I started my PhD because there were too many mysteries out there for me not to investigate them. How could I sit in an office and do anything at all when there were mysteries out there?
I continued it because the plot thickened. The mysteries became more psychological than aesthetic and made my mind ache.
I found socializing to be a huge strain right in the middle of my PhD, because it took away energy I needed to crack the problem that was at the core of my thesis. It could be framed in the simplest way as “how can madness be productive?”
At one stage, I felt like I was going mad. My mind was galloping at a frenetic pace and all of the world seemed to have slowed down and gone stupid. Any part of everyday life that didn’t help me solve my problem got in my way. I couldn’t even explain the nature of my problem except in the most esoteric terms. It had to do with trying to look at the other side of trauma — at the generative side.
So many books seemed to somewhat support my thesis. Other journal articles only used part of my theoretical platform, but were more opposed to the conclusions I had drawn. Thus, I became perplexed as to how to use this more ambiguous material.
I continued to become madder and madder. I had too much information in my head and I had to make it all add up. I had read extremely widely. The literary material seemed to yield confirmation of my views in flashes of intuitive insight, but in ways which I didn’t yet have the means to articulate. You certainly couldn’t point to the text and say, “There it is!”. Nothing was positivist about these shamanic notions.
Eventually, I couldn’t look at my thesis, as I had looked at it so much, the words had stopped meaning anything. I began to wonder if in fact the words I’d written had no meaning. An old wound had started to open. My father’s words: “You’re a failure and you can’t even communicate properly!” began to resonate. I’d written the thesis to vindicate someone who also seemed to have been victimized by being denied communication — and now, the same was happening to me.
I was fighting my father through trying to complete my thesis. It was the ultimate superego battle — he didn’t want me to show him up through having an education, through not accepting a typical female role, and I wanted to complete my thesis without his interference. Yet, this battle was taking place entirely in my mind — a culmination of a 20 year long battle for my own direction.
Writing my thesis was a rite of passage. The strain of going against the grain was immense. I engaged with experiences that would have been denied me had I taken the path I was supposed to, had I remained a child-woman of African origin and under British codes of control. To engage intellectually with ideas of war, trauma and racism would have been one thing. I engaged with these emotionally, however, and this had been forbidden me, growing up. I wasn’t supposed interact with the realities of the civil war surrounding me. Emotional access to these were related to age, social status and gender. I hadn’t fit the bill.
In engaging with new inner experiences, against the prohibitions that had been set up to protect me, I was destroying myself as I had been before.
The process of investigating and then completing the thesis became my means of self-destruction and renewal, which was done through gaining forbidden knowledge into the interior of my cultural history.