Thesis Re-Visited

[It’s] a popular notion, that it is exclusively suffering that produces good work, or insightful work.  I don’t think that’s the case. I think in a certain sense, it’s  a trigger, or a lever. But I think good work is produced in spite of suffering, and as a response, as a victory over suffering.

Leonard Cohen

I had the idea to read through my thesis, and post excerpts on my blog; I may still do that.  As always, I hesitate; I think that some of this work is of high quality, but I wonder how it will be received. I talked about my thesis and agonized over it for so long, that I’m not sure anything I could have created would have been worth the fuss I made about it. Then again, the only arbriter that really matters at the end of the day – my supervisor – gave me an A- on it. So I’m not really sure what I’m worried about in that regard. I suppose putting one’s work out there will always feel like an act of incredible vulnerability.

Reading my thesis in preparation for posting it reminds me of how far removed I am from the academic world; I admit that this reminder is somewhat disheartening. I’d have to read and study for months before I would become as well-versed in the theoretical language and literature as I was when I wrote the thesis. Furthermore, I don’t see myself having the opportunity to write something like that and become immersed in the acts of learning and creation anytime soon; I may not have an opportunity like that ever again.  I suppose my hesitation to post my thesis is borne from that sentiment as well, which isn’t exactly regret; I’ve just become aware that there’s a gap between where I am, and where I want to be, and I’d rather not think about it.  At the present time though, I’m a still a little too weary from the struggle to get through school to knit that yarn into motivation to go back.

Although there are ideas and passages in this piece that I wish I could have developed further, in some ways, that doesn’t really matter; what matters most to me about this work is that I finished it at all. I wrote it during a tumultuous time in my life, during which I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety disorders. Hence, the Leonard Cohen quote above: this work is important to me for its merits as a piece of undergraduate-level scholarship, and because I see the completion of this project as a “victory over suffering.” I may always struggle with my mind, but this serves as a reminder that I can still (with a hell of a lot of effort, time, and support) complete the work I set out to do.

That’s what I’ll remember this piece for; this piece, with all of its glorious imperfection. Maybe one day I’ll regard the time of my life during which I wrote it as being “gloriously imperfect” as well.


After thinking and writing about it, I’ve decided to post excerpts from my thesis after all. These can be found on the following pages:

Dance Macabre: Women’s Experiences in Burlesque Excerpt 1 (Introductory Chapter)

Dance Macabre: Women’s Experiences in Burlesque  Excerpt 2 (Research Methods Chapter)

Status Update

I’m inching towards the finish line on my thesis (slowly, somewhat mindfully at times, and accompanied by my “study buddies” at others). But still. Progress is being made, and I can look at some of my writing without wondering what the hell I was thinking and wanting to puke at sight of my own supposed scholarly inadequacy.  When I read through a few of the passages in my text, I sort of half-smile while wishing I had a bit more time to develop my thoughts.  That might not count for much to some people, but if in the process of evaluating work I don’t experience nausea and simply wish to do more, I know I’m getting somewhere (this means that I’m essentially thinking, “my work doesn’t suck as badly as it used to! Hooray!” Yes, I’m discussing my feelings of inadequacy and sense of self as “mediocre” in therapy).

Moreover, for anyone in the audience who is familiar with Steven Pressfield’s concept of “resistance,” I do believe I kicked its ass soundly today. I know it’ll still be there ringing in my ears tomorrow, but maybe when I sit down to write then, I’ll be like an action-flick heroine; I’ll be well aware that it wants to do me in, and I’ll give it its due. But I’ll also soar into the ring on a happy cloud made up of my previous successes, perform a 35+ move combo and a killer finishing move, and run its ass into the ground. That will happen. But now I’m going to bed.

The Twilight of My Thesis

Ugh. I hate the fact that I can’t type the word “twilight” without images of sparkly vampires coming to mind. I’ve never seen the movies or read the books of the same name, but I know they’re awful because all of the real goths I know, as well as the ones on the internet, as well as legions of feminists and anti-racist thinkers, and lovers of literature everywhere have all denounced the series.  The only groups of people who seem to enjoy it are young girls and women, and nobody cares what they think [/sarcasm].  Since I don’t have the time or the inclination to read the series myself, I’ve let the opinions of the learned among us inform my own.  So it follows that the series of books/movies of the same name have ruined what was once a lovely word for me (in case I’ve lost anyone in the course of my ramblings, I’ll repeat the word here: twilight).  However, I decided to go with the phrase “The Twilight of my Thesis” anyways, because it seemed more optimistic than the first one that came to my mind: “The Dying Days of My Thesis.”  Look at me trying to re-frame things in a positive light and all.

