key terms that needed to be mentioned, they looped back to either all three of these terms or at least one of them.

Out of the dump, and into the garden. The first 9 pages introduces all of the key terms, and defines them in context of the dissertation’s topics. The remaining pages afterwards is expanding upon those terms and giving some further context, followed by the chapter summaries, which remained more or less untouched (yes, nearly untouched since the proposal days!). There’s still theory in there, but as noted above, it’s contextualized by my dissertation and its arguments.

Here’s my garden, now let’s move through it at a leisurely pace and take a closer look.

Or something like that.

By the end of writing this, I had a better sense of how to articulate my dissertation; I understood my dissertation in a different light. I know that is weird (“shouldn’t you know what your dissertation is?”), but it’s true: I understood my dissertation better. It’s a “oh, I was doing this all along!” Writing something for 2+ years, you can kinda lose focus of the whole dissertation – you understand the parts you worked on so closely throughout those years, but when you have to step back and introduce the whole thing, you have to really think of how all those parts work together.

And, to quote Ziggy Stardust, “it ain’t easy.”

But I had some help from my supervisor, who gave me her dissertation introduction to read. I don’t know if this will work for everyone because, eerily enough, our dissertation introductions do similar stuff, but looking at dissertation intros is a huge help. And a good place to start may be your supervisor’s!

So, now the dissertation is all in one document. I’ve sent it off to the committee to have them look it over one more time. The end is in sight. And I am confident that the re-writing of the introduction over and over again will better prepare me for the defence.

Fingers crossed!




The Dissertation

Discovering the “Limits of Critique”

There are some people that are upset with the characterization of Luke Skywalker inĀ The Last Jedi. The common thing I hear is that Luke just wouldn’t become so cynical; he wouldn’t lose hope; he wouldn’t become a skeptic; he just wouldn’t go that dark. With friends, I point out that I know of people (and they probably do, too) who have done a complete 180 and I’m like “how did they go from that toĀ this?” Life happens. But also I like to think that Luke just gave into the popular mode of hermeneutics of the 20th century: suspicious reading.

I’ve been reading Rita Felski’sĀ The Limits of Critique, and I couldn’t help but think of our old friend Luke. The book was recommended to me by my supervisor, amongst a couple of other readings, because of a comment from one of my dissertation committee members. The comment noted that my critique of online reading group blogs’ posts and comments weren’t critically interesting; that is, my interpretation did not dig into what was being said, didn’t go against the grain and search for other meanings. It took me some time and some discussion with my supervisor, but the comment was largely pointing out that my work was descriptive rather than prescriptive.

So with Heather Love’s essay, “Thin Description, Close Reading” and Felski’s book, I’ve been gathering resources to reassure my committee member (and myself) that descriptive scholarly workĀ isĀ critically interesting, it’s just not the same kind of criticism that appears elsewhere in my dissertation or what is traditionally accepted as proper criticism. As Felski points out, we tend to assume that there is only one kind of criticism:

“The task of the social critic is to reverse the falsifications of everyday thought, to ā€œunconcealā€ what has been concealed, to bring into daylight what has languished in deep shadow. Meaning can be retrieved only after arduous effort; it must be wrested from the text, rather than gleaned from the text.” (31)

My problem that isn’t a problem is that I’m gleaning. But this kind of criticism does more than that – it’s also an ethical approach to studying peoples’ writings on the internet. The blog posts and comments I study aren’t written like modernist haikus; in many cases, they are written at face-value. To treat these texts with suspicion would put you in a weird power-imbalance; suspiciously reading these comments would turn me into an authority figure that imposes meaning on what is being said. It would cast my approach with distrust:

“In this sense, suspicion is driven by conflicting aims. On the one hand, we distrust someone or somethingā€”and are tempted to steer clear of a potential source of danger. On the other hand, we are also compelled to keep a close eye on what bothers us, so as to prepare for the eventuality of an attack. Know thine enemy!” (38)

Luke, as a teacher and leader of school, as someone who knows how to read the signs (he says something similar in the movie), seems to have adopted suspicious reading and fell victim to it. He went beyond reading and interpreting the Jedi texts; he started imposing meanings onto his students and their actions. He thought he knew his enemy. And in a way, his suspicious reading of Ben Solo made him that enemy, eventually. Luke was overcome by what Felski, riffing off Bruno Latour, may call a culture of suspicion:

“When it comes to dealing with urgent social and ecological problems, we are witnessing what looks like an excess of distrust rather than a surplus of belief.” (45)

It’s no wonder that the film ends with a disavowal of suspicion, embracing belief and hope and some canonical book burning instead.

