But if we are to commit ourselves truly to the study of the past, to the study of the humanities, what can we really gain from the Thesian good man speaking well? Is the buttoned-down, impersonal professionalism suited to profit-driven business enterprises a good fit for our wider, stranger enterprise of shared inquiry? Our very strength, our very expertise, comes from darkness, indeterminacy, unmarketably disastrous historical realities, hanging, drowning, plague, ruin. Strange dark Saturnine knowledge, and all the unsightly darkness that goes with it. Let's see with our flawed vision, be happy with less than enough, and work darkly and beautifully at the bottom of our game.
~Brantley L. Bryant, "Saturn's Darkness," Dark Chaucer
As we engage with the Canterbury Tales we bring those fictional texts into our real lives; we live with those signifiers, as Aranye Fradenburg so movingly put it at the last [New Chaucer Society] Congress; and as they live in us the boundary between self and other, subject and object, past and present is permeated. As we remember our colleagues who have died we keep their spirits alive. I would like us to consider, and nurture, all the ways in which we have not left the past behind, the ways in which we have all kinds of time. For I would like to learn to live finally.
~Carolyn Dinshaw, "All Kinds of Time" [NCS 2012 Presidential Address]
for Aranye Fradenburg and Michael O'Rourke
A warning: this blog post will be strange and weird and possibly discomfiting, it will be overly personal [I will risk embarrassing myself, and on purpose], it will be incoherently digressive, it will be sad, and yet it will try, nevertheless, to affirm some things. It is not about medieval studies, except tangentially.
I never have time to myself anymore; I don't even know what "time to myself" would look, or feel, like. Somehow, I have a partner who sticks by me, even though to be "by me," or beside me, has increasingly fewer and fewer returns, for I have retreated into a world where I work obsessively and at a fever pitch, with little regard for my own health, my own sanity, or anyone close to me who might need a more generous share of my focused attention. I have let many friendships lapse, I have let many emails and phone calls go unattended, I have let many students down who needed a closer look at their writings, and yet this work, perversely, brings me great joy -- I feel most alive when I am doing this work [for example, editing and formatting books for punctum, editing issues of postmedieval, organizing symposia and seminars and conferences, traveling in order to attend events to which I have been invited to speak or participate in some way, etc.], and when I am in transit and on the move, when I am meeting new people, when I am taking risks to test out new ventures, new ideas, new collaborations, I am most happy. The thought of settling, of staying in one place, of adopting any routine whatsoever, fills me with dread. I worry sometimes that I am a risk junkie -- I've never liked to ski downhill or jump out of planes or race cars [I'm not that kind of risk junkie], but truth be told, I like making dangerous leaps and going where, supposedly, only fools rush in. I like testing out certain waters without a life-jacket, and if someone, or several someones, tell me that's not such a good idea, it just encourages me to do it even more. Somewhere, in some manual, there is probably a listing for this kind of behavior as some sort of "disorder," but I find it exhilarating, enlivening. It's like falling in love. Over and over again. Since conventional social life actually discourages us from falling in love too much, or too often, with persons [one of the tragedies of our shared experience], I've given myself permission to fall in love with things and ideas, with projects, with other people's books, with other people's desires to accomplish something, or to self-actualize. Thus, I make myself multiple and move, partially hidden, among other people's desires for more, rather than less, life. I live in the space(s) of what other people want, and for the most part, I am happy there. After all, this is what I want, too. This is not altruism; it is sheer desire, and it provides for me what Proust once called a "celestial nourishment."