So, that was a tangent; I’m not entirely sure what I came here to write about. Oh yeah: I miss being in contact with humans, particularly in the context of that “real world” I keep hearing so much about. You know, the one outside my head, outside of my bedroom/office even – that flesh-and-blood world which is occupied by humans that go outside and catch some of the light of the evil day star and have conversations and hold hands and kiss and fight and all of that. I can only voyeuristically participate in real life by observing the encounters of people who walk outside of my second floor window for so long before I start feeling creepy and well, kinda pathetic.

The funny thing is, I live with my sister and my fiance, two people who would (presumably) want to spend time with me if I arose from my thesis-chamber and engaged them.  So one would think that I could easily solve this problem, and I concur. However, I’m all about bitching about problems over the internet as a means of thinking through how I actually want to go about solving the problem before I do anything. And in any event, they’re usually working too, so although we all live together, we don’t actually get to socialize all that often. It’s a lonely business, this thing of trying to be a respectable adult who tries to earn their keep on this planet.

I keep telling myself that I only have a few more days of this before I absolutely have to hand in my thesis, and then I have one more paper to write before I get to enjoy my summer. And I’m pretty stoked about this, because I haven’t had a Real Summer in years. By “Real Summer”, I mean one in which I’m not struggling with unstable living situations, the depths of poverty and despair, and doing schoolwork on top of it all.  Over the past couple of years, at least three out of four of those conditions have been met; if all goes well this year, the only thing I’ll still be somewhat worried about is money.  If a full time position opens at work, I’ll be all over that shit and not even money will be much of an issue anymore.

Whenever I realize that I do have a desire for my life to be a little bit easier, my inner critic steals the show and tells me that I sure am one lazy, spoiled motherfucker for wanting such a thing.  Fortunately, almost immediately after that bitch has her say, a montage of every psychologist and doctor I’ve spoken to over the past couple of years runs through my mind, and they’re all saying pretty much the same thing (if not quite the way I’m about to put it): I’ve had a lot of shit to deal with over the past few years, and most people would have cracked under the weight of it all.  It’s not unreasonable to want a little bit of security, happiness, and hell, even fun in one’s life.  And although I haven’t pinpointed exactly what I see myself doing in my post-undergrad years, I know I don’t want to be scraping by financially and taking fistfuls of meds every day to keep myself sane; I want security,  contentment bourne from the circumstances of my life and my awesome coping skills, rather than pills that prevent the re-uptake of seretonin in my brainmeats, as well as fun, adventure, and new experiences.  I want to travel and not give a shit for a while (and somehow, I’ll still have money and a stable place to come home to; on second thought, I might have to compromise on the “not giving a shit” part of that). I want to have found a way to remove the last few shards of the stick I’ve had in my ass all my life, care less about what others think, and live whatever life I’m meant to live out on this planet, now that I’ve done what I thought I was supposed to do (ie, get the degree). I want be like one of the 30-something friends I looked up to in my twenties, who did the real-world thing, decided it wasn’t for them, and then found their own way in life based on life experience and self-awareness (rather than rejecting “the System” outright due to lowered expectations disguised in a cloak of idealism, which is what I feel I would have been doing if I had either decided against going to university, or dropped out; so as much as I complain about school, I’m glad I gave it an honest shot).

I guess what I really want, when I imagine my life in my thirties, is to be rid of the overwhelming amounts of stress and chaos I experienced in my 20’s, without becoming a boring, happy-sunshiney motherfucker with kids and a house, who has another breakdown when she’s pushing 40 because she doesn’t recognize herself anymore either.  I haven’t given up on the possibility of grad school yet either, I just know it’s something I’m not prepared to do right now (emotionally or financially).

