Intellectual Rambles

We speak of diaspora as coming and going, connecting and disconnecting, remembering and re-making. Rarely do we invoke the stretching of diaspora, the affective and bodily tug that, while related to melancholia’s unletting, marks the skin and mind, occasions a politics of similitude. Here, Maryse Condé writes in Heremakhonon, here where features are associative histories, evidence of displacement, evidenced through stretch. In Heremakhonon conversation refuses temporal binding, and the speech of the present rubs against yesterday’s memories, and the unofficial official discourses of “they said” and “everyone knows.”

But I cannot write on this. I am teaching Heremakhonon, and experiencing the overflow for which I need my pensieve, but dare not use it.

I return to teaching in a week, and already face a certain manufactured crisis: for the past many years, I’ve been privileged to blog my thinking because it was at a remove from my pedagogy. I was not teaching (fellowship) or taught classes that did not directly intersect with or reflect my own interests.

This distance allowed the overflow to find a home here, allowed me to ruminate without worrying that what sits here will find its way, one way or another, into a paper I grade. And recognizing my own pensieve meditations, I will have to think about questions of attribution and so on. As I say, this is a manufactured crisis.

It does place interesting limits on what it means to write while teaching and researching, the arbitrary line that allows us to write about our research more often than we do our teaching. Now, of course, this is not always true. Unless one is incredibly nosy, for instance, it’s impossible to know what Gay Prof’s “Never Ending Project of Doom” entails, though I’m tempted to offer “Border Millennialism” as one possible sub-heading. (If he uses it, I want an acknowledgment!)

It is also a question, of course, of how we write what we write, the protocols of secrecy—either to hide professional identities or to protect ongoing work—that shape academic blogging. (Not that I can claim to be an academic blogger. I like my detours too much.) So, while we might disclose we’ve been “going to archives” and “presenting papers,” we rarely discuss what we find in those archives or what those papers entail. (Broad generalization, yes, I know.)

To some extent, this secrecy is driven by the paranoid demands of publishing.

But this does not exhaust what, to me, also seems to be the crippling mixture of secrecy and shame that runs alongside (does not undergird) intellectual production. Put another way, yes, I’m interested in the particulars of how, say, hummingbirds become symbols of reproductive legislation in 17th Century Aburiria (this being the fictional country Ngugi creates in Wizard of the Crow). Yet, there’s something odd, quirky, and shameful about admitting this idiosyncratic interest, especially if I can’t say something profound about “neoliberalism,” “affect,” “globalization,” “transnationalism,” “method,” “methodology,” “interdisciplinarity,” those direction givers and anchors that help to place the “idiosyncratic.”

By no means am I slamming the necessary academic demand that we “embed” our work. That’s how we create and sustain scholarly communities and foster exchanges in and across disciplines. And while some of us still cling to the unnecessary myth of isolated genius, others of us, and I place myself here, are interested in fostering conversations across fields and disciplines, eager to learn from and be challenged by different ways of knowing and doing.

To put this another way, and, perhaps, give some structure to a certain ramble in thought: if, on the one hand, there is a constraint based on teaching, there is also a constraint based on research, and the affective protocols that shape both.

And so the birth or continued existence of the peri-academic blog, that, like mine, delves into the flora and fauna of living. We discuss our cats, Wonder Woman, Kenyan politics, the politics and aesthetics of dress, the affective demands of scholarly production within the social spaces we create and inhabit.

The simpler, less tangled way of saying this is, despite what others might assume, academics are not brains on legs. And if the model of the ivory tower is still used to contain and dismiss us, we in the blogging world have been making extensive uses of the subterranean tunnels that lead elsewhere.

To return where I started but could not go: the tower and tunnel are less sites of coming and going, spatially distant places, and more sites of stretch, where one pulls and is pulled, learns to yield and resist.

And one of the major pleasures of the peri-academic blog is the semi-intellectual ramble, the turn to here and there, the pleasure of disorientation and re-orientation, the unexplored rooms between tower and tunnel.

2 thoughts on “Intellectual Rambles

  1. Welcome back! (BTW, I mentioned to Evan that you were in Kenya, and he said, “Mmm, yes, Keguro was there.” Did you get an opportunity to chat or interact? You comments about secrecy are well taken. Some things aren’t mentioned in the Theater until they’re well underway, which is another way of stating what a senior professor and mentor once told me: “Protect your work, write it down, and get it out there.”

  2. Thanks!

    It’s really good to be back. Really good. Evan and I have yet to connect. Over the next year or so, I hope.

    Yes, difficult to think of work having value that others might “borrow.” Euphemisms are good here. I guess I’m in a whole new economy, though I still think there are more than enough ideas and ways of thinking to go around.

    Already, I am reluctant to discuss my new book project. Weird how that happens, though I’m super-excited about it. Somehow, this space is not yet ripe for it.

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