Saturday, November 29, 2008

Having the Stubbornness to Accept my Gladness in the Ruthless Furnace of the World: Cruising a Possibilistic, Potential Medieval Studies

by EILEEN JOY

. . . . The poor women / at the fountain are laughing together between / the suffering they have known and the awfulness / in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody / in the village is very sick. There is laughter / every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta, / and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay. / If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction, / we lessen the importance of their deprivation. / We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, / but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have / the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless / furnace of this world. To make injustice the only / measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. / If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, / we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. / We must admit there will be music despite everything.
—Jack Gilbert, from “A Brief for the Defense”

In the story about becoming-impasse [where there is a something that isn’t shared yet, but could be], what is starved for is not sex or romantic intimacy but the emotional time of being-with, time where it is possible to value floundering around with others whose attention-paying to what’s happening is generous and makes liveness possible as a good, not a threat, and in the fear of the absence of which people choose to be with their cake.
—Lauren Berlant, “Starved”

Friendship is not a telos. Desire prevails as the moment of uncertainty whose gap in space and time we cherish, whose politics we acclaim as the point of departure, of disagreement, of sensation, of hope. . . . Friendship is human, it is of the world, it worlds. Friendship is political, it is a reminder that all thought, all sense, all touch, all language is for and toward an other. As Derrida writes, ‘there is thinking being—if, at least, thought must be thought of an other—only in friendship. . . . I think, therefore I am an other. I think, therefore I need an other (in order to think).’ Friendship is a movement of sensation, a politics of touch that that challenges me to (mis)count myself as other. Friendship is a condition of emergence, it is where my senses lead me, it is the fold of experience out of which a certain politics is born.
—Erin Manning, The Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty

You will forgive me for writing you a very long letter . . . .

I am recently returned from the annual meeting of the Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies [held in Philadelphia from Nov. 20th – 23rd] where one of the sessions—“Whither Renaissance Studies?”—was a roundtable discussion about the future of Renaissance studies, organized by Ellen MacKay and Constance Furey [both at Indiana University], and of course I was very interested to attend this. Jeffrey’s early modernist colleague at George Washington, Holly Dugan [who works on the senses, smell in particular, and also on animal ravishment] was one of the panelists, as was Will Stockton [Ball State University], author of the forthcoming book The Anal Erotics of Early Modern Comedy [Minnesota, 2009] and also co-editor, with Stephen Guy-Bray and Vin Nardizzi, of the forthcoming [from Ashgate’s Queer Interventions series] Queer Renaissance Historiography: Backward Gaze, and Elliott Visconsi [Yale University], who works on the intersections between literature, the law, and political thought in England and America from the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries, and is the author of Lines of Equity: Literature and the Origins of the Law in Later Stuart England [Cornell, 2008]. There was first some discussion [on the part of MacKay and Furey], as is generally expected in these types of discussion, of the ways in which early modern studies would have to invent or re-find various modes of inter- or cross-disciplinarity, and I was immediately reminded of a colloquium session I had attended last spring at my own university [Southern Illinois] on the question, or crisis, of interdisciplinarity, where the Director of the Center for Renaissance Studies [and scholar of early French music, poetry, and travel writing] at the Newberry Library, Carla Zecher, raised the question of whether or not certain important singular insights of a particular singular discipline get run over or lost when that discipline hooks up, as it were, with another, and then she also raised the provocative question of who or what, finally, benefits from interdisciplinary work? Further, as regards funding in the humanities, future interdisciplinary projects will likely be driven [funded] by digital humanities initiatives that will greatly change the ways in which we work with the primary materials of our respective subject fields, and this is something to consider [but how? that question was left hanging—although I would point everyone in the direction of Stephen Greenblatt’s recent digital and interdisciplinary humanities course at Harvard, “Travel and Transformation in the Early 17th Century,” for an idea of how courses will be affected by digital funding initiatives in the humanities].

Lutz Koepnick, professor of German, film, and media studies at Washington University in Saint Louis, and author of Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power and The Dark Mirror: German Cinema Between Hitler and Hollywood [among other books], asked if we were not always already interdisciplinary, and further, wasn’t interdisciplinarity the norm before disciplines came along [this is a particular historical point we medievalists would do well to consider] and what are disciplines to begin with, anyway [we can at least say, I would add, with Foucault, that they repulse teratologies]? Shouldn’t we also, maybe, be cautious about continually invoking the term “interdisciplinary” as if it were novel somehow and still on the horizon in some fashion? Wasn’t saying that one’s work was interdisciplinary like saying, “I drink coffee”? Everyone does it, like breathing, so what? Further, what do we expect from disciplines, anyway—are they ever really stable [which is kind of what Zecher was implying—that they have some sort of integrity that might be undermined by being penetrated or appropriated or co-opted, as it were, by another discipline]? Most important, in my mind, was that Koepnick was raising the question here of the exhaustion of the question of interdisciplinarity. And this was a nice prelude to Carsten Strathausen, Chair of the Department of German and Russian studies at the University of Missouri, who works on new media, political philosophy, literary theory, and the history of science [he wrote The Look of Things: Poetry and Vision Around 1900 and is also the editor of A Leftist Ontology], who stated that disciplinarity itself is a myth and we should be asking ourselves what interdisciplinarity looks like from the inside [but what does this mean? I've been trying to picture it, but unsuccessfully
isn't this what we do too much of already?] as well as investigating more seriously the negative friction that exists between scientists and humanists.

And all of this causes me to reflect as well on a recent letter from Michael Moore to me, where he was responding to my recent talk on the Resurrection paintings of Stanley Spencer and certain non-teleological and poethically affective ways of touching the past, and he wrote, “As an historian, I am probably not ready for a poethics and a non-directional time: in this sense history does not function in the same way as literature—if a work of literature is read back to front, or if it is subjected to specialized forms of analysis, it suffers less than the memory of a person or a city.” So here we have the idea of, perhaps, a kind of impasse between the ways in which a scholar of literature and an historian might approach, let’s say, the rendering of or accounting for past persons and objects and times [for drawing close to them in and against time], although I actually think Michael’s essay on a Miloszan humanism—where he quotes the aphorism of Gómez Dávila: “Literature is not merely a game of fantasy. The literary dimension is no superficial aspect of the world, it is the very depth of things”—belies what he says in his letter to me, and I also don’t know if we can really hold in place distinct lines between “literature” and “history” since so much of history is only known to us through literature, broadly speaking: legal memorandums, letters, census lists, poetry, sermons, diaries, sacred texts, and the like, and the scholarship in contemporary historiography on the negotiations between “history” and “literature” stands in piles and piles of books in my study and we might say, even over and against that, with Edith Wyschogrod, that “[t]he invisible dead undo or un-write the predicative and iterative historical narrative in the blank space that is the placeholder of an infinite transcendence in historical writing” [“Memory, History, Revelation: Writing the Dead Other,” in Michael A. Signer, ed., Memory and History in Christianity and Judaism, p. 32]. And I also do not think the dead lie still waiting for us to recover them in their supposed singularity only through their visible, supposedly coherent “remains” but rather, act as placeholders of an infinite series of desires, motions, and transformations in which I can only glimpse contradictions of body, mind, and nature, and never a settled answer to any question I could ask. I don’t know, finally, if a person or a city is any more settled or intact or only one thing that goes in only one direction, more so than a book, such that it needs a special protection or would want one, or is more vulnerable to harm than a book which itself may be all that remains of a person or a city. But still . . . .