Right. My thesis. I wanted to do this first to warm-up my writing muscles, and to remind myself of why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because it’s on my bucket list; it’s this thing I wanted to create and give to the world outside of all of the circumstances (outside of me, and in my head) that made it take a lot longer to complete than it was ever supposed to. It was so much harder than I ever thought it would be; however, I decided not to think of all the work involved from the outset, because I know if I did I’d scare myself and I’d back out.  I’m not going to lie; it was a lot of work! But I’d probably do it again, were I to travel back in time and be asked to make that decision, knowing what I do now.

Anyways, back to my motivations. Getting the “Honours” designation on my degree is kind of neat (and I do want to get a decent grade on this), but those were never my main reasons for taking this on. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and I’m almost there. A few more lonely days with my nose to the grindstone really isn’t a big deal, considering all the work that’s behind me and the sense of personal statisfaction I know I’ll feel when I finish this (didn’t my mom mention that a few days ago? Yeah, she did).

Okay, my writing muscles have been engaged. Let’s get on with this.

Woman: a composite of subjectivities and desires (Chapter 3).

Since creative activities are connected to material circumstances, she examines the material condition of women throughout history, comparing this picture of Woman to the figure presented in literature.  In 1470 (Chaucer’s time), wife-beating was common among all classes, a woman who refused to marry the man her parents chose would be beaten, and children were betrothed at young ages. Marriage was not in the children’s interest, but secured status for families; this was particularly important among the upper classes.  Around 1670 (the Stuarts), middle and upper class women rarely chose husbands, and she became her husband’s property.  Although she was invisible and instrumental throughout history, in literature she is significant within these works. Here, women are complex, strong characters.  Repressed in real life, she shines in fiction.

The archetypal woman that emerges from a reading of history and literature is a repressed creature who somehow exhibits a tenacious spirit.  Since little factual information about women existed before the 18th Century, it is difficult to discern the historical condition of women.  History, as recorded by academics, says little about women’s condition; when she married, how many children she had, how she was educated, how she lived, what she thought.  Women are only historically relevant with respect to thier connections with men and families;  before the 18th Century, women’s experiences beyond that were invisible. If they did write and reflect on thier experiences, history failed to notice.

In order to determine how an intelligent woman of the Elizabethan era may have experienced life, she speculates on the condition of Shakespeare’s gifted sister.  her parents would have discouraged her from writing in favour of keeping up responsiblities at home; she wouldn’t have gone to school. Her parents, concerned about her future, would marry her off at a young age.  The brilliant girl would be punished for refusing; frustrated, she would run away from home to London in order to realize her dreams. London would fail to provide any more opportunities; despite her talents for writing and acting, she would have been mocked for even trying to find a job at the theatre.  She wouldn’t have the chance to engage in formal training; since she could not safely go out at night, she couldn’t engage in informal training by observing people getting along in taverns or milling along the streets.  After becoming pregnant by the theatre manager, the frustration caused by thwarted ambitions would eventually drive her to commit suicide.

Her thesis is that material comforts are a precursor to genius. Therefore, she argues that due to their conditions of servitude, it would not be possible to observe genius within women of that era (or among the working classes of any era). Even if brilliant women/working class ppl existed, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to write anything down. They would have been too busy working, killed themselves out of frustration, or deemed witches by thier community and killed by thier neighbors.  One could only trace thier genius in thier sons, or in anonymously written literature.

She describes “chastity” as Women’s instinct to self-censor and remain anonymous. Only the most courageous of women could withstand the social pressure to remain chaste, and attempt to develop her genius instead.  Any woman who tried to be true to herself would experience mental torment and inner conflict; if she wrote anything she would use a male pen name or remain anonymous. She argues that while men seek publicity, they discourage women from doing the same – and for the most part, women obey. They do not tend to force thier views on anyone as men do, or claim ownership over anyone or anything, even if they created it. She uses the kind of racist comment “it is one of the advantages of being a woman that one can pass even a very fine negress without wishing to make an Englishwomen of her.” As though the Englishwoman is so invisible, that one could observe a racial group the English did try to convert to thier ways – and wouldn’t even consider making her into an Englishwoman. It sounds like she’s saying they’re less than (what was considered to be) nothing in her day. Am I reading that right? The comment above was a bit classist as well, so latent racism wouldn’t surprise me either.