What prompts me to share this? Several things. One is the fact that, even though I kind of suspect that many people would describe me as a "successful" person, I nevertheless don't feel successful very often. I'm not saying I never sit back and reflect that I've accomplished some things [I know I have], but indeed, most days I torture myself with thinking about all of the things I have failed to do. For every book I edit, and for every essay I write, there are several more that I have failed to edit, and failed to write. For every deadline I make, there are several I fail to make. I forget to mail checks, I put off filing my taxes, I don't call my parents enough, I can't read all the books I feel I *should* read, I don't pet my dogs enough, I miss doctors' appointments, I neglect the boxwoods and roses in my garden, I rush down streets without raising my eyes to meet the gaze of others, etc. -- and yes, we are all feeling this sense of how we could do more, do better, every day ... this is human, after all, but so-called professional "failings" can feel more acute. So, for every person who thinks I am dependable and trustworthy as an editor or an author, there are at least four times as many who think I am a liar and incapable of "getting the job done." I don't know how to say "no," I want to say "yes" to everything, and I often do. It gets me in trouble. I can't tell you how many grant applications I have written [and some, I have received] for books that will never be written and archival research that will never be undertaken. I know I'm not the only one who has this problem, although I feel we often hide this fact of our lives from each other because it is often too painful to admit that we cannot "keep up," that we cannot meet all of our obligations, that we are letting our colleagues down, that we are not the intellectual superheros we would like to imagine we are. So much of what we do, scholarship-wise, is really pro bono work, although yes, we need to publish for tenure and promotion, but it still feels like that thing we do *after* we have first met a whole host of other obligations, especially our teaching and the service work we do for our departments and colleges and universities, if we are lucky enough to have regular faculty appointments, and even if we are adjuncting, or thrust into some sort of post-grad limbo, we are still running mightily, often out of breath, to craft that thing called a c.v. Not to mention our so-called "personal" lives and all of the obligations [pleasant or otherwise] that there besiege our senses and minds and hearts. Let us reflect on this and be kinder to each other when we do not meet our obligations. Not meeting our obligations is part of what we do. It is human. It is to be expected. So the next time someone misses a deadline you have imposed, let it go, and sweetly. They do not mean to offend you, or to let you down. They have come up short and will torture themselves enough for that without your assistance.
And what prompts me, then, to also share these thoughts and feelings is Jeffrey's post from the other day, "Why Is Blogging Hard Work?" Why, indeed? Because not too long ago [roundabout 2006 and onwards for a few years], blogging felt like the most exhilarating thing we could do as a kind of alter-activity to the more deadening routines of what might be called the traditional protocols of an often overly and austerely micro-managed academic career. But now blogging has become part of the profession, and it, too, can sometimes feel like an obligation, like a chore [but my friends, it is always hard to write, no?], and thus it appears that, more and more, we are relying on more micro-social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to share our thoughts and experiences with each other, academically and otherwise, and this has no little relation, I would argue, to the hyper-sped up nature of so many aspects of our lives today, where we find increasingly less and less time to reflect, to gather our thoughts, and to share something of what we [hope to] find and count as valuable with each other. And frankly, for the most part, I embrace these social media -- they help me to feel connected, in real and vibrant ways, with people I don't see in person as often as I would like, and the exchanges within those media can lighten a day otherwise leavened by the obligations that weigh us down -- the endless grading of papers, committee meetings, grant applications, writing -- but also the personal disappointments and hardships: relationships that fall apart, the death of loved ones, the lost jobs, disagreements with friends, difficult children, difficult parents, sickness and ill health, depression, anxiety, housekeeping, the rejected articles, and so on. And yet, in the comments to that same post by Jeffrey, Kate Maxwell wrote, in support of the blog post as a special sort of genre,
Blog posts, which don't move so fast [as Facebook and Twitter], and which don't exclude the half of the world in darkness at the time of publication, are thus far more attractive. In short, if you've got something substantial to say and you want me to read it, blog it. I may not comment on it -- I think this is the first time I've commented on ITM despite being an avid reader for some years -- but I will ponder it for days, years even. Instant gratification has its place, but what would we become if we sought after only that? The ability to respond via web 2.0 is great, but even better because it's not obligatory. Sometimes it's good to be quiet and thoughtful.
Sometimes it's good to be quiet and thoughtful. This blog post is an attempt, in the midst of what has become, for me, a hurricane-tsunami of work and frenetic traveling, to be quiet and thoughtful. Indeed, I am *not* doing several things tonight I should be doing. There is so much all of us *should* be doing at any given moment. But let us be quiet and thoughtful together. This is also a chance for me, perhaps, to indulge in a little sadness, to register the sadnesses of the world, to pause, to absorb what is dark in the midst of what, for me, is often the brightest and hottest white light imaginable, for I am lucky, I believe. I am blessed, I am lucky, and I am, for the most part, immeasurably happy, but I also suspect that is a form of madness, a kind of self-enclosed and obstinate insistence on always seizing joy as a kind of narcissistic drug, and from whoever and whatever is close-at-hand, with no thought of "consequences." That's why I love parties. I could do worse, of course than to be this sort of addict, this sort of fool. And here I show my cards as well to say that, increasingly, for me, the only ethos I can really embrace or muster the energy to care about anymore [after curing myself of an early-career infatuation with Levinas] is the one I find in Foucault's late writings, when he was focused on "the care of the self," or what David Halperin, describing Foucault's thought at that time, has argued is a type of *work* on the self [an ascesis, as Foucault termed it], in order to bring about, "not a given condition but a horizon of possibility, an opportunity for self-transformation, a queer potential."
