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The last entries in this blog will concern what probably ought to be the final part of any research project: getting the material out and beyond a blog like this and the narrow circles of colleagues and the odd conference.
The first media to pick up on my finished thesis its defence was an art and culture program on NRK P2, the Norwegian equivalent to BBC Radio 4 or France Culture (or perhaps somewhere between the latter and France Info, since Norway can never come up with anything as high brow, philosophical and educational as France Culture…). I liked that it was this particular radio channel, and that it was the literary and arts aspect of the work that caught their eye, not the sociological or political. They wanted me to cycle down to their studio and talk about my project, experience, scientific treatment and its conclusions. My very first radio interview went quite well. They even made me spontaneously recite the poem I had performed a couple of times at slam sessions in Paris. I still find it quite touching to do that. The clip starts with an extract of Enfant de la ville by Grand Corps Malade (read interview about the album in French here), which is very typical of the most famous French slam artist, and perhaps also of French slam in general, as it treats the artist’s relationship to the city. At the end of the clip, Grand Corps Malade appears again in A la recherche where he is featured by two grand old men in French rap, Kery James and Oxmo Puccini. This is not very typical of the genre, but I think the journalists thought it worked well on the radio.
Here’s the clip: Kulturhuset, NRK P2, 27.09.12
The day afterwards, another of my favourite Norwegian media, Klassekampen, phoned for an interview. (It’s only accessible through logging in to something). The journalist is probably one of the most familiar with French literature and society here, and I appreciated her headline: “ Accuses the state from the stage”.
The project and the PhD are now completed. In order to also wrap up this research blog, I’ll see if I can find the time to conclude a couple of unfinished posts as well as finishing it all with a description of the defence, or viva, itself. As this blog has followed me all the way from Ménilmontant, 8 October 2005, it feels right to do it this way. At the same time, I feel a bit in a hurry to conclude all this now, as I’m so eager to get on with other things, many of them of course related to this large project.
Yesterday afternoon, an email popped up with the names of the members of the evaluation committee and a date for the possible public defence. It came completely out of the blue, as I was sure this process would take ages. And also, until I read the names of the two women who will scrutinise and judge it, and decide whether I’m ready to become a doctor or not, I think it hadn’t been really real to me that the work is coming to a conclusion. If everything goes well, the defence will take place in first half of June, which means that the verdict of the committee should be ready in early May. After that, preparation will probably occupy more and more of my time, particularly when the theme of the trial lecture is settled, two weeks before the defence. That leaves three months from now where I can get on with my new project. I feel a definite need however to sum it all up before I put the pile of sheets (it won’t be properly printed before it is accepted) on the shelf for a while.
It’s time to start summing up not only the last months where I’ve been conspicuously absent from this blog (again) but also, finally, the whole research project! The only thing left now is to wait for the verdict of the opponents and the ensuing, hopefully, public defence of the thesis. My desk is almost cleared, notes and scribbled scraps of paper are thrown away, books and articles are stuffed back into the shelves, and I’ve made small steps in other academic and bureaucratic directions. I’m therefore no longer among the Parisians, either physically or mentally. (Very soon I’ll be among some suburbanites outside Oslo.)
People have of course told me that wrapping up take longer than one thinks. And I have of course thought that, oh no, not for me. But yes it has taken a little longer than I thought. The stretch of time I’ve spent neglecting almost every other engagement (not familial, however), has consequently become quite long. In fact so long that I’ve problems getting back into doing different things during a day again, not only the predictable thesis-thesis-thesis-visit father-pick up in kindergarten-make dinner-thesis related stuff, or perhaps the occasional newspaper-bed. Now, I need a calendar again, and I must read the emails I get concerning seminars and stuff, and I must remind myself that I’m not only available for sporadic socialising, but it’s also a nice and good thing to do.
I’ve not been very stressed during the final 18 or so months of writing up, but I’ve been extremely narrow-minded. There have only been a handful of activities that succeeded in diverting my attention. The most time-consuming was reading about the 22 July terrorist attack and the sombre universe it sprang from. I’ve hardly read a work of fiction, and hardly seen a film. Now, it’s time to climb out of the cave and see what’s going on. It’s definitely time to look a little wider. And it’s time to reply to inquiries and attend seminars, time to write, and – definitely – time to look for new work, and time to start a new research project and think entirely new thoughts.