Women of the 16th Century unlikely to exhibit the genius of Shakespeare because:

-life conditions a inhibit the mind; due to family responsibilities she lacks opportunity to develop any ideas

-lack of opportunity to become educated in order to become literate and develop skills necessary to create

-discouragement/mockery inhibits self-esteem to a point where they lack the confidence necessary to create

-discouragement and frustrated ambitions would cause inner torment that would likely incapacitate her and/or lead to suicide (torn between caving into expectations and being accepted vs. following her own path and dealing with hardship that will result; indignation over the unfairness of this situation…)

-brilliant woman would be misunderstood and ostracized – no opportunity to share/develop ideas within an accepting community

-impulse to self-censor (and societal pressure to do so) ensures she would not be credited for anything she did create

Whatever state of mind was necessary for creation, the intelligent, the miserable Englishwoman of the Elizabethan era would not have possessed it.  Since Shakespeare was unselfconscious, we can’t understand what state of mind he was in when he wrote.

19th Century – self-consciousness develops in writers such as Rousseau – confessions and autobiographies. These reveal the state of mind necessary to create. We discover that material circumstances (lack of resources, constant distractions, health, etc) prohibit self-expression. The world’s indifference to what you are trying to do is also discouraging; this apathy prevents one from being compensated for their work.  Since all of the writers who mentioned their circumstances suffered these conditions to a greater or lesser degree, it is unlikely that their works came into being in the exact same form as they were conceived.

This information supports the previous argument on the effect of material conditions and social situation on the intellect (re: Elizabethan women) she developed by extrapolation. Women in particular suffer from these struggles even more than men. Their material conditions were not conducive to creativity; she lived with the responsibilities of families, and had insufficient funds to create her own space. She couldn’t choose to leave an situation that stifled her creativity (lack of mobility). Instead of indifference, she would face hostility towards her endeavors (ex: regardless of exam scores, Mr. Browing would consider even the brightest woman less intelligent than the dullest man; at the same time, he consideres an emaciated stable-boy to be intelligent, even though his poor physical condition would indicate that he likely isn’t intellectually nourished either).

Effect of discouragement on the mind in particular: Such low public opinion would discourage girls, even if it wasn’t echoed by parents (as it likely would be). The mental energy required to overcome such discouragement would leave little inspriation left for her creative endeavors. This situation is converse to what men expect – thiey resistant women’s freedom because such women no longer serve as “looking glass mirrors” than enhance men’s own sense of superiority. In short, they expect encouragement, and percieve women’s efforts to find thier own ways (and even valid criticisms) as failures to provide this. Artists in particular need encouragement – although they cannot consider public opinion when they try to create, they tend to be extremely sensitive to the negative opinions of others. There is an undercurrent of resentment of the opposite sex within the work of the male writers discussed earlier, as well as many female writers. On the other hand, Shakespeare’s work shines because he lacks the disillusionment and anger that introduce bias into any intellectual or creative work. Therefore, secure material situation and social support allow artists to create work that reflects Truth, rather than thier own individual resentments and frustrations.

The unqualified experts (Chapter Two)


The narrator heads off to the British Museum to uncover the answers to the questions that had come up as a result of her visit to Oxbridge, the men’s college, and Fernbridge, the women’s college.  Her previous wanderings had led to a subjective analysis of the condition of women in academia, so she searches here in order to access the truth beyond her own experience of the situation.  Specifically, she wants to know why men were so rich and women so poor, what were the effects of poverty on creative/intellectual endeavor, and what preconditions were required to create works of genius.  If truth cannot be found among all of the research done on the subject of Woman, where does it exist?

During her research, she comes to discover that the subordinate woman that exists within research and literature is a product of a masculine sense of entitlement rather than any innate inferiority.  Comparing London to a machine, and the library to one of that machine’s constituent parts, she attempts the mechanical process of investigation.  The selection of material on the subject of woman is vast, crossing every discipline from the natural sciences to literature. Men of every qualification or lack thereof write on the subject; their only commonality is in fact, their gender.  She notices that women do not write so profusely on the subject of men, and wonders why women are such a curiosity to men. Their opinions on women are at times contradictory; according to these writers, women are worthy of worship, despicable, soulless and moral beacons all at once. However, all of the writers are concerned with proving women’s inferiority in some capacity; and she notices that these writers are actually quite angry. Why was that?