So this brings me back to the roundtable session at the GEMCS meeting, “Whither Renaissance Studies?” and you will forgive the digression into the discussion on the question, or crisis, of interdisciplinarity at the colloquium at my university last April, but I zag there digressively in order to signal my occasional sense of frustration at always hearing about interdisciplinarity as the future thing we should always be doing, or doing better, or differently. We really are, either, always already doing it [and often in very facile or overly-well-trod ways], anyway, or, more troubling, we have not even adequately historicized what a discipline is such that we could ever hope to understand what interdisicplinarity is or does [and do we even have the time? that is another sort of exhaustion]. And perhaps, also, every time we talk about different sorts of interdisciplinarity we just kind of lapse, as Cary Wolfe has argued elsewhere, into systems of “hetero-reference” that are always products of self-reference. And this is partly why I found Holly Dugan’s comments at the GEMCS roundtable session so refreshing, and which I will try to sum up here [and if Holly reads this and thinks I may not have adequately represented her comments, I hope she will correct me]:

1. because so many sub-fields within Renaissance studies are so strong and healthy on their own [i.e., Scottish literature, Shakespeare, Tudor political history, etc.], there is almost a kind of occlusion of what might be called a broader “Renaissance studies,” and yet, at the same time, these sub-fields kind of “hold together,” even on their own [and maybe together, collectively], because they are always kind of attached to the historical marker “Renaissance” [and therefore, the vitality of the field as a whole depends upon this marker of historical difference]

2. but what, then, is the more particular specificity of this “historical difference” of Renaissance studies, broadly speaking [from everything else], and why does it matter?

3. there is obviously a canonicity—as well as an actual, well-known canon—that arises from this historical difference [which may be lacking in certain sharp historical specificities], and vice versa [a historical difference that is produced by this canonicity]: is there any way any of this could lead to a new interdisciplinarity in which historicism, or historical difference, was not the central organizing principle?

4. are there “big questions” that are, in a sense, beyond discipline, and that scholars in specific areas of study could go after in collaboration with scholars in other areas of study? is it possible that there are certain big questions—i.e., having to do with bodies and embodiments, or human/other rights, social justice, etc.—that should maybe serve as primary organizing principles for disciplines that would then always, in some sense, be beyond discipline, or put another way, could this lead to a new interdisciplinarity that would be beyond historicism, or in which historicism would not be not central?

5. do new spaces, virtual and post- or extra-institutional [such as weblogs, live journals, Second Life, working groups, cross-campus reading groups, online symposia, Institutes, etc.] hold out promise for a new scholarship that would be more collaborative and processural—allowing intellectual work to be literally viewed and seen as it develops itself in tandem with other intellectual work that is also being shared and made visible as it progresses from the inception of tentative questions and ideas to more fully fleshed out articles and books, etc.? is there a certain value in this processural and even almost "live" scholarship that is not obtainable in other, more traditional ways of "doing" scholarship?

Elliott Visconsi brought in Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History, which argues for a kind of laboratory, macro-critical, quantitative approach to retrieving different sorts of “data” from literary texts [statistical, botanical, geographical, etc.], in order to raise the question of what sort of data literature has to offer that maybe we haven’t considered, such as, say, sociological or economic information, which is not the same thing as literary-historical information. Moretti, as some of our readers may already know, argues for a practice of “distant reading,” in which all of literature is a kind of “planetary system,” and following Max Weber’s idea that “It is not the ‘actual’ interconnection of ‘things,’ but the conceptual interconnection of problems which define the scope of the various sciences,” Moretti proposes, against close readings of individual texts [which he views as a “theological exercise—very solemn treatment of very few texts taken very seriously”], focusing instead on “units that are much smaller or much larger than the text: devices, themes, tropes—or genres and systems. And if, between the very small and the very large, the text itself disappears, well, it is one of those cases when one can justifiably say, Less is more” [see Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review]. This approach means less “actual reading” of texts and more analysis of certain shapes, relations, and structures in those texts in order to grasp, say, the “system” of the modern English novel as a whole as it perhaps intersects, or does not intersect, say, with the "system" of the modern French novel. So, following Elliott following Moretti, we might consider certain comparative morphologies that might arise from a more scientific or social-scientific approach to literature [and for Elliott this might make a lot of sense since one of the theses of his own recent work-in-progress on the discourses of separation of church and state in post-Revolutionary England and America is that it is in the domains of the literary that the concept of "civil religion" emerges]. And regardless of whether or not Moretti’s approach makes you cringe, I myself am appreciative of something he argues that also connects with some of Holly’s commentary regarding “big questions”—for one of the things Moretti says is that we have to figure out new ways to ask of literature new questions, and those questions should have worldly and planetary dimensions, they should be “big questions” that aim at the global dimensions of a Weltliteratur, because in a sense, as Moretti writes, “the study of world literature is—inevitably—a study of the struggle for symbolic hegemony across the world.” To round out the roundtable discussion in Philadelphia, Will Stockton reserved his comments for the pragmatic questions: regardless of what we do now or decide to do later, how does the market for our work affect all of this: who will want this work? who will hire us? who is going to buy our books? who is going to publish them? etc.

