Friday May 8th
Lestat: The loss of state and the undead
- In the movie Interview With the Vampire, there is a famous quote that goes “The world changes…we do not. Therein lies the irony that finally kills us.”
- Being in a PhD programme can feel a bit like being a vampire. Time passes as you see the friends you made move on; you live in a timeless space. This is my first semester really having experienced this; unlike undegrad, where the friends in your year went on to graduate at least either around the same time as you or within a reasonable amount of time, in a PhD, your existence can be much, much longer.
- Especially since I am in the time of Covid, my days are endless, and I find myself awake during long stretches of night, and sleeping during the day (probably the root idea for this post).
- It is the strangest feeling, as someone who has been working and expecting change for so long; I’m going to be here for a while (at least theoretically).
But what can propel us to finish?
- There is a scene in that movie in which Claudia sees a grown lady, and asks Louis and Lestat if she can be like her, and they exchange glances awkwardly, as if to ask “which of us will tell her that she will never change?”. She asks Louis if he “wants her to be a doll forever”, and asks why she “can’t change like everyone else”. She longs to change. There are lots of things that have no state, but a doll vs a human implies being dead inside; having no life force besides shallow beauty/ superficiality. It is someone else’s belonging and lacks its own voice.
- In many ways, as a PhD student, you are a surrogate child to your advisor, until you grow up. Louis has to be trained to live as a vampire, even though he is initially disgusted by it (he has to be trained on becoming desensitised to killing, as he must feed on lifeblood to survive), and there is this constant tug-of-war in their (Louis’s and Lestat’s) understanding of and relationship with each other, much like the PhD student who eventually finds their own voice at the end of their apprenticeship by learning what it takes to survive during their time in Academia.
- I saw this movie as a child (it was pretty popular, as was the book, when I was growing up), but as an adult in grad school, and seeing the parallels, it feels almost too painful to watch right now. You are unchanging until you are reborn again (even as you age) through the process, and ready to move on. Until then, you sleep in coffins, you will never see a new sunrise, and live with the reality that you will live for centuries (if time is relative) in Academia as a student and see friends move on before your time comes. Okay, I don’t really sleep in a coffin, but you get my point. It also brings one to think about the phrase “publish or perish”. In Academia, publishing is your lifeblood.
- Maybe it is the longing to change that propels us forward, if change can be quantified by a contribution to that world under which we have accepted to train; the world of scientific and analytical study. Is this the price we pay?
A Vampiric life in Solitude
- Another famous quote by Lestat is “I’ve come to answer your prayers. Life has no meaning anymore, does it? The wine has no taste, food sickens you and there seems no reason for any of it.” Louis lost his wife and child and says he “wanted to lose it all; my life, my estate, my sanity”. Anyone embarking on a PhD can surely relate to this; you’re giving up your place in the world for a state of timelessness, living on a stipend, and there has been endless research on ways in which pursuing a PhD is damaging to one’s mental health. One of the realities of living in a state of changelessness (and a bit of why a PhD is so difficult) is that in this state you can forget why you are there. You can lose meaning or a sense of self, and everything can appear meaningless. You can slip into hopelessness, which can lead to the depths of depression.
- In the movie, Louis recalls the memory of his last daybreak “I saw it as though it was my last, but I could recall no other before it”.
- One of my promises during grad school is to not be too shut out from the world “out there”. Remember to wake up early and view the sunrise, to remember it still exists. Find friends who live outside of my bubble who can continue to encourage and motivate me. Call my parents. Listen to music that revives moments in my life that hold meaning to me, and to others that can create new memories.
- And so, I’ve come to the end of my first academic year. Who knows what lies ahead. It has already felt like a journey of a thousand miles, and I felt like I’ve grown so much already.
On the other hand…
- Lestat would be an awesome name for a functional programming language, as an homage to a life of statelessness.
And that’s it.
Written on May 8, 2020