14 Jul The Defense
MILAN. I’ve arrived at Malpensa Airport far too early for my flight to Athens. Time enough to do some writing… My defense has come and gone, another EGS experience is rendered to memory, and all is well. I begin this, then, with the event that brought about an end: the defense. Odd to think that in all of these 22 months of living with and developing this document, it was only in the end that I was able to stand outside it. This is because of the need to develop into 30 minutes. “Where do I begin?” and “How can I do all of this in 30 minutes?” So I spent a week in Saas-Fee, re-reading it. I was also working to develop it into a version to have printed for Terrence Malick. So perhaps it is better to draw the story a little further back in time.
I woke up one morning in Schwäbisch Hall, a postcard village east of Stuttgart, and wandered down the road in search of a grocery store. The path split and I went up into the hills, into the tree-lined neighborhood. Before long I came across a Buchbinder, who shared a two-level shop with a ceramics maker. She agreed to bind my dissertation. I had it opted for a classic and earthy muted red and green scheme. Rather than using computers, Regina, the typesetter, does it all by hand, selecting from an array of fonts in her workshop. She suggested a gold lettering. The complete book came out quite nice, albeit the inner pages were a bit warped from the humidity.
At the end of the first day of class, I presented the book to him. I feared it was too much and made some quip about the binding being more substantial than the words inside. To my delight he was delighted. He told me the next day that due to jet lag, he lay in bed reading it and was pleased with what I had written.
Returning again to my reviewing of the material… I read myself in Schwäbisch Hall, keeping bullet points along the way. By the time I got to Basel it was overwhelming, too much, but I had a draft of a defense presentation. I presented this version to my friend Dina and her friends there. It was stuttered and sloppy and barely covered Malick’s cinema; but they were intrigued. I knew I had more work ahead of me. Once at Saas-Fee I trimmed; then I trimmed some more. Finally I formulated two core questions:
1. If visuality is the ground of perceptual knowledge, and language is the rational means toward understanding, what does this mean for audibility?
2. Cinema is the visual, the linguistic and the audible. What then of audibility, which lives both beyond and within the other two cinematic channels?
This would be the beginning of my presentation. I decided I would then define each word in the title by way of introduction: logos, cinema, memory, audibility, unseeing.
My next decision was to shorten my first three chapters into critiques of familiar concepts. This last bit of shaping was helped greatly by a wonderful walk along the path just above Saas-Fee with my friend Jonathan. It ran 40 minutes and still felt cluttered with too many ideas. But it was better. I decided then also that I would open the question of audibility in Chapter 5 but limit it to key concepts, then proceed to Malick’s cinema. Jonathan’s recommendation was to not be sequential but instead to have markers along the way, to hit key concepts as they relate throughout. In a sense, he helped me to “Malick” the linearity of my defense. This was a tremendously helpful piece of advice.
Finally there was the defense itself. I was the only one of this term that I know of who defended during the July session, at least within that first week. Right before I was to present, a friend said “have fun,” which I thought was an odd thing to say. But such a wish turned out to foreshadow what was an enjoyable experience. I was calm and confident, Hubertus introduced me in a reassuring manner, and all eyes were on me with interest. I barely glanced at my notes; at one point I saw that I had skipped some things, but I didn’t care. I was on a roll and they seemed to be onboard.
I admit that summa cum laude was a wish, but it was still a surprise when it came. We talked a bit about publisher possibilities. Afterward we drank champagne in the sun and YY arrived with a bottle of wine. I felt like the champagne I was drinking, tiny exploding bubbles. It was a wonderful experience. And now I feel alive, charged, ready to complete this document for publication. I want to move quickly, to complete some additional Greek texts, more Deleuze, and the recommendations by Chris Fynsk and Hubertus. The future seems bright, but regardless, the present is a joy.