So, for me, this was a very thought-provoking discussion, and because Holly raised the issue of “big questions” that transcend disciplines and also working groups and new forms of processural and collaborative scholarship, I found myself scribbling furious notes in my notebook all weekend relative to how I would like for the BABEL Working Group to further define its mission and aims, and I was already partly motivated to think further about this thanks to Holly Crocker whose comments here at In The Middle [back in August when we were discussing Carolyn Dinshaw’s Getting Medieval and more recently] regarding professionalism, community, and affect have been important prods to my thinking more deeply about some of my personal aims for BABEL and for the communities I hope we are forming here through In The Middle and other weblogs and elsewhere—at conferences and symposia, through various collaborative writing projects, etc. but also through the development of certain spaces of play. And I was thinking, listening to Holly Dugan in Philadelphia, that one thing that often seems missing from all of these discussions regarding the future of this or that discipline and the future of this or that methodology or theory, etc. [yet Holly D. did partly touch upon it and thereby spurred my thinking here] is the question of the forms and affects of how we might do this work—whatever work it is we decide should be done—together. And further, how to make, perhaps, a central “big question” of our work, in whatever disciplinary or interdisciplinary formation, the question of being-together itself [which question, of course, I borrow from Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins]?

In other words, is it possible that the primary question to which we should be attending [but which is often overlooked or disregarded, partly because our profession prizes and awards singular “genius” and knowledge gained through agonistic competition over everything else] is how to put into motion a “shifting disciplinary structure that holds open the question of where and how our thoughts fit together” [Readings, The University in Ruins, p. 192]? This would entail imagining and practicing new communities made up, not of subjects, but of singularities, and the members of these communities would not share, in Readings’ words “an immanent identity to be revealed,” but rather would seek to make their differences and heteronomies “more complex.” And my thinking here is also influenced by Dinshaw’s call, in Getting Medieval, for “disaggregative” projects, or coalitions, in which the embracing of the idea of fragmented and discontinuous and non-essentialized selves and becoming-selves enables contingent and politically engaged relations with other becoming-selves who are interested [and hopefully invested] in the task [or is the art?] of dreaming and developing and living new co-affective inter-subjectivities through a series of “crossings” and cross-identifications between present and past and future, between the material to the immaterial, between living and textual and other inorganic phenomena, between human and non-human, etc. I am influenced, too, by Cary Howie’s thinking in Claustrophilia that “there is, finally, no such thing as solitary confinement. The question of being inside and the question of how it is possible to speak this fragile pronoun, ‘we,’ across temporal, spatial, and ontological difference, never cease to overlap and literally to inform one another” [p. 1]. But there would have to be room, too, for those whom Michael Cobb calls the isolated or single figures who might want some distance between themselves and the rest of us in order to think ontology and politics “beyond the relation” [see Michael Cobb, “Lonely,” South Atlantic Quarterly 106.3 (Summer 2007): 445-57, and see also Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 47 and The Coming Community, p. 65]. In the end, it hits me: we are always saying “interdisciplinary interdisciplinary interdisciplinary blah blah blah fuckety blah blah interdisciplinary,” but we never consider what it is that we are giving to that [so-called “other discipline”] from which we are mainly taking, and we certainly don’t think enough about the collective nature of it all: are we in this together or aren’t we, and what is this “this” anyway? Why do you care about it so much, and might you care for me caring about it? And how? Should I look for happiness in this, or somewhere else? Can we be kinder to each other and still accomplish good work [maybe sometimes even choose each other over the work]? What is “good work,” anyway?

We have to have, I think, a project of friendship, of friendship as a form of politics that would radically unsettle the normative-dominant and top-down masculine-agonistic structures of how we do things in here [within the university proper, within English studies proper, but also within our sub-fields proper: Chaucer studies, Anglo-Saxon studies, philology, medieval European history, what-have-you], and this would be a friendship that would aim, in Erin Manning’s words, at “a democracy without symmetry, an infinite alterity, a movement that invents divergent positionalities that converge, that make contact, that disperse” [The Politics of Touch, p. 48]. Friendship between us could never be a given, nor could it be about reaching consensus, but I sometimes wonder how we can ever accomplish anything substantive as regards the “big questions” [i.e., is it still possible to formulate and practice “human rights”? is social justice possible? what is the purpose of art? etc.] if we don’t at least agree to proceed in some sort of amity and accord over the importance of asking such questions and trying to answer them, from whatever avenues leading wherever, in a spirit of mutual generosity and with gratefulness and even desire for each other’s labors. And this will require, in Manning’s formulation, an
ethics of contact, of response, a necessity to cross the space-time between me and you, even perhaps to do violence to space and time in order to be certain that movement is what is at stake. Without movement, there is no capacity to respond, to touch, to be a friend. . . . Movement is not indexed to position, our positionality is our movement, our politics is our friendship, our touch is our politics. [The Politics of Touch, pp. 46, 47]
When BABEL was first formed, it wasn’t—at least, not initially—about big questions, but was all about trying to change or subvert certain professional affects and it was also about working for the inclusion of everything, as regards “what counts” as “real work” in the discipline of medieval studies. It was really, to be honest, about trying to change what might be called the forbidding atmosphere of, say, a conference, at the molecular level—to just refuse to participate in the elitism and sucking up and gate-keeping and censure and affected posturing and fear of dis-approbation, and instead, to engage in as many nutty intellectual experiments as possible [resulting in, I might add, quite a few conference sessions with audiences of 2 or none listening to papers on Chaucer and surfing, Beowulf and the wars in Sierra Leone, the comedian Bill Hicks and the human as pathogen, the grafting of human neurons on the brains of fetal monkeys, Plato’s Symposium and Jane Bennett’s work on sites of enchantment, Margery Kempe and Battlestar Galactica, The Iliad and Cindy Sheehan’s extended mourning of her son killed in the Iraq War, etc.]. We wanted to be creative, to not take ourselves too seriously, while nevertheless taking our intellectual subjects deadly seriously, and to have fun, to be friendly to everyone we met, no matter who they were, and to practice certain light arts of silliness with each other and whoever we “picked up” along the way. You could even say that we put a lot more effort into the art of the pick-up at conferences than we did into worrying over whether or not anyone was listening to our papers. If BABEL is a club—and I have heard some claim that it is—then it is one in which anyone can be a member, and we are particularly fond of the stranger whom we have not yet met. Indeed, this is a deeply ethical point with us and can be summed up in these lines from Pablo Neruda, “I don’t know you. I love you. / I don’t give away thorns, and I don’t sell them.” Some people don’t want to be loved, of course [point taken!], but we have had our fun, and fun is grossly underrated in our field: as Joan Retallack has written, “To become adult in our culture (which for most of us means to become compliantly productive) is . . . to be increasingly disabled for the kinds of humorous and dire, purposeful play that creates geometries of attention revelatory of silences in the terrifying tenses that elude official grammars” [The Poethical Wager, p. 62].

