There is a certain amount of struggle required to get back in to a work rhythm after a break. So I’m writing this post partly just as a way to force me to start writing seriously about my work again, instead of posting drawings of my cameras, or photos of paint, or photos of my photos.
I had this idea that I could write a really great comprehensive post about all the amazing things I did and learned last year. But that was a struggle too. Not because there weren’t things to write about, oh there were. But because I didn’t know where to start. I started a list of All the Great Things that I Did, Thought, Read Etc Etc last year, but that got tiresome, and really didn’t do the year justice. And now I’m thinking — what is this about anyway? I’m keeping pretty good documentation of my PhD work in notebooks, in a Scrivener document, in Lightroom catalogue, in a series of artefacts. I know what I’ve read, I know what I’ve written. Why do I need to write about it, again, here, in public?
I’ve been reading “The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life” by Erving Goffman. I’m not far through it yet, but I’m already fascinated by his take on human interactions and relationships: viewing our interactions through a frame of performance. When we interact with each other, we perform: we project a view of ourselves in an attempt to control the impression that the other (the observer) receives. But the observer also projects an “agreeable view” of said projection to form a working consensus: an agreement about the nature of the situation. In any given interaction, the observer is also performing.
When an individual plays a part, he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. 1
This blog is part of my performance as a PhD student, as a professional designer, as an amateur photographer, etc. But who are my observers (and do I even have any)? Who, exactly, am I performing for?
And herein lies a problem: I am my own observer. I am performing on this blog, hoping that I will take seriously the nature of the impression. But I am well aware of my own performance: I know what I am presenting, here, in public. I know what I am keeping hidden backstage. As I read back through my blog posts about my PhD, the impression that I get is one of controlled thought, of meticulous thinking, of structure an neatness. But I know that isn’t true: a PhD is messy. And maybe that’s why I felt that a structured post about All the Great Things that I Did, Thought, Read Etc Etc can’t do my work justice: because it’s just not messy enough.
I don’t really know how to follow through on this idea just yet: it’s just an observation at this stage. But perhaps an interesting one for how I approach my PhD this year.
- Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. 1st ed. London, United Kingdom: Penguin. p28 ↩