PhD viva successfully passed! Taking stock and new directions

I suppose it’s true for all newly minted PhD’s, that the reality and weight of what’s just happened hasn’t quite sunk in yet. But four years of eye-wateringly hard work, and plenty of sweat and tears have been duly acknowledged and approved, and the bonus prize is that I was passed without revisions or corrections, so all I need to do is submit my final manuscript, and I’ll be officially awarded my PhD.

Friends and readers of this blog will be aware that my PhD journey has not been an easy one, and I’m the first to admit that I very nearly gave up several times along the way. I don’t have quite enough distance from it to produce an objective appraisal of the whole experience, but suffice it to say that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is not absolutely committed to a career in academia – whether they take the formal route of post-docs and lectureships, or the independent scholar route, which is where I’ll be heading now.

Over the last few years I’ve dropped heavy hints that all was not always as it should have been during my PhD process, and I’ve been more than a little caustic about issues of methodology, the attitudes of certain scholars, and certain teaching styles that seem designed to knock the will to live out of hapless PhD students. I will shed light on these dark hints in due course, though what I have to say is neither a saucy exposé nor a bitter and twisted might-have-been; rather it is a series of musings and considerations regarding the educational purpose of advanced study. For now though, I’d rather focus on more positive things.

The thesis

My thesis had two main objectives, the one resulting from the other. It’s main purpose was to re-examine, explore, and evaluate the work of Joséphin Péladan and to decide whether it merits further scholarly exploration, while contextualising Péladan’s work with the benefit of the most recent scholarly work on the history and content of esoteric thought. The secondary objective was the development, application, and evaluation of an interdisciplinary framework that fused aspects of esoteric and literary methodologies.

The need for this was governed mainly by the form and size of Péladan’s output – comprising hundreds of literary, dramatic, theoretical and critical texts, I was clear that I wanted to examine Péladan afresh and not rely on what I (successfully, apparently!) argued were highly problematic secondary sources. For this reason, I did not want to limit myself to studying only Péladan’s place in esoteric history (which would arguably have prevented me from exploring the actual content of his work). Nor did I want to write a comparative study of his place in French Literature, as this would have restricted me from untangling his complex esoteric referential framework.

So I needed to do a bit of both, but this had to be organised; not arbitrary, and thus I had to argue quite forcefully in favour of an organised interdisciplinary framework which was designed to get the most out of the material within the mandatory word limit, rather than attempting to force a methodological framework onto the material – a subtle, but extremely important difference.

The viva

Although when I submitted my thesis a few months ago, after a marathon to complete it before the end of the summer term, I was so relieved to have met the deadline that I was completely nonchalant about the viva, as the time approached I have to admit I was terribly nervous. I knew I had taken a great risk by challenging established methodologies and insisting on going my own way (in fact I gambled both my PhD and my scholarly reputation on this decision).

My examiners, Profs. Matt Ffytche (internal) and Christopher Partridge (external) were cordial and did their best to put me at ease, but also challenged my assumptions and insisted on pushing me on specific questions, regarding both the methodology, Péladan’s significance, my interpretation of aspects of his work, and significantly, my decision to build an interdisciplinary framework, my application of it, and the directions not taken. It seems I satisfied them as they were very complimentary about my work and writing style, so the gamble paid off, and four long, difficult years were rewarded.

Both examiners both appeared impressed by my handling of what are quite thorny methodological issues (and nowhere more so than within the field of esoteric studies), since I argued strongly against insisting on the historiographical approach for a topic and body of work that is so little understood.

First, I stated, we need a roadmap to Péladan’s work, and we need to try to understand what he was trying to do. Only then might we be able to draw up a list of further directions for study. I was fortunate to have precedents in the work of Tzvetan Todorov and Northrop Frye, to name just two, and so, after a hefty chapter in which I argued methodology and presented the broad intellectual context of Péladan’s referential framework, I proceeded to explore and map the unknown territory of his work. Chapter 3 then presents his Platonically influenced “legendarium,” a synthesis of world mythology and esoteric thought upon which his work rests. Chapter 4 explores the transmission of his ideas through fiction, theatre, and art. Forming the Conclusion, Chapter 5 evaluates the methodology and, finding that Péladan’s oeuvre demonstrates a remarkable cohesiveness, proposes directions for further study.

The future

 

I’m terribly excited to see a lot of interest in Péladan now that my work has received its academic stamp of approval, and I suppose the fantastic audience response at my recent Treadwell’s talk was just one small taste of how much he “speaks” to the modern situation. I have to ask friends and readers to bear with me, as I am currently weighing up and discussing publication options (three invitations to submit proposals to date), and this is always a laborious and lengthy process. I cannot, for these reasons, share my full thesis online, though I’m happy to send excerpts to other scholars when the need arises (and feel free to write to me if this is the case).

Aside from preparing my thesis for publication, I am now planning to focus a lot more on painting, drawing on everything I’ve learned during my academic journey. On the scholarly front I intend to develop talks, presentations and articles based on my research, and am slowly turning my sights towards the topic that I *almost* did instead for my PhD: Greek iconography and its symbolism, though this might take some time to emerge. Meanwhile I’ll be blogging and updating both this and the Péladan website more regularly as my time is freed up, so watch this space for updates!

Thanks and acknowledgements

My warmest thanks are due to a number of people for their unwavering support, random acts of kindness, and good humour, for I have not been the best of company for most of the past four years. What follows is the acknowledgement page precisely as it has been included in my thesis.

First and foremost, I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Alan Cardew. His encouragement gave me the strength to continue with my research at a pivotal moment, and this project would not have come to fruition without his kindness when I needed it most. I am sorry that the late Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, under whose supervision I began this thesis, cannot see its completion.

I warmly thank Professors Sanja Bahun and Roderick Main for their always constructive advice and incisive observations.  I am deeply grateful to my supervisor Professor Leon Burnett for his invaluable remarks that helped me to polish the final draft within a very short timespan. I am indebted to Dr. Brendan Cole for alerting me to the lack of scholarship on Péladan that led to my selection of this topic and to Dr Zefyros Kafkalides for his timely remarks on Plato. I am profoundly grateful to Professor Wouter Hanegraaff for his constructive criticism, warm conversation, and valuable work. My warm thanks are due to Per Faxneld, M. Gérard Galtier and Professor Joscelyn Godwin for their correspondence, for generously sharing bibliographical material and for the gifts of their books. I thank Christina Oakley-Harrington, Livia Filotico, Robert Ansell, Carl Abrahamsson, Pedro Ortega, Professors Henrik Bogdan, and Arthur Versluis, for their invitations leading to my first publications. I thank Cody Bahir for Scriptural information and for sharing his MA thesis, and Christos Panopoulos for helping me to track down rare information on Péladan’s visit to Athens. My heartfelt thanks are due to Professors Sousana Michailidis and Stanley Sfekas, for their mentorship and confidence in me. The foundations they laid and their support over the past 15 years, first as teachers, then as colleagues, has been a guiding light. Warm thanks are due to Iordanis Poulkouras, Aggy Vlavianou, Christian Giudice, Simon Magus, Cecile Wilson, David Fideler, Sam Webster, Professors Amy Hale, Sabina Magliocco, and Leonard George for their friendship and encouragement.

My deepest thanks go to my family, whose moral and material support made my PhD journey possible, and who gave me the strength to complete it.