Our disciplines, even within the humanities, have become incredibly scientistic and “efficient” and forbidding in many ways [there is an idea, which is also a fact, in medieval studies, that one must be “trained” in a certain way and possess certain skills related to material-cultural excavations and translations of various sorts, and without such training, or reliance on what is considered the most proper training, you do not “count,” you cannot count], and even our more radical theorists [not counting some of my heroes, such as Deleuze and Guattari] move and think and postulate only within the very narrow lanes and languages of the very Western hermeneutics whose foundations they are supposedly dismantling for us [this is why, in the end, as much as I admire and even follow him on the hunt through certain dark thickets, Derrida just turns and turns and turns and turns on the circuit of a certain perpetual undecidability—on this point, see Simon Critchley’s The Ethics of Deconstruction], and we have not left enough room for ambiguity, chance, chaos, and delight. We do not say, with John Cage, “Here Comes Everybody listening to everybody else, isn’t that a marvelous thing? What’s going on here? It seems as if anything is possible.”

As time has gone on, BABEL’s mission has become more focused in relation to those “big questions” Holly D. invoked at the conference in Philadelphia, as have our efforts to collaborate with scholars both within and outside of medieval studies on those questions, and we have also become more concerned to formulate and practice a more present-minded medieval studies and to also create new venues for “practicing” these studies in collaboration with others both within and beyond our field, and yet, still, thanks to that roundtable session in Philadelphia and also because of questions raised here regarding what, finally, counts as “professional,” and how trying to build affective community within and beyond medieval studies could have unanticipated negative [and perhaps oppressive] effects, I find that for myself—and only for myself, I am only speaking here on my own behalf and only in my own voice, no one else’s—that this is the critical issue for me: not what we will talk about, write about, publish [although of course this matters, it will always matter, some things really are at stake, and as Paul Strohm has argued elsewhere, we need some point of attachment for our critique, we must place ourselves somewhere, if even bemusedly], but how we will do it, together, or alone. For the most part, historically, we have been left to our own devices, and as Zygmunt Bauman has argued, in late modernity, being an individual is no longer a choice, but a fate. We are truly on our own, whether we succeed or fail and the burden is heavy as a result [as is the melancholy or mania or both surely to result].

I think the culture of how we do things has to change, and I will expend every once of energy I have trying to change it [and to answer Will Stockton’s questions about who is going to support/publish whatever work we want to do, this is another reason we need more and not less collectivity and even synergies between collectivities, because the answer, Will, is we’re going to do it ourselves and by whatever means possible]: I want more inclusivity, more voices, more openness, more friendship, more democracy, more experimentation, more kindness, more generosity, more playfulness, more poetry [and less hermeneutics], more roguishness [a la Michael O'Rourke's roguish queer studies], more silliness, more self-ironizing, more freedom, and more awareness that, finally, it’s not a question any more of whether you want to be touched by me or not, because at some level, we are all already touched by everything [the
not-us is lodged deeply with every “us” that can be conceptualized], and we need to find better ways of both welcoming but also guarding each other’s difference within what is already a world gone mad with touching [good touch, bad touch, and everything in between], while also seeing that, without reaching-toward [which is touch even before this reaching arrives, if it ever does, at its object], we’ll have to think this world, perhaps, too much on our own, and in the usual stultifying ways, and in any case, as Cary Howie has argued, “there is no such thing as solitary confinement” [except when there is, of course, at places like Guantanamo Bay, but that’s not you or me, is it?]. And this will also mean that we will have to be willing to risk embarrassment; we have to be willing to make fools of ourselves; we need more foolishness [for example, I’m pretty sure I’m making a fool of myself right now, and it might get worse before I’m done]. It might also mean accepting the suspicion that Nicola voices on his blog The Whim, that “whim” might have “something to do with the fact that anything is happening at all.”

I want a possibilistic, potential medieval studies [anything is possible, nothing has happened, anything could happen], one which could only be achieved with a certain mode of cruising, as explicated in Leo Bersani’s Homos, where we repudiate property and citizenship and narcissistic self-containment, where we refuse to “settle . . . for an intersubjectivity cleansed of all fantasmic curiosity,” and where we ask nothing more of the objects of our desires “than to share a certain space with them” [p. 124]. This also means figuring out how to let others be, how to provide spaces within which others can emerge because they have, partly through my desire for a potentializing and not a totalizing relation, the “freedom to reappear, always, as subjects too inconclusive, too multiple, too unfinished, ever to be totally loved” [Bersani and Dutoit, Forms of Being, p. 68]. We are also going to have to imagine and bring into being new forms of “taking care”—why do we have all these discussions about the health or ill health or future or no-future of our discipline [whether literary studies most broadly or medieval studies more narrowly] and practically no discussions about what we mean to each other in this work? If our discipline fails, it will partly be because we neglected this question and opted for singular and selfish acts of heroism and suicide instead. So, for me, this friendship I want, which I believe is political, and which I want to argue here will have to be the basis upon which any future disciplinarities or interdisciplinarities [or anti-disciplinarities] will be built and hopefully prosper, has something to do with creating new spaces for the enabling and enaction of what Thomas Carlson describes as the most loving, yet also most difficult, gesture:
There is perhaps no act less loving than to step in for another, or indeed all others, so as to make everything already actual for them, given ahead of time; and there is perhaps no act more loving, or more difficult to define, or quite simply more difficult, than to give another the actuality of possibility itself—to give another time and life. [The Indiscrete Image: Infinitude and the Creation of the Human, p. 216]
I should clarify that, with Sara Ahmed, I agree that there "is no good love that, in [simply] speaking its name, can change the world into the referent for that name. But in the resistance to speaking in the name of love, in the recognition that we do not simply act out of love, and in the understanding that love comes with conditions however unconditional it might feel, we can find perhaps a different kind of line or connection between the others we care for, and the world to which we want to give shape" [The Cultural Politics of Emotion, p. 141]. And I would suggest that one way in which we might do that would be in working together to clear certain spaces and lighten certain loads so that our field could have a wider purchase on the realms of disciplinary and professional possibility. To work harder at giving each other the actuality of possibility itself—this is what I have been trying to say all along. For when we lose possibility, we lose happiness, and I—I am working for happiness.

15 comments:

Holly Crocker said...

