Sunday, December 10, 2006

Scholarly Thursday

I woke up at 4 AM on Thursday very anxious, probably about my meeting with YHz. Somehow I still managed to be late to my 8 AM class, which just goes to show that anxiety makes a person use time very unproductively.

The class itself was good as always, being mostly about the famous Song dynasty lyricist, Li Qingzhao, who also happens to be female. I though Professor ZM did a really good job addressing the issue of her so-called feminine writing-style. Feminists have different takes on this, but I feel resistant to female poets and writings having the "feminine writing" label slapped on them. Does the greatness of these women really redeem the label and give it a more positive meaning? Or is the label used as an excuse to put the great women in a different and--there's no getting around it--basically lesser category? Anyway, I think ZM has many of the same concerns, and his lecture dealt with the issue quite sensitively, I thought. I was pleasantly surprised, because Chinese society is not exactly a poster-child for sensitive treatment of feminist issues.

Directly after my class I went to see YHz. She has been especially good to me and interested in what I'm doing, I think partly because one of her students has decided to switch over to a different and more prestigious professor, and that means she only has one other student aside from me--in short, as an advisor, she has unusually much time to give. I had originally talked to her about doing a certain project with her--actually, that was what she recommended and wants to do with me. She originally planned to write about it, and so has a lot of ideas. Only for professional reasons (read, her boss), she can't pursue that and has switched to something. So we sat down and developed an outline: I won't say it's a "conventional" Chinese dissertation--maybe "standard" or "classic" is a better way of expressing it. She would love to see this written in Chinese and published, and has offered all kinds of help if I am willing to take on the project. I think one of the big reasons is that she thinks it would reflect well on American scholarship, which is to say how mainland Chinese scholars view us.

Naturally, I am worried about time.

This worry is especially strong because of my recent rethinking of my dissertation. The only thing I can say in favor of the using a good chunk of my time and resources to try to write the Chinese article on YHz's project (aside from that it would please her very much, and I consider her a valuable future professional contact with whom I would like to develop/maintain a good, close relationship) is that it would give me the opportunity to practice Chinese academic writing in a setting where I have access to a lot of feedback. And after all, I'm not just here to work on my dissertation but also to become fluent in Chinese in the ways that count (i.e., not just ordering food). Would this project be a good way of accomplishing that?

YHz also introduced me to a special reading room in the same area as her office is. She made a particular point of introducing me to the librarian there, showing me the catalogue, explaining how it works. I used my best polite face and self-effacing phrases for the librarian. The reading room was beautiful and sunny, very quiet, and perhaps the only place on campus that frequently empty or all but. I have the feeling I'm going to be going there a lot.

Near the end of my meeting with YHz, WW showed up. WW is the older student who is considering going back to school, possibly the wife of someone powerful. In any case, we all three chatted for a bit, and then YHz was temporarily called out of the room, and I finally had it out with WW regarding her (to me) completely wrong and insulting ideas about translation and who should do it. I think I actually scored some points, in part by making it personal: I said if she thought Western scholars were incapable of translating Chinese classics, then she was also saying that I was incapable of it. Is that what she thinks? She was a bit flustered, and YHz back and changed the subject, but I think that if I didn't succeed in changing WW's mind, I at least managed to provoke some thought about and hopefully head off any further spoutings on the subject in my direction--good enough for me. Chinese people can be so un-self-conscious about their feelings of cultural superiority! Not to say that Americans can't, of course, but the only American I am currently having to deal with is myself, and I am not feeling very culturally superior at present. Am in fact feeling pretty banged up and worn down!

The three of us went to lunch together and talked very pleasantly, agreeing to do it again next week (eek!).

Then I went home and collapsed for a few hours, venturing out to the library in the late afternoon to fetch a couple of books and make a preliminary start on the project. Again, eek! Weary weary Zapaper. Although at the same time also rather excited.


Marcelle Proust said...

I'm behind the curve here, as I often am: but around 90-100 days is exactly the point where homesickness really hits, or hits hardest if you've already been feeling it. I admire your ability to cope with a culture as foreign as China's; I've had trouble enough in Western European countries. I find it helps to treat homesickness like a "real" sickness: get extra sleep, eat healthy food and comfort foods, baby yourself a bit. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

ZaPaper said...

Aw, thanks for the kind words! What you say makes good sense too. Fortunately, my guy is coming in a few short days, well-timed as it turns out to take the edge of the homesickness off. And I will probably take a little time off while he's here, eat healthy-ish vegetarian food with him, etc. I don't know how my schedule got so cruelly over-loaded all of sudden. As for how I'm coping, I do it by engaging in as little commerce as possible and sticking with people who care about the same things I do, i.e., ancient China. Anyway, thanks again for stopping by!