April Update (a bit late…)

April just flew by! It was filled with various different and competing projects, including publication editing, manuscript writing and applications… as well as too many hours on the bike. Here is my review of the month and look forward to May (which has already started at a sprint pace).

Writing

I had several writing projects in April and all seemed to move forward in various degrees. I had some reviewer comments to address for a publication chapter, which I started (unfortunately did not finish). I agreed with much of the reviewers assessment and suggestions, which was useful and I am happy with the direction the chapter is going. What caused some problems was the order of the original chapter had to be changed. I had divided the chapter into several sub-sections in the original layout, but merged a couple of sub-sections and had to rewrite most of the transitions and intro to reflect the new order. It is almost (fingers crossed) done and if I can get a day or two to work uninterrupted (unlikely) I should be able to get it off the to-do list.

I worked a bit on the manuscript for Acoustics of Roman Ostiain April, but it was an off and on type work, which always feels slow. I have been focused on one of the later chapters that deal with the urban image of noise in Rome. It is based on my text-mining of spatial and auditory Latin terms in the PHI and the context for descriptions of noise. Much of the work was on the flow of the argument and the order of case studies. It still feels like a work-in-progress and needs some further time to work out the best order through the tangle of literary terms and passages.

Finally, and most recently, I have been writing a project description for an upcoming application. I have a postdoc proposal that I wrote last year, but has not been submitted anywhere yet, although it deals with a different set of evidence and topic than this recent one. This recent project brings in some of my (very) early postgraduate work in religious studies and biblical studies.

When I was in a religious studies/biblical studies department, I always saw my work as being outside the religious or theological realm. I was much more interested in the ways religious groups (mostly Jewish, early Christian and Mithraic groups) had non-religious practices, such as communal dining, adapting non-religious space and collegiagroup formation. It is interesting to return to some of these ideas, but from the other side, emphasising the religious character of everyday routines, movements and urban architecture. The project is interesting (good as it would be a long three years otherwise) and would bring together some diverse bits and pieces of things I have worked on over my long journey through academia. It could even force me to dig up my first MA (and a couple of essays) and integrate it into the overall project. But that is a choice I’ll have to make much further down the road…

Reading

Much of my reading in April was theoretical in nature and pertained to the slow moving work on Lefebvre and other French theorists use of Rome and classics. I read Philosophising the Everyday: Revolutionary Praxis and the Fate of Cultural Theoryby John Roberts, which is a history of philosophy on ‘everyday’ from 1912 to 1975. It was a short book (only 3 chapters), but stays focused on a select group of theorists (Lefebvre and Benjamin being to principle two). What was useful for my own work was the contextualisation of ‘everyday’ within several different social frameworks, from the Russian Revolution to pre-war France and Germany, and post-war France. These contexts were integrated into Lefebvre and Benjamin’s respective approaches to the everyday, as well as conceptual definitions. My critique of the book is mostly stylistic as it was clearly a philosophy text and relied on philosophical jargon with no specific definitions of the terms being used. I find this unhelpful, even for students of philosophy, as it leaves much of the critical weight of the terms hidden in the assumption of reader’s prior knowledge.

I also read (on the last chapter now) Stuart Elden’s Foucault’s Last Decade. The book was the first part of what has become a multi-volume intellectual history of Foucault. Elden maintains an active blog, Progressive Geographies, covering much of his ongoing work on Foucault, Lefebvre and political geography more generally. It is worth checking out his blog as he has a wealth of resources on Foucault, Lefebvre and some really great collections of resources on academic writing habits and tools.

Foucault’s Last Decadeis a fascinating insight into a highly important period in Foucault’s career, although it ends with his passing. The book chronicles the development of the History of Sexualityproject, which includes the majority of work Foucault undertook on antiquity (Greece and Rome). While volume 2 and 3 of the History of Sexualityhave been available for some time, their relationship to Foucault’s lecture courses and other publications is somewhat limited. Elden places the published form of the History of Sexualitywithin the context of an shifting conception of the project from it’s inception in 1974. In particular, Elden draws out the various threads that lead Foucault back to antiquity, rather than stopping at Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries CE. Of particular importance for my own work is Foucault’s focus on the first and second century CE in terms of politics and marriage. The early Empire forms a highpoint in the curve of the ‘culture of the self’ for Foucault (182). Key to some of the work I am slow pulling together is Foucault’s insistence that the early Empire was an ‘organisation of a complex space’, a space of multiple centres of power (184). The multiple centres of power were part of spatial and social networks that were in constant motion. Here, like in Lefebvre, is an early indication of a key insight, which would take several decades to be elaborated within field of Roman studies. I find these fragments, and these couple of pages in The Care of the Selfare the only references to this idea in Foucault, worth further exploration as these French theorists (Lefebvre and Foucault) are more often referenced in terms of theoretical advances, than their interpretations of the ancient world. Foucault’s use of Greece and Rome has received more attention, than Lefebvre, but still from the very start the ‘spatial turn(s)’ drew on Rome as a key source.

Odds and Sods

Along with all of this reading and writing, I trained and completed a 100-mile (called a ‘century’) bike ride in the town where I did my undergraduate degree, Chico, CA. The Wildflower Century is an annual event and I sent the weekend with some friends I have not seen in several years. I had a great time seeing people, taking some needed time off and, of course, riding my bike. It may (or may not) come as a surprise, but I completed the ride in just under 6 hours (5:58.30), which was a personal record for that distance. I had planned on a slightly slower pace, aiming to finish in 7:30 hours, but met two other solo riders at the second rest stop (45 miles in) and we completed the ride together. It was a blast and helpful to have some motivation and drafting help for the second half of the ride. From mile 60 to the end, the route was flat through the orchards and fields surrounding Chico and we maintained a speed of 20-23 mph (getting up to 25 mph briefly). We were mistaken for a car by several other riders due to the wind and buzz of our bikes as we passed; if you have never seen a bike race in person, the main group of riders (called the peleton) are very loud, a combination of the noise of bikes (sounds like an angry bee) and the group cutting through the wind. It was great to get out and ride through the beautiful countryside surrounding Chico and in such a fast time. We earned our post-ride beer and meal! (Just found out, I won a daily picture drawing for one of my shots from the ride!)

I had originally planned to ride two more centuries in the following weekends, but the ride the next weekend was in my current town and I ride the course almost every week. So, I saved the money and did not enter that ride. I will definitely sign up for the Wildflower Century again, as well as other rides in places I want to visit (best to tick several boxes at once…).

May has more reading, writing and riding in store. The Tour of California is next week so, I will take a day to go see the race (if I am able), or at least watch some from a local pub (the best way to enjoy cycling).

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