New Writing

I finished my dissertation this spring, with the defense at the beginning of May. To finish was a big relief but in many ways it was anticlimactic. There were too many intermediate steps at which I was almost done. I never felt like I was actually done, even when I graduated. On the bright side, at each almost-done step, I celebrated. Here's a snapshot of what I did in the ensuing couple months.

I have mostly left the dissertation aside in the weeks since I finished, trying to estrange myself from it so that when I return to it to begin revisions it will not be so familiar. The other day I glanced at a page while looking for a citation. I read a sentence or two. Though extremely familiar, they did not sound exactly as I thought they sounded the first hundred times I re-read them. That is a good thing. A little while longer, and I will be ready to begin rethinking.

In the meantime, I've been doing a lot of other writing.

I'm never quite as disciplined and even as I want to be in terms of writing. I often see advice about writing every single day for a set period of time or whatever. I'm not there. I tend to write in spurts, which means that some days are extremely productive and others are not. Everyone has his or her own process, but the important thing is to realize that your process is not immutable. Habits can, and often should, be broken. 

To break out of the dissertation-writing mold, with its particular type of prose and thinking—thinking I have been doing for several years straight now—it has been good to write for different types of audiences, in different voices, about different things.


 

In Jacobin, I published a piece called "From Charleston to Rhodesia" on the connection between the racist mass murder in Charleston, SC, and the extreme (and not-so-extreme) right in the United States. Some of the research for this piece appeared in the conclusion to my dissertation, and I have some ideas that my second project will go further in this direction. I wrote the first version of the piece in a fit of anger and despair after the news broke about the killing. That meant that I had a lot of splenetic and disjointed prose left on the cutting-room floor after publication. So I turned some of it into a follow-up addendum, published on Shit-Fi, called "I Don't Wanna Be a Mercenary." It focuses on how both right and left turned to new forms of political organizing in the late 1970s, the final years of Rhodesia. Specifically, I look at underground music, how punk rockers dealt with the right-wing extremism that supported white rule and anti-Black violence in southern Africa.

In The Indypendent, I published an article analyzing the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, appointed by Obama in December 2014. I situate the liberal police reform efforts in a broader historical context and show that police reform, in the eyes of the experts on the Task Force, is intended to heighten police legitimacy and trust in the eyes of the public. The reason to aim for increased trust is because the experts believe procedurally fair and just police will garner compliance and obedience to the law. Police reform, therefore, is a vehicle for ensuring compliance with the law—not by cops but by you and me. I was interviewed on the radio (WBAI, 99.5fm) here in NYC about my article. You can listen to the interview here.

Additionally, I've been writing a bit more about music. Besides the article on punk rock and mercenaries that I mentioned, I wrote a somewhat gonzo review of a very obscure Belgian proto-punk record that was recently reissued. I rarely have much inspiration to write about music these days (whereas I did it all the time before graduate school), but putting aside the dissertation allowed me some head-space for something completely different. I have a few more record reviews in the pipeline. Fingers crossed that the inspiration lasts.

Finally, back in 2004, I released an LP by one of my favorite bands, Disclose, led by a good friend who died a few years later. I've written quite a bit about Disclose and about Kawakami. This year, my buddy in London got permission from Kawakami's mother and the other band members to re-release that LP I had put out. I was able to write new liner notes for it. They're very bittersweet, as I recall my friendship with Kawakami, the band's US tour, and the hole his death left for many of his fans. You can read my capsule description of the LP (and the first Disclose LP, also just re-released) here, though my liner notes are not online, only printed on the LP's insert. It came out at the beginning of July.


 

I have a few other more popular-audience article ideas on deck. We'll see what happens. I've also been working on some other academic publications, responding to readers' reports and preparing for some new academic articles. One, in particular, is based in part on a presentation I gave at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations annual meeting in June. Beginning new research and writing is a slow process, but it's very rewarding. 

If I have any advice, beyond warning dissertators that the end is anticlimactic, it would be to make like a shark once you finish. Keep moving forward and doing more writing. It'll clear your head and may even give you a quick reward, a cheap high, unlike the dissertation.

Upcoming Talks

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - 4:00pm
Robinson Hall Lower Library, Harvard University
Sponsored by: Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History

© 2017 Stuart Schrader