Dear Eileen,

Thanks for this post, which I'm sure will lead to a very productive discussion. I deeply admire your willingness to think and rethink what anyone can see are very challenging issues for our professional community. I'll look forward to what everyone else has to say... but in the meantime, thanks for your commitment!

cheers, h

Will Stockton said...

As one of the members of the GEMCS panel, I want to thank you, Eileen, for your thoughtful response. I also want to say that I agree with you entirely: we are responsible for creating the support structures and publishing outlets for our own work. Hasn’t this statement always been true? At the same time, I have had to think a lot in my own (very short, so far) career about how the market -– the job market and the publishing market –- guides our inquires and shapes the structure of articles, dissertations and books by soliciting “new” and “exciting” work from scholars who still need to locate themselves –- and have their work located -– in certain staid disciplinary structures (hence the vexed question of interdisciplinary).

I myself want to be part of helping change “the way we do things.” Like you, I want, especially, less hierarchy, less gate-keeping, and less territorialism in publishing. I am told that Renaissance studies is much more “friendly” now than it was just a decade ago –- that the field, as Holly Dugan discussed, is not only more diverse, but more comfortably so. But I think it could be friendlier still. What I have also heard described as Renaissance studies’ current “lack of direction” should be taken as an opportunity, or understood, in your terms, as a potential. The diversity of the field shouldn’t lead to its evermore defensive anatomization; this diversity should rather be the basis for its coming together under the very large umbrella of the Renaissance (or the early modern – both terms are problematic, and so long as we are conscious of these problems I really no longer care any more which term we use). I made this comment on the panel, and I will also make it here: I would like to see a Renaissance studies book series much like Palgrave’s New Middle Ages series –- a truly capacious, prolific series that reflects the different kinds of work being done in the field. I originally phrased this comment as if I wanted to see someone else develop such a series, but, again, Eileen, you’re right: if I want it done, I -– we? -- will have to do it ourselves.

Karl Steel said...

EJ, thanks for this post, and, of course, in response to your call to "radically unsettle the normative-dominant and top-down masculine-agonistic structures" of academia, I can only say yes.

But of course I can say more. There's so much here that I won't pretend to react to it all. I'll swoop by, here and there, to say, first, that "friendship" in its mobile contingent model--rather than the Ciceronian 'soulmate' model--strikes me as very attractive for working together, far more attractive than love. I'll just reiterate my assertion about the ethical emptiness of love, as this seems all too relevant in the holiday season, in which demands of love abound. Paradigmatically in the holiday context, love interrupts, begs for reciprocation, it demands that work be suspended, that communities of friendship, formed by mutual interest, work, and hilarity, be set aside for a relations formed in a shared womb, by marriage, "naturally." Obviously, then, I'm opposing what I'd call amity to love, and offering up the aesthetic and deliberate and unnatural and at least implicitly acknowledged contingent community of amity as a superior model for working-together. At the least, amity refuses the shackles of cathexis we so often find in family love.

So, yeah, Happy Thanksgiving.

DISJOINTED SECOND POINT

I'm thinking of the final lecture of my intro to literary research class (the last three classes are just research presentations. High stress for them, but a real joy for me). At the end of class, I returned to that fundamental poststructuralist maxim, 'there is no outside-the-text,' and stressed again the dispersal of author into the conditioned [by class, geography, gender, desire &c] subject, and asked what these important points omitted. I answered that they both omitted the touch of the hand on the other side of the page, that regardless of whether we 'know' that we're 'really' engaged only with an articulate class position bound to produce certain kinds of artifacts, and that we ourselves are 'really' only bound to produce certain kinds of readings, we are nonetheless, in reading, coming into contact with someone. He or she is a subject; so are we; and here we are, in this reading, touching. Despite Marxism, psychoanalysis, and postmodern philosophies of all sorts, there is still some manner of singularity, perhaps one that coalesces only in the touching itself, and it must not be forgotten that the other person is there with you in reading. For what I mean by "person" here, see below....

I think we medievalists are especially well-suited for remembering this point, and therefore for resisting Moretti's thesis. I'm afraid that Moretti may work all too well for the era of the cyborg (of unoriginary anonymous transmission), but it does not work for the era of the manuscript, of the handmade. Perhaps I need to have my Benjamin card revoked, BUT we must remember that there is another hand touching us, being touched by us, in any medieval written artifact we read. And this hand is with--not "mediated by"--animal skin, ink of metal and vegetable matter, quills, transmitted to us by combinations of deliberation and historical happenstance, of the fundamental exploitative violence of any cultural production and of far more spectacular violences (say, the dissolution of the monasteries).

Finally, I think of this assemblage of medieval writer and quill and gall and sheep and history and chance becoming text with us entering into this circuit, and with that in mind, I have to gently disagree with M. Moore speaking of "the very depth of things," since I don't think the depth-model is a good way--at least not for me--to think through what happens to this happening of reading a medieval text. Whatever is happening here, I don't think of it as a surface to depth relation, or even, quite, as a relation at all...

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

OK, my quick question is about community and its limits, something i think about quite a bit since I am in some ways preoccupied by exclusion in my own work.

You write:
If BABEL is a club—and I have heard some claim that it is—then it is one in which anyone can be a member, and we are particularly fond of the stranger whom we have not yet met.
I like this formulation: it is very attractive, especially in that last line. In fact, who could NOT love that last line? Yet I realize the statement is at least a little disingenuous. I can't think of any community that doesn't draw a boundary line somewhere, somehow. Is BABEL open to those who do not support its projects, goals, ambitions? Is BABEL open to gate keepers and those who censure? Under what conditions? I get that BABEL welcomes disagreement, of course (what could be more tedious than a group of people who constantly nod their heads in agreement at each other?), but isn't BABEL also (to go back to Dinshaw) a community of the converted?

hd said...

Thanks, Eileen, for this thoughtful recap of the GEMCS conversation. The audience was fantastic and really made it a provocative discussion.

I, too, want to state for the record that I echo Will's call for a truly capacious, prolific series in early modern studies (like Palgrave's New Middle Ages series). It would do much to underscore that the disparate subfields of Renaissance Studies are shifting parts of a larger collective "discipline." Like Will, I see this range in approaches as a rallying point rather than a cause for concern, especially if we emphasize how our discrete methods broadly refract historical difference, such as Elliot's point about Morretti's "mining" of literary sources for sociological data or Constance's and Ellen's framing of historicism.