And this brings me to the third reason for writing this post [and there is a fourth reason! and a fifth!], and here I risk too much [perhaps], on a personal level, and I will be a bit oblique [purposefully], but as I was in the midst yesterday of a pretty terrifically busy morning editing various punctum projects, someone posted a link on their Facebook page to a cluster of essays on an academic journal's weblog [that shall remain nameless] that featured the woman with whom my previous partner of 17 years had had a protracted, messy, and ultimately tragic affair. I had not thought about this person in several years, and there she was, staring at me on Facebook. Clicking on the link [because, come on, I couldn't help myself], I found myself at a piece she had written in which she mentioned the affair with my former partner, and how it had somewhat debilitated her [momentarily, and ... it debilitated a lot of people, of course, including me], and I was reminded of a somewhat uncomfortable fact that I had managed to suppress for about 3 years -- that she had written an entire memoir about it. My previous partner had told me that this person was talking to agents in NYC about this memoir and I filed it away in my brain under "that will never happen, don't worry about it." Well, apparently it did, and yesterday I downloaded it to my iPad and read the entire thing from start to finish.
On one level, an exercise in masochism, to be sure. For this was a messy business, and involved all three of us working at the same university and running endgame after endgame around each other. In reality, it got pretty ugly at times and involved Oresteia-style drama, various sorts of reckless behavior, bouts of lacerating self-pity, physical self-harming, desperately furtive encounters, the woeful neglect of a teenage child who was also suffering, and I could go on ... but won't. There were moments of light as well -- for me, two other colleagues at the university who sort of took me in and tended to me, lovingly and with humor, through this entire ordeal. And several of my colleagues at Southern Illinois who, while I was away at the other university on a sort of unofficial leave, never ceased checking in on me. Luckily, I do not appear at all in the book except as "that other person" [the author's account of the whole affair is pretty lopsided, but it's *her* book, so more power to her], but I'm afraid my previous partner figures on many pages, and not in the best of lights [her characterization, although dead-on in places, also feels two-dimensional -- she isn't really rendered in any sort of fullness and mainly becomes a screen against which the author flails herself -- in the end, the book is only really about *her* and feels occasionally claustrophobic as a result]. I found the experience of reading the book painful, terrifying, and also cathartic. Everything I had always suspected but which had not necessarily been shared with me was confirmed. Everything that was shared with me was confirmed again, and in sometimes unbearable detail. Things I never knew were also revealed. I honestly never felt that this period in my life had any power to affect me ever again, but, I was wrong. It should be stated, and unequivocally, that my previous relationship has been over for about 4 years and that we parted, unbelievably, on warm and good terms, and stay in regular touch. But it must also be shared that, when all of this was happening [2005-06], I felt as if my life were ending, and I couldn't imagine one good reason why I would still want to even be alive. I want to re-emphasize: I didn't care anymore if I lived or died. Without my previous partner in my life, I felt as if the world were a vast, inhospitable desert. My life had no possibility, no meaning, no light breaking over the horizon ... or so I thought.
Now, this memoir I was reading yesterday ... it won't win the Pulitzer and you've likely never heard of it. But parts of it were terrifically well-written, and a strange thing began to take hold of me as I was reading it: I took *her* side, the author's side, the other woman's side. Before, I frankly never even really cared about her as a person -- she was more like a cipher to me, someone I could just easily hate, someone who always appeared to me to be intent on fucking with other people's lives just for the hell of it, who maybe was mentally unstable [there are more details relative to that, but I would rather not share them, I would rather not turn this into some sort of pycho-melodrama, it's always too easy to say other people are "crazy," and in any case, that is why she wrote her book, to come clean with her own "stuff," as it were, and again, more power to her], but here she is in her own book, a total mess, wrecked in the head and heart by the same person who had also wrecked me in my head and heart. But do you know what? There are no villains here. Even before I read this book, I had long ago decided to never harbor any ill will toward my previous partner [you will never find me in the filing cabinet of break-ups in the folder marked "revenge, vindictive"]. One night, after the affair was over and we had broken up, then gotten back together [before breaking up again, for good], she apologized to me, saying she had suffered from temporary insanity, and ... would I forgive her? [I should point out here that there were other affairs, too, she never admitted to, but that I knew about.] And what I said, and I will never forget it and never regret it is, "no, I will not forgive you because you do not need to be forgiven. You have nothing to apologize for. You have done nothing wrong. You were human. That is all." How could I begrudge my partner for falling in love [or lust] with others, when my own [secret] world was filled with the same wayward [if unfulfilled] passions? I must tell you that I wrestle with this all of the time -- with my ability [or lack thereof] to grant to others what I myself feel all of the time: the desire to want to be new again. This doesn't just have to be about sex, we might remind ourselves. It's about helping each other to build a world in which horizons are made to feel open and not permanently settled into some sort of stony, obdurate place. It's about helping others to feel, anything is possible, my life is ongoing, anything could happen. I, we, have a future, because nothing is decided, for sure. I, we, could love again.
