Vince started us off…

Vince started us off with the second Clifford question, pretty much exactly as he'd sent it to me. Thank goodness that I had actually thought about those -- and thanks to all of you who commented on it, and helped me develop my thoughts! It relaxed me just to hear the question, and as I answered, most of the worst tension slid away. I knew how to answer that; I knew how to talk about it in a relatively intelligent way. It was so sweet of Vince to start with it. V. helpful! When I finished answering, they asked me another, and then another. By about twenty minutes in, I had relaxed enough that I was leaning forward across the table, gesturing with my hands as I talked. (Just like the piano recitals, actually -- it was the waiting that was terrifying. Once I sat down at the piano and put my hands on the keys, I was always fine. (Okay, mostly fine. Once I skipped right over three pages in the performance. I don't think most of the audience noticed, though... :-))

We stayed with the travelling theme, wandering through my historical list for the next forty minutes. Mostly we focused on the epics, actually -- lots of discussion of The Ramayana and The Odyssey. I had some trouble remembering the latter, so I had to take a few minutes to recap the plot, out loud, to remind myself before I could do analysis. That happened a few times over the course of the exam, and overall, that was one of my two weakest elements -- I should probably have done more of that quickly, in my head, rather than rambling out loud. Partly I was doing it out loud because I wasn't sure everyone on my committee had read everything on my list, and I wanted them to have context for my analysis, but in retrospect, I just shouldn't have worried about that. Any book they asked me about, at least the person who asked would be very familiar with, which was sufficient. If I could do it over, I would do less plot summary.

Partway through the historical list, we shifted to discussing national identity formation, and we went back and forth between that and the travelling theme through the rest of the exam. Some of the titles we hit included: The Mahabaharata, Morte d'Arthur (a fair bit), The Tempest, Oronooko, Robinson Crusoe (lots), Gulliver's Travels, Pamela, Tristram Shandy, Letters (of Lady Montague Wortley), Frankenstein (and Vince bemoaned that Dracula somehow hadn't made it onto my list), Ivanhoe (longish discussion of similarity between women's roles in this title and next, which luckily I had thought about on my own), The Last of the Mohicans, Don Quixote, King Solomon's Mines, "The Man Who Would be King", and Heart of Darkness (lots), with brief mentions of Shelley, Coleridge, Tennyson, and Emerson. I think because Kathryn couldn't make it to the exam (due to scheduling mix-up), I got off lighter on the late 1800's than I would've otherwise. Lots of titles, but less than half of the actual historical list.

After forty minutes of that, Katie turned it to the critical list. Here we focused on: Rousseau, Barthes, Foucault, Said, Fanon, Anzaldua, Iyer, Spivak, Clifford, Bhabha, Eagleton, Jameson, Cixous, Anderson (very classic post-colonial theorists for the most part -- in retrospect I wish I'd spent a little more time studying the big names and a little less time on all those short essays in the anthologies). Mostly I did fine recapping the various theorists; at one point we got into an interesting discussion about Partha Chatterjee's response to Anderson's argument, which some of my committee members weren't familiar with -- primarily in the context of Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which *kept* coming up throughout the exam, regardless of which period we were nominally working on. This was probably my strongest area in the exam, because I could put forward and support a contention about the relationship between the Chatterjee theory and what Rushdie was doing that a) wasn't what any of my committee had considered on their own and b) was interesting to them. Woohoo! It was fun to do, too. I also spent a fair bit of time illustrating theory with examples from Sri Lankan recent political history, which I suspect was a nice change for them.

I generally did okay on the crit, I think, though towards the end, Vince did hand me that first difficult Clifford question (see link above), which was probably my weakest response overall. I'm not surely I entirely *get* Bhabha's hybrid, and in my effort to recap it, I got a bit muddled, and Vince and Kim both sort of broke in and said that they weren't sure Bhabha's argument was quite as simplistic as I was making it out to be...oops. It wasn't that Bhabha was simplistic -- just my understanding of Bhabha. Sigh. I should've stuck to Anzaldua, probably -- I understand her. I did have one other mildly shining moment in the crit section, though, when I was able to bring in Spivak (in contrast to Cixous) to illustrate my Chatterjee/Rushdie thing. After the exam, one of their comments was that they were pleased with my willingness to bring in critics that they hadn't actually asked me about, and then attempt to make connections between them. Go, me!

After forty minutes of that, we took a quick restroom break, and Kim Lao handed a few saltines to me and Katie -- neither of us had had any lunch, and I wasn't nearly as tense as I had been, but I was definitely feeling both hungry and somewhat woozy. The saltines were a big help.

The final section was the contemporary lit., which Katie spearheaded. (Francois stayed pretty quiet throughout.) Here we really didn't discuss many titles -- the ones I remember are: A Passage to India (lots), Orlando, Passing, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Jewel in the Crown, Midnight's Children (lots and lots), The Lover, The Remains of the Day, Things Falls Apart, Anil's Ghost, Open Secrets, Enough About You. Far fewer than on the historical list, and most of those we only touched on. Katie also asked me to talk about narrative structure in several titles, ranging from some of the early epics to the modern titles. I got a bit rambly again with most of these (especially the Munro), but I did quite well with Conrad's Heart of Darkness, making an argument about the effect the story-within-a-story structure had in reinforcing Conrad's thematic concerns, allowing him to distance himself from his white characters, and to turn the darkness question back on England, and on European men. It's an argument I believe in too, which helped. :-) Aside from the rambling, I think this section went pretty smoothly.

When we'd finished, Katie asked me to wait in the hall for a few minutes, but not to go far. I hit the restroom (again!), and then tried not to pace in the hallway. They probably took about five minutes in their deliberations -- it's entirely unclear to me if they were actually deliberating the whole time or if they decided quickly and then were just chatting (or discussing what they'd give me for my written question). But whether I passed by a slim or wide margin, I passed, which is all I really cared about when Katie opened the door and said, "Congratulations!" Oof. She brought me back in, and I sat down while we discussed the exam a little (the plot summary rambling was mentioned, but they also said they were impressed with my range -- hooray for three days of reviewing!), and talked about scheduling the written. I would have been happy to discuss it longer, but they obviously had better things to do -- they sent me off with a smile while they stayed to finalize the written question. Which will be e-mailed to me in half an hour from now. Eep.

Overall, incredibly stressful, but I was almost as prepared as I could've been, so it went pretty damn well, considering. I wish I'd spent a little more time discussing hybridity with Vince beforehand, until I understood it better. If it's on the written, I'll have to pull out the Bhabha essay and really bang my head against it for a while. I'm actually very happy with the oral, in retrospect -- I feel like I prepared an appropriate amount, and that my preparations were not for naught. :-) If it had been much easier, I would have been frustrated at wasting so much time in studying -- if it had been much harder, well, I probably would have cried. So kudos to my committee for striking a good balance, and for being so sweet and supportive through the whole process. Both Katie and Vince called me a few days before the exam to give me last minute tips on oral-exam-taking and to make sure I was doing okay. I feel lucky, to have such a great committee, who know when to be rigorous, and when to be kind. :-)

Plan for today -- goof off until I get the written question. Read it, think about it, go to the gym and think about it some more on the elliptical machine. Get the blood pumping, and the brain synapses sparking. :-) Then come home, pull out the relevant books, review, and start putting together a response. Fingers crossed. I feel slightly nervous right now, but oh, so much better than right before the oral!

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