My only other thought has to do with friendship and Jeffrey's query about the limits of community. One of the points I tried to make on the panel was that we need to share our work-in-progress in quasi-public spaces and be willing to interact with other half-formed thoughts and instincts. Context certainly matters. I cited BABEL, ITM, GWU MEMSI, and DCqueers (www.http://dcqueers.blogspot.com/) as excellent examples of the range of groups that support such creative sharing, whether in virtual or live form (in the DC area). All of these formats involve folks on every step of the "ladder" of our professional hierarchy, yet each focuses on ideas--understanding and working with them in new and varied ways. That takes a real generosity of spirit and a heck of a work-ethic from all involved. It could be described as friendship, I suppose, but I like Karl's definition of the amity the emerges from working-together.

I often lurk here on ITM, and like others (I suspect), I marvel at your productivity and willingness to post your works in progress. It sometimes overwhelms me, but mostly it inspires me. That *graduate students* are willing to do so demonstrates the sea-change in medieval studies and, hopefully, Renaissance studies.

But as Jeffrey's comment suggests, such open-access doesn't necessarily promise friendship. Some criticism is valid and some is, well, steam from haters. And the goals of such intellectual work necessarily limits those who can and are willing to participate. but to paraphrase Will, and in some ways Jeffrey, isn't that always the case? I left the GEMCS panel convinced that good scholarship will out, especially if we're encouraged to take risks in our thinking, writing, and, yes, networking. So yes, friendship, as long as it's NOT the renaissance-y kind, with similitude as its basis (whether it's socio-economic or even ideological similitude). For me, "peers," defined most broadly, works just fine, as long as it sometimes can erupt into Karl's definition of amity--especially the hilarity that emerges from mutual work and the spontaneous recognition of the absurdity of such difficult goals. (One of the things I liked most about the panel is that I sat next to Will, who cracked me up from the moment I sat down, turning what could have been a depressing conversation into something fun and intellectually challenging. We had just met, so we weren't friends... But we shared a mutual recognition of the absurdity of two junior faculty members pronouncing what's wrong with our fields. his hutzpah reinforced mine. And i think it was happening in the audience, as well. Folks were whispering, some to their usual suspects but some to new folks.)

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments so far, which give me further important provocations to my thinking [and to unsettling my thinking, which I don't mind at all]. It interests me a lot the discomfort I think so much of us have with the idea of friendship [and love even more so], but I think our discomfort is also rooted to a certain extent in certain models of friendship that we either find insufficient or oppressive [for Karl, the idea of soul-mates or the couple/marriage] or possibly limiting [or even, as Holly D. and Jeffrey suggest, as possibly not workable, or even "amiable," for everyone in their too-open nature, if that makes any sense]. I do not shy away from the term friendship [or love] but I certainly would like to reinvent the terms, to make them more capacious, less limiting, less demanding, less totalizing, less deterministic, etc. For me, the key is not to abandon friendship and/or love as concepts/modes of action in the world, or as concepts that have become, in Karl's terms, "ethically empty," but rather to re-energize them with new ethical energies that would favor the contingency Karl sees in the term "amity"--what Manning, maybe, would say is a "movement that invents divergent positionalities that converge, that make contact, that disperse"--and for my thinking about BABEL, I would like to hope that BABEL could be a kind of machine/body that would help to enable and make possible these movements that would not necessarily result in the kind of cathexis Karl refers to. With Derrida, I see friendship [like justice] as that which is always to-come and BABEL as an organization that would always be clearing space for what is about to-come, for imagining, in Michael O'Rourke's formulation, roguish relationalities [such as Michael dreams between queer theory and Derrida] with our disciplinary and other others, and as I wrote in one of my earliest drafts of a BABEL mission statement, we would aim for [always on the move and never static] misfit anti-utopian heterotopias that, following the thought of Kenneth Reinhard on the political theology of the neighbor, would open up in a space “between the family and the polis; it is an act of spacing that maintains the minimum distance required to resist holophrastic fusion (totalitarianism) and possessive individualism (liberal democracy). The space it clears is open, infinite” [“Toward a Political Theology of the Neighbor,” in Slavoj Zizek, Eric L. Santner, and Kenneth Reinhard, "The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology" (Chicago, 2005), p. 75].

But this then also brings me to Jeffrey's troubling question about community and whether or not there could ever be a community that doesn't draw some sort of boundary line or doesn't take in, on some level, the already-converted [and this usefully recalls me, again, to some of the similar questions Holly brought to my "History Has Many Skins" post, especially her point that having "conditions" for inclusion in a community--even if that condition is "we all like each other!" or "we all like the same things!"--amounts to exclusion in the end, and also, if we want an *affective* community, we have to think about the negative, as well as the positive affects that might "rush in," as it were], and what would we really do, after all, with those who censure, those who keep gates, those who cry and don't want to be consoled, those who enjoy hurting themselves and others, those who don't want to be our friends, those who maybe even actively break a few of the windows in our houses and send burning arrows through them with letters that say, "you're a bunch of fools" and "watch your back"?

First, to a certain extent, I suppose that on some level BABEL really is a community of the already-converted [as it is also a community in which some of its members have developed deep personal friendships with each other that transcend professional matters and likely always will--one would almost hope so--and this is as much a matter of chemistry as it is of like interests/concerns/worldly and other orientations], or at least, of those wishing to be converted in a certain way that BABEL seems to offer ready initiation into, but I would be very very sad, indeed, if there were those who perceived BABEL as a certain kind of "club" with distinct initiation rites and rules of membership and a general air of exclusivity--everything I work so hard for goes against this perception and/or state of affairs: we've got plenty of clubs like this already and one of them is called the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists and another one is the Medieval Academy of America. Part of me wants to claim that, yes, I'm ready for the nay-sayer and the person who does not support the ambitions and goals of BABEL, and will always keep the door open for them, but are they likely to *like* hanging around me/us any more than I/we might want to hang around them? Likely not for the long term--and that's okay, actually--but in some of the short-term friction that might occur in our brushing up against each other [which "brushing up" I really do invite], I really think of that as always a kind of opportunity for reflection on BABEL's aims and goals while we certainly retain the right to not give up on certain visions, to hang on to a certain idealism, I might say, even when that idealism might be baroquely ridiculous, a little naive [pluralism is one thing, while saying "anything goes" is another].