And what I have realized since, too, is that there is no "temporary insanity." There is only permanent insanity. That is the human condition. We don't know what we want most of the time, and most of our actions are unconscious [embodied], as any good neuroscientist will tell you. Of course, we should try as hard as we can not to go out of our way to hurt others [although it's inevitable and we might as well accept that], and we should try as hard as we can to always accept the responsibility of the consequences of our actions, but in my mind, everything in contemporary life conspires against our ability to not hurt others, for we are to confine ourselves to *one* other person, to the *couple*, to the [traditional] *family*, and we have not queered ourselves in the way Foucault, and others after him, have hoped. We have not succeeded in allowing ourselves to develop intimate relationships with the greatest numbers of persons possible, to pursue, as Foucault urged, "improbable manners of being," new modes and styles of living, polymorphous affective intensities, and new relational virtualities and friendships. This is not to speak against the one great and passionate love, the couple, the family -- all of which can be capacious and generous in their sustenance of persons, even queerly so. It is just to say, we do not love enough [non-possessively, I might add]. We ask too little of ourselves, and of each other.
This brings me to the fourth reason for writing this post -- a not-so-great review of Speculative Medievalisms: Discography, in The Medieval Review on October 14th, which I, UNcharacteristically, reacted to this way on Facebook:
From a recent review in The Medieval Review of SPECULATIVE MEDIEVALISMS by Justin Lake [with publisher's response below]:
In the end, although each one of the essays in this collection has something to teach the reader, the volume as a whole fails as an intellectual enterprise for a number of reasons. First and most important is the editors' failure to define the parameters of "speculative medievalism" in such a way as to provide a useful template for others seeking to incorporate this practice into their own scholarship. The concept of speculatio at the heart of the volume, moreover, is so vague as to be all but useless. There are other problems: opaque and occasionally rebarbative prose, offputting postmodern coinages ("enworlded," "postdisenchanted," etc.) and a focus on big ideas at the expense of minor details, with the unfortunate result that the credibility of authors is sometimes undermined. One essay, for example, contains a reference to the common ownership of wives and children in Plato's Republic "as a foundation of strong democracy" (122), when no one acquainted with the text could be under any allusion that the society it depicts is democratic. Elsewhere "referrens" is cited as the nominative present participle of "refero," and Tolstoy's famous statement that "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is altered, alarmingly, to "every family is unhappy in its own way" (161). Bold pronouncements are often advanced, but only occasionally argued for. We read in one place that "like Narcissus, who at the fount falls in love with himself as another, modern Western culture gazes at the Middle Ages as a self-image that impossibly blurs the distinction between identity and alterity" (iii). Elsewhere we are told that "when we look into a mirror or speculate, we are non-violently beheaded" (39), and that "the mystic is a being who weaponizes the correlation, who becomes correlation-as-weapon" (44).
Ultimately, there is a "preaching to the choir" quality to much of this volume. Those already convinced of the value of speculative medievalism will presumably come away satisfied. Those, like this reviewer, curious as to what this novel approach might have to offer, will likely conclude that speculative medievalism is simply an invitation to theoretical inquiry uncontrolled by any need to justify arguments or root them in medieval sources. Despite the stimulating quality of several of the essays, and whatever the merits of speculative realism as a philosophical mode of enquiry, this volume fails to demonstrate either that "speculative medievalism" is a coherent methodology or that it can tell us anything useful about the Middle Ages.