This research diary has until now exclusively treated the various facets of my PhD research project in Paris. When the numbness began to lose its grip, I started to realise why I feel so terribly concerned. Of course, I think most Norwegians, many Europeans and even many, many fellow world citizens feel deep concern when an atrocity like this strikes, even when they or their closest aren’t struck personally. This concerns us as fellow humans (of both the victims and the perpetrator…), and it concerns us as political beings. But I also realised that this concerns me profoundly in terms of the career I’ve chosen: What good is it to devote my professional life to understanding nationalism, belonging, community cohesion, conceptions of difference and the like when I have done nothing to prevent the worst thinkable acts of violence to take place in my own country? Especially since I think – or I’m sure – that I’ve felt there was a need for worry (but of course, not to this unconceivable degree…). For several days now I’ve been thinking about how I can contribute. How can I contribute in the best way with my knowledge (of living with difference in Europe), my concern (for the future of us all) and my devotion (to work for a better world)? I know need to think much more about this in the coming days and weeks, and I know that I need to act.
When I very soon finish my present project, I will – hopefully – be able to do research in Oslo. And there are few places on earth than here I’d rather do this kind of research right now. I don’ think there’s a coincidence that the last huge act of terrorism in Europe was committed by a rightwing nationalist in the name of anti-Islamism. And I even don’t think it was that big a coincidence that it happened in Scandinavia.
Now, after eight days of numbness (and reading of philosophy of difference) it’s time to get back to the main task: finishing the Paris project and get on with life. (Or rather, get on with life and finish the Paris project.)
Now, all but one chapter have found their final form, with only minor polishing and weaving together left to do. As this blog has helped me to keep a more coherent and exterior perspective on what I’m doing throughout the various stages of the project, I would very much have liked to keep this diary updated as the nuts and bolts, long lines and small steps took shape. But although this final phase has been all about making sense of and making accessible all the preceding work – thus the writing of the small posts in this research blog writ large – it’s been difficult to find time to write here. Since August last year the writing has been flowing almost seamlessly (after I lost my presentation due to a ridiculous back-up mistake the day before I headed off to a conference, and I had no choice but to speed up considerably and quickly fill the gaps with top-of-the-head translations of French slam poetry). And the pieces have fallen into place with astonishing precision. – Here comes a few examples, from the remaining chapter which I’m working on now and which is still in a mess: The seemingly low level of education has puzzled me (although none of the people I asked about it agreed that it was particularly low). Then I – a bit late perhaps, but some differences are less obvious to look out for than others – found out that there’s a far lower percentage of university degrees and even final general high school exams in France than in both the US and Norway. In the same book where I read this – The Dignity of Working Men, a comparison of working class moral boundaries in the US and France – I also learnt that class solidarity and class struggle are still overwhelmingly present in France, despite the decline of the communist parties and the exceptionally low percentage of labour union membership. This puts the emphasis on solidarity and equality of the slam sessions into a far broader context than I initially thought and lead me to re-read The Distinction by P. Bourdieu. And oh my, what exhilarating surprises! Almost on every page there were things to enter into discussion with, and I started to wonder if the slam milieu could provide an example of an community and art form of liquid modernity (Z. Bauman) – thus were coherent boundaries have dissolved – but which has retained a strong sense of (class) solidarity… Well, well, more on this later when the bits and pieces of this chapter also find their place.
The point of this post was to state that I’m still here, thinking about this fieldwork and writing up blog has followed me through thick and thin of the last five, soon six, years. Now, it’s no more than a few months left, and I hope to be able to leave a trace of this final phase, as the last threads find their places in the tapestry.
(Writing is progressing so fast now, that I’m not able to keep up here. This post I wrote several weeks ago, but haven’t found a free moment to post it before now. I’ll try to find some more time to keep up the blog in this final stage, as it would be good to document this part of the project as well. I’ll see what I can manage.)
Smaller and larger parts of the puzzle find their place at the moment. Phenomena that have only flickered past my attention in a superficial, disconnected manner suddenly add up to a larger picture.
To my surprise I discovered that it was easy to change my way of writing and even my way of working more generally. The writing came easiest. When I wrote my master thesis, on very good days I could produce half a page. I could file and mould every sentence for hours, a technique I think contributed to the far too dense structure. Not only is the fluency easily lost, but I also started to find it a boring way to work.