She uncovers male prejudice by constructing an archetypal male writer on the inferiority of women. He goes by the name of Professor Von X; he is unattractive, not particularly well-received by women, and is therefore intent on “proving” their innate physical, intellectual, and spiritual inferiority. Significantly, she notices that she had constructed the image of the angry male professor out of her own anger; she is dissatisfied that men’s lack of genunine understanding of women is so often passed off as Truth, and projects that anger into the unfavorable portrait she paints of male scholars.  This insight into her own motivations sheds light on the motivations of male writers; perhaps they are angry at women because women do not reflect what these men want to see in themselves. Consequently, these texts were not written in any rational manner; men’s opinions of women were so filtered by prejudices and emotion that little semblance of truth could possibly be found in their texts. But most importantly, this observation suggests that the Woman of scientific and humanistic literature says more about the men who write about her than women themselves.

Woman are such a curiosity of men because men have an interest in enhancing their own sense of superiority that women do not.  They are in every conceivable position of power, they are the opinion-makers and the arbiters of Truth, and they guard their power jealously. By considering any others to be innately inferior, they can claim the right to rule over them in some way, and gain self-confidence by doing so. This confidence in oneself is necessary if one is to accomplish anything. When their power is questioned, even rightfully so, they are offended because they feel their right to even believe in themselves is being taken away; the indignation of the Professors is simply a defense mechanism.  She calls men’s illusory perspective of their own superiority “the looking-glass vision.” Men must necessarily perceive women as inferior in order to magnify their own attributes; men then use inflated sense of self-worth and capability to justify their activities in the private and public realms. They resist criticism more than a woman would because criticism reveals their true capabilities, not their relative strengths with respect to an ideologically diminished group, ie, women. With this exaggerated sense of confidence, men can achieve thier goals effectively, and perceives the world through a very different frame than one who lacks this sense of self-worth.

She goes on to argue that obtaining money (in the form of an inheritance) was of greater practical significance than obtaining the vote. Before obtaining the inheritance, she was forced to do difficult jobs earning a meagre living. The lifestyle took it’s toll on her psyche, leaving her fearful (of the repercussions of revealing her true self) and bitter (because she was forced to waste her time doing uninspiring work). However, with the inheritance her material circumstances were no longer insecure, so the anxiety disappered. She was no longer forced to flatter the men on who she depended, so she began to regard them with less hostility. Her perspective also changed; she could see how thier status also bred defects in character, just as hers did. Acquisitiveness and the relentless desire for power kept them from appreciating the simple things in life. After regarding the powerful with fear, and then pity, she could eventually see the Truth in things.

Only with money could she release her biases and find the Truth she was looking for, because her perspective was no longer clouded by fear and envy of the powerful.  She is essentially saying that both men and women hold biased perspectives of the world and one another due to their unequal position relative to one another.  Woman’s dependency makes her jaded towards men and fearful of them.  Men are privileged, yet their status and confidence is based on the premise of women’s inferiority, which they go to great lengths to prove.  These “proofs” are not based on any real knowledge of women, but male scholars etc. have an interest in reading evidence in a biased manner because they are fearful of losing their status. In particular, they chafe under the scrutiny of women who would reveal their flaws.  Inequality in wealth and status prevents either sex from regarding the other accurately.

If notions of value are based on such biases, how do you measure the worth of a human being? She specualates that in time, men and women will do the same work. All of the assumptions of women’s innate inferiority based on present conditions that place them there will no longer be valid.  She closes by speculating about what would it mean to be a Woman if women were no longer protect from the world, and could actively participate in it alongside men.

Lies mixed up with truth (Chapter One)

Virgina claims that money and a room of one’s own are required for a woman to write fiction; since women do not have a history of access to either, it is impossible to know anything about women, nor what they would write. Without these preconditions, they have never had the opportunity to do so.  She shows that women have never had their own place to learn by outlining a fictionalized trip to a men’s and women’s college. At Oxbridge, the men’s college, scholars and guards prevent “Mary Seton” from accessing the lawn, which is meant only for Fellows and Scholars. By doing so and showing her the correct path for a woman (a gravel path), he circumvents her train of thought. The peace of her surroundings calms her irritation, and she has the idea to head to the library to examine the manuscript of Lycidas, as well as Thackeray’s Esmond, in order to determine for herself if Milton’s words were perfect, and why Thackeray changed the style of his novel to imitate 18th Century works. Again, the “guardian angel” of knowledge dismisses her – she is not allowed to enter the library without a letter of permission or a chaperone. Without access to any of the buildings on campus, she cannot develop her thoughts past a nascent state.