I find myself a little stuck on this point--it's so important [the question of community and boundaries]--but I think I want to say that when I typed in my original post that we are particularly fond of the stranger that we have not yet met, that no no no, I'm *not* being disingenuous at all [although I could be speaking only for myself] and that this is connected to the important relationship [for me, anyway] between happiness and possibility--of course, possibility/chance can also bring danger and tragedy, too, right? So being open to the stranger means being open to the possibility of happiness and productive transformations of life and thought, but it also means being open to the possibility of unhappiness and certain *incoming* counter-productive or destructive energies [which energies nevertheless could at least help keep us from lapsing into complacency or smugness, right?--this matters]. This is where we [maybe] get to the question of risk: it's simply worth the risk in my mind, while at the same time, of course we [and BABEL] self-select all the time! We'd be lying if we said we didn't, wouldn't we? We like our likes and love our loves and like and love those who like and love us and what we like/love and small groups of affectionate partnerships emerge out of the larger group all of the time [but I don't have a problem with it, indeed I love it, I love seeing it happen]--this is like, I don't know, human nature or something?--but at the same time, I want to say, *still*, that while BABEL may attract the already-converted, that it also attracts those who did not know they had a place at all until they arrived [indeed, felt lost, out of place, disregarded, etc.], and as regards that affect of "affirmation" we have debated here before, I really believe that we need more spaces that just let a person breathe and dream a little, a safe place where play is allowed, creative imaginings are allowed, experimentation is allowed, unhindered expression is allowed, foolishness is allowed, and while a lot of what may come out of that is intellectual "mush," every now and then something more beautifully formed and sharply smart and instrumentally useful and socially just also emerges out of that and then goes further afield, somewhere else, to do good work.

Sometimes I think of BABEL as a group house of misfits with many doors and windows and people are always coming and going. Some stay a long time and others just pop in for one night and move on. Some want to "marry" it while others are interested ion a briefer fling. Everything that everyone has in the house is available for anyone who needs or wants it; there is no personal property [some won't like this and can stay in their own houses guarding their property if they like; it's their choice, but we'd still like to visit them abnd would invite them over and try to seduce their ideas out of them], and no one belongs to anyone else. It's funny how everyone always wants to overturn the idea of the couple or the "happy family" when those "arrangements" just happen all the time, anyway, around us--again: is it the couple and the family, per se, that are the problem in and of themselves, or is it the particular energies & wants & needs & expectations that we invest in them that drain them of their possibility [artistic, ethical, social, political, etc.]? These arrangements can be rigidly bounded and selfish, but they can be unbounded and deeply generous as well. I never give up on anything--community, love, couples, families--rather, I see them as opportunities for reinvention: reinvention of self, other, and the world. And then, yes, let's make sure there is space, too, for the arrangements and structures we haven't yet imagined or somehow shunted aside as insufficient [the single person, for example, or the love of a humanoid robot--not yet here, but one day . . . .]. And let's also remind ourselves of what Karl also writes here [and beautifully, I might add], that,

"Despite Marxism, psychoanalysis, and postmodern philosophies of all sorts, there is still some manner of singularity, perhaps one that coalesces only in the touching itself, and it must not be forgotten that the other person is there with you in reading."

For me the bottom line is this: yes, Karl, more contingency, less cathexis. Yes, Jeffrey, communities by their very definition draw certain lines around themselves, but I guess I would want to go with Deleuze & Guattari's desiring machines in which there are always breaks and flows with regard to other desiring machines. At the very least, though, is it so bad to have certain projects *in common* and to support each other better in our individual life-projects better than we have to date thus far [at least within the university and medieval studies more narrowly]? Making everyone happy? Impossible. Helping to increase the chances of a greater professional and personal well-being for a greater number of persons? Definitely possible, and perhaps, the most ethical labor of all, and one that requires, I don;t care what anyone says, some affection.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Well said Eileen. Because I've been thinking a lot about what can turn a friend into a violent enemy I'm very cautious about the letting down of one's guard that your vision of amity enjoins. Specifically I'm interested in how friendships and neighborliness that could create a Christian-Jewish community in the Middle Ages could (so easily?) bifurcate into two antagonistic sides, and a flow of blood. What might compel you to destroy the family next to whom you have lived for years, whose kids your own kids played with, whose differences might be patent but not necessarily reason for fear?

That's very different from BABEL, I know ... but then again maybe not, because one of the models I've been trying to bring into this medieval work comes from contemporary rethinking of Jewish identity as open, impure, and alliance-loving, even in the face of real danger.

Scott S. Boston said...

For me the question that keeps recurring (although this is admittedly reductive) is to what extent "affective" scholarship (for lack of a better term) is also effective scholarship.

I certainly believe it can be, and the key to such work, is constructive criticism. Works are never perfect, mine certainly aren't, but what I get from BABEL is the knowledge that there are those who wish to see me succeed, rather than fail, who would critique, rather than just criticize, who operate out of a position of friendship (or love) (while allowing for the fact that sometimes your friend is the only one who is really allowed to kick your ass).

And while I certainly believe that like seeks out like, I also acknowledge that as Paula Abdul reminds us "It ain't fiction, its a natural fact, / we come together 'cause opposites attract."

BABEL attracts. It found me.

To answer your initial question Eileen:

I have always been interested in politics. I was going to major in political science, but then got interested in the ways that theatre dealt with some of the same philosophical issues and became an undergrad theatre major. What interested me about politics was the drama of it, not the policy. Had I known how to articulate my interest I would have said I was interested in a performance studies approach to politics. Now here I am trying to articulate those same things as a PhD student 16 years later. There has been nothining linear about my progression. There is nothng in the story that should have led me to BABEL, and yet something did...an attraction to a conference about Beholding Violence, where I found others that were attracted to similar thoughts, which attracted me to Kalamazoo, which which attracted me to SEMA, by far my best conference experience ever, which is odd considering I am a not a medievalist...but, I do consider myself a BABELer.

Hmm...It appears that this is a case of like finding like. Although we are unlike as well. Which also attracts me....

Perhaps this is all the result of the gravitational pull of the Tiny Shriner. Some tiny objects are supposed to contain great mass....

BABEL does.

And it's Growing...

theswain said...

J. J. Cohen asks "Isn't Babel a community of the converted?"

My answer: No. I'm not sure I'm a convert or that I even understand what's going on 95% of the time, and what's a hide bound, old fashioned language and manuscript type doing hanging out with Babelians anyway? But I have my tiny Shriner button..... So no, I'd have to say that Babel isn't a community of the converted, at least in this tiny corner of it.

Eileen Joy said...

Scott: I keep forgetting you're not a medievalist--isn't that funny? Perhaps that's part of the point of BABEL [at least, I hope so].