DEAR JUSTIN: I'M SO SORRY YOU HAD SUCH A HORRIBLE EXPERIENCE WITH THIS BOOK. PLEASE ACCEPT MY SINCEREST APOLOGIES. I'M ESPECIALLY MORTIFIED BY THAT WHOLE REFERRENS/REFERO INCIDENT. HOW COULD WE? ON THE OTHER HAND, IT WAS OUR INTENTION TO TO MAKE THE VOLUME AND ITS CONTENTS AS USELESS AS POSSIBLE, SO THANK YOU FOR NOTICING. THE ENTIRE BOOK WAS INTENDED AS A MASTUBATORY EXERCISE, IN FACT, IN USELESSNESS. IT FELT GOOD, TOO. REALLY GOOD. YOU'RE RIGHT ABOUT THE INCOHERENCE, TOO. ALSO INTENTIONAL. ALSO, ARE YOU SAYING THAT WHEN *YOU* LOOK IN A MIRROR, YOU ARE *NOT* NON-VIOLENTLY BEHEADED. HUH? THAT'S WEIRD. ANYWAY, APOLOGIES AGAIN. I AM USING ALL CAPS HERE TO INDICATE THAT, MAYBE, I'VE HAD TOO MUCH COFFEE TODAY AND NOT ENOUGH STREUDEL. I'D LIKE TO GIVE YOU THE PORTION OF YOUR LIFE BACK THAT YOU SPENT READING AND REVIEWING OUR BOOK, BUT I'M NOT THAT POWERFUL, SO INSTEAD I'LL JUST SEND YOU A GIFT CARD FOR STARBUCKS. SINCERELY, THE PUBLISHER — with Jeffrey J Cohen and 13 others.
I received more than one email from people I consider close acquaintances who were a bit horrified that I would behave this way on Facebook, and that maybe all of us involved in the comment thread were behaving like brats. One person, a fellow medievalist, who I respect very much, wrote this,
- Puck Fletcher · Friends with Liza Blake
'Despite the stimulating quality of several of the essays' - yep, let's just completely skim over that shall we. You know, the bit of a review that might be useful to a reader. Not surprised this reviewer picked out a Narcissus reference. Not surprised at all.
- Scott Wilson Well yes, just extract the bit about every essay offering something stimulating, and stress that it is NOT the sort of book that offers 'a useful template' (an even bigger tribute). I remember with despair the viral utility of the New Historicist 'template' that produced in the 1990s a billion baby Greenblatts starting every essay / paper with a date, an obscure anecdote and a shit half-arsed reading of a Shakespeare play.
I remember one of our first conversations when you eloquently spoke about creating space for multiple voices and perspectives in our field. I don't know if a nasty invective against those who disagree is the best way to achieve your goal. Perhaps it has the effect of rallying the troops, but your reaction might also make some (me, for instance) doubt whether I could publicly disagree with you or suggest alternate perspectives.This person had good points, and to be honest, immediately after posting my sarcastic reaction to the review on Facebook, I did kind of regret it. My sister, who I was hanging out with in DC at the time, even tried to actively discourage me from doing it. So, in a sense, I *do* regret it [and I would also happily admit that the book is a big mess in many ways, but it is also a beautiful, creative mess, with all sorts of gems, if you are looking for them in the right way], but at the same time, I want to ask the reviewer -- Justin Lake -- here, and in public, to consider the manner is which he undertook his review. He clearly did not like the book and did not receive from it what he hoped could reasonably be expected, and that is all to the good. Fair enough. But if I may be allowed to say this, the review is uncharitable, both in its tone [which feels mean-spirited at times, as if the author feels cheated
we have to not know for sure, because we have to suspend judgment even while exercising it, knowing that we don’t know (everything). Ethics ... emerges from a willing of this suspension, a paradoxical knowing of non-knowing.It's always satisfying to receive a good, or *glowing*, review of one's work, but I think we should be discomfited by the good review in the same way we are discomfited by a bad review -- both miss the same point: that every book is a flawed, even a failed, and incomplete, human/nonhuman assemblage. All books have mistakes. All books *don't* focus on some subjects and texts in favor of other subjects and texts [there is always something more a book *could* address that it does not address]. All books have holes in their arguments. All books promise more than they can actually deliver. All books comprise certain incoherencies, certain errancies of thought and writing, certain lacunae, certain blind spots, certain places where an author hurried to finish, meaning to return, and never did. Let us begin our reviews by acknowledging this, and even while delineating some of any book's flaws [because that might assist both authors and readers with future projects -- we'll call this productive *fault*], let us also hunt for what is valuable, nevertheless, however partial it might be. We do this work for each other, and no one else. We must be friends in this venture. We must be collaborators. Justin Lake, I apologize for my sarcasm on Facebook, even if you never saw it or heard about it. I did not treat you like a person, but more as an object of my scorn. But I am asking you to also treat the authors of the books you review as persons. Books are not collocations of ideas detached from persons. We scholars, after we teach, after we cook and wash laundry, and put children to bed, and walk our dogs and grade our papers, and take our pills, and turn out the lights, and sleep fitfully at night, and in the solitude of our studies, apart from those we love ... we write, and for whom do we write? For whom? We need to get deeper into the physical and psychic muck of the being(s) that compose together what we call "scholarship." This, too, is embodied, and partly unconscious thought. This, too, comprises wayward desires we can't always share (fully) with (all) others. To review such work, with generosity, is to practice a difficult sort of love, one where you don't always get what you want, but where you give others the space to desire their own objects. Reviewing, I want to say, as something like Dominic Pettman's phanto-cartography.