It’s not that suspicious reading is bad, it’s just that it doesn’t always have to be the only proper method of critique.Ā The Limits of Critique, so far,Ā demonstrates there is more than suspicious reading. I’ve yet to finish the book, though I know she proposes an Actor-Network Theory (ANT) model of criticism that I’m interested in.

But until then, I’ll be keeping a good balance šŸ˜‰ of suspicious reading and thin description.

(Late)Postmodernism, The Dissertation

Revisions, defining terms, and research discoveries during pleasure reading

It’s taken me two weeks, but I think I’ve gotten down the rhythm of this new semester. The semester began early (January 3rd), so prepping for classes was hard when trying to enjoy the one week of the holidays. But I’m caught up, the class has been off to a great start, and I’m addressing comments from a committee member, doing research to address those comments, and doing some additional research and reading.

In my dissertation, I’ve been caught with throwing in “neoliberal” and not defining the term and how it might fit in with my chapter on Wallace and the techno-determinism/libertarianism of the 90’s cyberenthusiasts. It’s funny, when I think about it, how often people joke that academics just throw in neoliberal without defining it or advise against just dropping “neoliberal” in an essay, chapter, etc, but no one, throughout my entire education, has pointed me to resources defining the term, and the nuances of neoliberalism: how it affects race, class, and gender. Instead, I was left with a vague notion of the term and advice that discouraged me from using it (and thus from researching into it).

So I’ve picked up Michael Omi and Howard Winant’sĀ Racial Formation in the United States, specifically their chapter on “Colorblindness, Neoliberalism, and Obama.” I’m also returning to N. Katherine Hayle’sĀ How We BecameĀ Posthuman, in which she aligns the disembodiment rhetoric of many cyberenthusiasts with the liberal-individualist possessive individualism (which is rooted in neoliberalism, or so my other research across interviews and articles and good old wikipedia indicate). It’s a start, and it’s helping me articulate some arguments, make some connections, and clarify my understandings of the technoculture of America’s 1990s/2000s. So, it’s about time I finally started doing some digging into this concept and making an effort of concretizing my terms.

And over the break, I read a couple books for pleasure that piqued my interest in the ways that they kinda “line up” thematically. While different in its contents and subject matter, Martha Southgate’sĀ Third Girl From the Left and Jennifer Egan’sĀ Look at Me both share a critical examination of how celebrity culture, hollywood, and the image-based culture of late 20th century America shape conceptions of the self. While I am still readingĀ Look at Me, the protagonist is a model, who gets into an accident and re-emerges from surgery as unrecognizable to other people. Throughout the novel, she identifies the “shadow self” of people, the kind of self that everybody hides from the public view; for the protagonist, everybody lies all of the time, and everybody hides behind an image that they fashion for others to see. So, while still early on, Egan explores the implications of an image-obsessed culture on notions of the self and its relation to others. How deep this will go is yet to be seen, but I’m enjoying the novel so far.

Southgate’sĀ Third From the Left follows three narrative arcs, but the main two arcs are: 1) a black actress that played as an extra in many blaxploitation films and 2) her daughter, and her career path in film and TV industry as a film maker/camera person. I loved this novel, as it demonstrates the ways in which black actors and black filmmakers have to thrive in an industry dominated by white supremacy; how blaxploitation films were dominated by a “white gaze,” as they were filmed and produced by white people (and so the funds went mostly straight to those white people). And the second arc illuminates the systemic difficulties in which black women face in becoming a director. While the novel hints that black male directors are getting jobs, there’s a scene in particular where the woman’s career is harmed by the errors of a black male friend, who went on to become a successful director, whereas she became a cameraperson on Law & Order and had almost given up on filmmaking (the end of the novel is ambiguous). I couldn’t help but think of the recent discussion in regards to the Golden Globes Director category and Natalie Portman’s comment, as well as the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag from a couple years back.

I’m still trying to suss out details and connections, as both these novels are really sticking with me. But I love it when you read two books back to back, and without intending to, they end up sharing something in common, something that you can work with. These books may have started off as just for pleasure, but they may soon become part of my research on American contemporary lit.