When she head to the church, she realizes the significance of money to creative/intellectual endeavors. Instead of bothering the priests with her presence, she observes that monarch’s money had paid for the church buildings themselves; they had also founded the college to train priests and scholars. This material condition was necessary to build a congregation and a cadre of theologians. As the Enlightenment dawned, industrialists continued to build the college and develop secular knowledge. The industrialists used the university to develop subsequent generations of scientists and merchants, who re-invested their fortunes into the college. These privileged spaces facilitated the development of various fields of specialized knowledge; the educated then took their knowledge out into the world to earn money, which they then re-invested to develop these spaces, and increase knowledge. However, only the relatively few men who had access to these spaces could benefit from membership to these academic clubs. She goes on to note that even the opulent meal facilitated “rational discourse,” if not necessarily genius.

Throughout her journey, her beliefs about what was actually possible in the world at her moment in time are revealed as illusions.  When she notices a Manx cat paused “in the middle of the lawn as if it too questioned the universe,” she realizes that something is not quite right about the situation. Before the war, such conversation had an undercurrent of romance. She quotes Tennyson and Rossetti to mimic an interlude between a man and a woman; they wait with longing for one another to return.  The war had shattered many ideals: that lovers would return unchanged, women’s illusion that education could save the world (the politicians who planned the war were educated).  Romance’s death had left disquietude in its wake.  Although such ideals are inspiring, she laments the passing of these as experience reveals that some dreams simply cannot come to pass in the real world: “the beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.”

She examines the relative poverty of the women’s college, Fernham, to show what actually is true for women aspiring to become educated in her day. Women’s obligations in the private sphere combined with their lack of independent wealth prevented them from thinking and competing at the same level as men. From the unappetizing meal of soup and prunes, to the hurried atmosphere of the dinner itself (there was no time or interest in rational discourse here), the unstable material circumstances of this college failed to facilitate rational discourse.  Only uncertain conclusions were possible in this space.  Comparing the strong material and intellectual foundations of the men’s college with the insubstantial resources of the women’s college, both the narrator and her colleague become frustrated by “the reprehensible poverty of our sex.” While Oxbridge flourished, the founders of Fernham could barely scrape together 30,000 pounds to establish the school.  If their foremothers had gone into business instead of forming overly large families they could not sustain, they could have left legacies to their daughters. Their daughters in turn could have built educational institutions and careers of their own. Instead of lamenting the poverty of their sex, they could be engaging in the same discussions as the men of their day. However, it is difficult to place blame for this unequal situation; their foremother’s poverty wasn’t really their fault. They had little opportunity to earn wealth and were only recently entitled to keep what they did earn; no wonder they decided against engaging in fruitless efforts in the business world in favour of child rearing. The restrictions of the past and present era conspired to create and perpetuate inequality. This insubstantial institution was the best women could hope for under such circumstances.

Throughout her wanderings, she comes to realize that poverty influences one’s intellectual capabilities. Without material resources and spaces to peruse knowledge, one can never fulfill their intellectual potential. Without money, they will be too consumed by the survival imperative to create works of great genius; instead, they will simply be focused on what they lack and will struggle daily just to get by. Without space, they lack the opportunity to engage in discourse with like minds. Women’s historical lack of money and space in turn prevented an intellectual tradition from ever forming and perpetuating itself.

What was the reality for women of her day? They could no longer believe in romantic ideals. Dependence on a lover could ever make their dreams come true; and the horrors of the war put the lie to any notion that this was a rational era. They could no longer believe that education necessarily brought honor, since the most educated men of her time orchestrated the war.  It was also true that women lacked the opportunity to live up to their own potentials; it was impossible to know exactly what women were capable of achieving without the preconditions of money, space, and tradition.  In her journeys, she discovers that romance was dead, and poverty corrupts the mind.  Those most likely to be poor, women, were also most likely to be intellectually corrupt and believe in false notions.  In a time of disillusionment, it was now up to her, and women themselves, to discover the truth for themselves.