This brings me to the fifth reason for writing what is now [characteristic for me, I know] a very long post. Or is it a letter? As some of you know [but some of you likely don't], I left my regular faculty appointment this past year in order to concentrate all of my energies on the BABEL Working Group and punctum books, and I do have days where I wonder if I haven't entirely lost my mind in doing so. But even before I left academia "proper," as it were [although, truth be told, I am working more now on behalf of academia than I ever did; I haven't really gone *any*-where], I was always tortured by the thought that I spent too much time on other people's work and writing, and on organizing various events, and not enough time on my own scholarship. Where is my monograph, for example, all of the ones I proposed via grant applications (three, I believe, maybe four) and the like, for oh so many years? FAIL. I cannot tell you how many amazing journal issues and essay volumes I have been invited to contribute to, and to which I said "yes," and then ... FAIL. On more than one occasion, and in several different places in the past year, more than one prominent scholar in the field of medieval studies has taken me aside and said, in essence, "all this stuff you are doing with BABEL and punctum is great, but what about your own work? You really *should* be concentrating more of your energies on your own work, on your own writing."
My ... own ... work. I love to write and I will not lie: I have days where I literally mourn the days I do *not* have time to write. I have so many ideas, for articles, for stories, for poems, for books. There are so many orphan children standing around my desk when I work, and there are times when I deeply regret, and even worry, that I have not spent more time working on what might be called "my own work" [which is to say: my own scholarship, however we might define that]. But you see, I love to make things, I always have. In the winter of 1996, I dropped out of graduate school to take a job as an apprentice to a master garden designer, and for 3 years I worked under her tutelage in eastern Tennessee. We traveled together throughout the southeast, hunting for rare plants and trees and field stone, and I spent almost every day hunched over in the dirt, digging holes, pruning vines and roses, watering plants, building walls. We designed gardens and then we watched them grow. We returned every week to re-sculpt our handiwork, to fertilize and weed, to keep these blowsy Edens manageable, to turn them into paintings by Watteau and Monet. It wasn't Nature; more like a process of composing *with* Nature. But is was composing. It was making. And I cannot put into words the satisfaction I felt -- what it felt like to plant a 1-gallon rose and watch as, over the years, it climbed a wall, or joined forces with a crepe myrtle.
And I realize that everything I do -- but also everything *we* do -- is a form of composing, of making. I love publishing because I love seeing the raw material of other persons' ideas and writings turned into books and I like the way it feels to hold those books in my hand and say, "we made this together" [and that includes all of the volunteers who help me with punctum, as well as the authors]. I like organizing events [with a lot of assistance, I might add, from many hands] and seeing the serendipitous collisions that occur between persons who otherwise might not have run into each other. That is a form of composing, too, with persons as the "materials." It may not be the kind of work that the academy typically "rewards" [in the same way it rewards the singular scholar who produces a vast and original "body" of scholarship], but the actions whereby one adds things to the world, or joins things together -- and beautiful things, at that -- is deeply rewarding, in and of itself. Writing is also, obviously, a form of composing, and thus of making. And so it turns out we are all making things together, and we need not privilege one form of making over another. This, too, is about desire. So acknowledge your desires, and the fact that they are in your work, and let others have their own desires, while always also acknowledging that none of us really knows half the time what we are trying to do. But we are trying. Living, and working, is a fragile business. And we must "take care" of that. And we should also want, as Carolyn Dinshaw expressed in her NCS Presidential Address last year, to learn to live finally, and the university is not just the place where we "work." As I wrote in my Prelude to Aranye Fradenburg's new book, Staying Alive,
the university is one important form of social life—it is not just a place where we study, think, and develop knowledge apart from our “real lives.” The university is a form of life, a habitus, and we live (and desire and agonize) there with others.So let us take care of that. And let us also bid goodbye to thinking we can control how anyone else desires anything, or should desire. We are finite and indeterminate. As are our studies.