I watched a French film a couple of nights ago--"Kings and Queen," a beautiful movie, actually--and at the very end one of the main characters, a neurotic musician who has spent most of the film accidentally locked up inside a mental asylum, is explaining to the son of his former girlfriend [who he lived with for 7 years] why he cannot adopt him and how in their seven years together they formed a memory no one can take away from them and which is beautiful. Most of the last ten minutes of the film is the musician walking around Paris with the boy and giving him last bits of advice since he will likely never see him again. The last thing he tells him is something to the effect of,

"We are always right about everything, aren't we? But at the same time, the really wonderful thing is, we could be a little bit wrong, too. And this is how everything interesting happens, because the fact that we might be a little bit wrong is where life begins--that is how we have adventure in our lives."

I think this is one of the most difficult insights, especially as regards communities, which often quickly slide into all sorts of solidified and rigid ways of doing things [Toni Morrison's brilliant novel "Paradise" is incredibly instructive on this point, especially in relation to Jeffrey's concerns stated here: some will always kill to guard the supposed rigid and impermeable lines of identity that don't really exist, even when it means killing a neighbor]. If more of us could better grasp, "of course we're always right, but we're also always a little bit wrong," we could see the opening to never wanting to stand too rigidly on our own ground, as it were. We must always be willing to cede some of that ground somehow, to give it up, to give it away, to leave it. As Levinas once said in an interview [and this speaks directly to the heart of Jeffrey's concern here],

"A person is more holy than a land, even a holy land, since, faced with an affront made to a person, this holy land appears in its nakedness to be but stone and wood."

Eileen Joy said...

And then I was suddenly reminded, in quoting Levinas [speaking about Israel, which I didn't make entirely clear] in my previous comment, of something Simone Weil once wrote and which has always been one of my mantras [and could easily be BABEL's as well]:

"It is not necessary to be 'myself,' still less to be 'ourselves.' The city gives us the feeling of being at home. We must take the feeling of being at home into exile. We must be rooted in the absence of place."

theswain said...

That's an interesting insight Eileen. I've had a similar one, and its a bit personal, so if anyone reading doesn't want to go there, stop reading now.

My first marriage ended disastrously. I did a good bit of thinking about it for a number of years. One of the insights, galling it was, that I hope I gained was that we were both completely innocent, and we were both completly cupable. The simultaneity of being both right and wrong is both an energizing and enervating position to be in. And that is where the adventure lies: the middle between soaring with angels and combatting the demons of noon time. But I digress....

That middle, being both right and wrong, is difficult to pin down, difficult to be identified with since we by our nature I think tend to not want to be wrong much less publicly admit to being wrong, and since it is a condition of being "both", it is a position where it is hard to become labeled.

theswain said...

ooopppsss...that should have been "culpable" rather than "cupable"....though the slip is interesting....

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Thank you Eileen for another, ever-fresh, ever-new outpouring of the question of what we are doing and the love/amity/friendship that makes that 'we.' The angle I want to take here concerns the relation between discipline and happiness, especially as signaled by your epigraphs. To pursue happiness as effect, as a result of the achievement of certain conditions, requirements, to *pursue* it, to chase after it, is of course a hopeless exercise, not only because it fails the way all attempts at satisfying desire fail (I've got what I want, now what?), but because it both limits and ontologically demotes the happiness that is sought 'in the first place.' So rather than "it makes me happy" I would have "I make it happy." Or as a friend of mine used to say, "You don't *buy* that stuff, you *sell* that stuff!" So happiness, not as effect, not as after, but as cause, as before, as choice, as will, as *discipline*: be not sad like the hypocrites, don't worry be happy, and so forth. The relevance of this line of reasoning to academic discipline is clearest with regard to the variety of ways scholarship understands itself through the illogic of desire/satisfaction and accordingly gives witness to its own alienations, above all through the manorial notion of the "field" for which, on which the professor labors. Questions of disciplinarity are also generally posited through if...then propositions of happiness. This is why the idea of disciplines seizing their restlessness as their ownmost condition, which you have written about elsewhere, is so inviting, because it is precisely by giving up on the possibility of ever *making* yourself happy that you can start *being* happy. Which is just common sense but to actually to do it . . .

Avital Ronell's recent presentation at EGS on philosophy and idiocy also seems very relevant to the discipline-happiness relation. For my panel contribution about gravitas at KZoo I will happily come back around to this issue.

prehensel said...

I am really late to this party...and I mean that in two ways. I am late to this conversation and a late addition to BABEL.

But I was excited by the prospect of such a community (that only before had I experienced fleetingly with 2-3 other graduate students) because, as has been echoed often in these comments, it does not so slavishly adhere to the Oxbridge, hard-nosed, survival-of-the-fittest mentality. That's not to say we don't do rigorous academic work. I see a lot of what Peter Elbow calls "believing" going on here at ITM and in the (one!) BABEL panel I've experienced.

In Writing Without Teachers, Elbow says "If you have three answers and one of them is true, you have the truth--even if you don't know which one it is. This may sound like sophistry but it's not: If you don't settle for this dirty mixture, you might not get that truth at all: if you are too fastidious and try to force assertions always to prove themselves at the door, you lose some of your best and most accurate perceptions (and those of other people working with you)" (177). He advocates believing in, accepting, absorbing, understanding (and quotes Tertullian's credo ut intelligam, no less!), yielding to, committing to, listening to, agreeing with, and adopting multiple contradictory assertions without choosing one. Just letting them all exist and trying to step into and experience each one over and over again. This is a loooooong first step and it sounds a little I'm-OK-You're-OK, hippie-dippy, let's-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya, but it doesn't exist alone because there's the doubting that comes after (in which one tries to trim away the fat from an idea and see if there's any there there). In the end, though, I think believing is inherently affective and is a powerful basis on which to build an academic community.

I feel like believing is a model for BABEL. Most members I've come into contact with are inclined to start out agreeing with something that is said (believing it, being empathetic with the idea) instead of making it prove itself in its nascent stages. That's what I value most about this community, and that's what I think makes it so strong. It also (sort of) answers JJC's unease with the inevitable unsympathetic people who will come into contact with the group. If the only rule is that you believe first and doubt later--whether or not someone ends up agreeing with an idea is almost inconsequential in this model--then all BABEL members really have a shared set of values. Since a shared set of values is a good enough basis for Allan Bloom and Benedict Anderson to label something a community, it's certainly good enough for me.

This may not make a whole lot of sense because I can't revise in this damn tiny window, but it's my incredibly naive (I told you I was a naif) take on BABEL and its mission, existence, effect, affect, etc.