A few months ago, I was listening to a radio interview with composer Alexandre Desplat about his score for The King’s Speech. Desplat and his collaborators chose to illuminate one of the most important moments in the film with the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. This particular piece of music is an organic choice for the film, Desplat noted, because, like the protagonist, it cannot move forward. It struggles to articulate the next syllable, make the next move, name the next feeling.
It’s unsurprising, then, that I’ve been listening to the Desplat’s score and, in particular, Symphony No. 7 while working on my research and revision. The elegantly redundant phrases of Beethoven begin a playlist of more contemporary tracks that circle and repeat in similar ways. I’ve become partial to “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron & Wine and “Evening Kitchen” by Band of Horses. This music buzzes through my laptop speakers as I write a sentence only to rewrite it ten times over the next week. As I revisit questions that were essential to the earliest stages of my research. As I rehash anxieties about the merit of my work that have run in the same cold, quick manner for years.
It’s comforting to find musical parallels to my own intellectual stuttering.
Working myself out of this muddiness is frustrating, and the edits and notes and outlines I’ve created for a year now will never see print. They constitute the invisible labor of academia. Case in point: A week ago, I finished a four-page description of my book manuscript. A painful process meant to resuscitate my flagging enthusiasm for my own work. Three days later, I produced a five-page “reflection” on that description, forcing myself to commit to paper what I’d learned from pulling new material out of my brain. Stutter. Slip. Start Over. It’s a Victorianist rereading of Groundhog Day. Tomorrow morning Bill Murray may reach over and slap my alarm clock off for me.
But! I’m learning to appreciate the rut. The labor, while invisible, isn’t useless. It pays small but satisfying dividends. Behold, my new favorite sentence:
“The literary collaborations central to this project both reflect the way Victorians experienced extra-literary adult-child relationships and act as a useful barometer for larger cultural attitudes about the possibility of amity or the inevitability of conflict between generations.”