Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood, and I, I Took the One Less Travelled By: Why I Resigned my Professorship
These Are the Tiny Engines That Power the Sails of Our Adventure: Friendship as a Way of Life (Again, and Again)
It is now 2 days since returning from the 2nd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group in Boston last week, and I am still trying to recover. Following this blog post I am going to share with everyone the notes of the first-ever “think tank” of BABEL, held the Sunday after the conference, in which a group of us engaged in some strategic planning for the future of our conference, but also for BABEL as an organization that is getting larger and larger in terms of its activities and membership. WE NEED HELP. To that end, in the next day or two, I will share what we discussed at our day-long retreat and also invite everyone here to please pitch in ideas regarding the next meeting, to be held in Autumn 2014 at UC-Santa Barbara.
In the meantime, I would like to share with everyone here the edited and slightly expanded version of the presentation that I and my partner Anna Klosowska delivered in Boston as part of Brantley and Sakina Bryant’s “Impure Collaborations” panel, which they described this way:
This panel explores collaborations that challenge the customary professional expectations of academic being-together. What kinds of shared work beckon beyond the sanitized templates for “objective” (“pure”) and “professional” academic collaboration? How can we best make visible the ways in which that affinity, friendship, eros, identity, political engagement, and other off-the-CV connections give us ways of working outside of often constrictive and normative academic hierarchies and working conditions?
Friendship, and also “work” motivated by personal intimacy and love, was the topic Anna and I chose, and we understand the mine-field in which we tread. It is hoped that it is understood that we do not take our project of friendship [which we believe is deeply political and radical] as some sort of monolith: “we are all friends now! isn’t that groovy?” As if that “group” or whatever it is would not be striated by all sorts of differences, internal dissension, mixed motives, lopsided attractions, asymmetrical power dynamics, and the like. The project of friendship, in relation to the academy, is, for us, very much a Derridean and even Foucauldian working through of what is to-come, to-arrive. It is a project of radical hope, not a *thing* that already exists. It is not one specific group that insists on a sort of membership or set of rituals or personality types for being “in” or “out.” It is not a collective that absorbs nor threatens to absorb otherness and difference; it is an activity of clearing ground so that anything might happen, so that specific persons can feel safe to be exactly who they are, even if what that is might embody the wish to be “left alone.” It requires courage, because you have to be willing to allow yourself to be changed through your encounters with others. And without further ado, here are our remarks: Read more
Thanks to Jeffrey’s recent post on Tweeting the MLA Conference [a conference, moreover, that included a concerted attention upon the digital humanities and its possible future(s)], a very lively set of comments emerged, and I’m glad they have because they arrived at the exact moment I was contemplating writing a post titled “Fuck Pessimism,” and gave me some extra fuel. Late December and early January is a queer time of year–on the one hand, it heralds [if even as a mirage] new beginnings and re-tooled ambitions and second [and third and fourth and so on] chances as well as a chance to pause and rest and refresh; on the other hand, for many of us working in literature, history, philosophy, cultural studies, new media, and foreign languages departments, it signifies that annual meeting [MLA, AHA, APA, etc.] where hundreds and hundreds of anxious and well-trained and talented job seekers gather to make the best pitch they can for some future job security, and this at a time when the economic picture for those in the humanities does not look so hot [although recent numbers do indicate a slight up-tick in available jobs], and the American economy in general kind of sucks, and everyone is admittedly worried about the future of academic publishing. Read more
I’ll Stop the World and Melt With You: A Plea for Inextricability, for Staying Awake, and for an Insomniac Humanities
Every known object
b. keeping busy
(Rae Armantrout, “Arrivals”)
We address the question of our aliveness to the object of fascination because contemplating such an object allows us to suspend our aliveness without suffering from it; in reverie, in gazing, we are undead.
(Aranye Fradenburg, “My Worldes Blisse: Chaucer’s Tragedy of Fortune”)
leave your possessions, positions, ambitions at home,
temporarily quit the human race;
how long can we stay?
the fairies with the stars won’t say;
it all depends on your money . . . or your case.
(poem written by an anonymous American while incarcerated in a Chinese prison, from This American Life, Episode 448, Adventure!, Act I: “Chinese Checkmate”)
What we need is an account . . . of how the complications of praise may be thought, said, and sung together with the complications of truth and, yes, pleasure.
(Cary Howie, “Inextricable,” Glossator 4: Occitan Poetry)
Before beginning, a disclaimer and a frank personal aside: I am well aware that some people are afflicted by chronic and long-term bouts of insomnia, and that this can be a horrible thing to live with, and I am not meaning in any way with my post here to minimize or overlook that fact. For a brief period, when I was working on my MFA in the early 1990s and living in Richmond, Virginia, over a period of about a year, I had a terrible and long battle with insomnia that was also combined with an illogical anxiety that if I went to sleep, I would die. I never actually sought help for this (because I was young and stupid), but spent many late nights and early mornings riding my bicycle through the lamp-lit streets of the historic Fan district in Richmond in order to wear myself out, and also because I believed that, by cycling, I was keeping myself alive. I had a lot of interesting “visions,” epiphanies, “visitations,” and hallucinations on these bike rides, some of which made it into my fiction writing, and one of which convinced me I had cracked the “code” of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” but mainly, it was just a horrible period in my life. It didn’t help that, at the time, I was also — how shall I put this? — a total pothead. But I must admit, I have some nostalgia for those visions and visitations, which were, for lack of a better way to describe them, windows that momentarily cracked open to reveal to me the frail yet tender interconnectedness of everything, human and inhuman, past and present (Richmond is a truly Southern gothic city in which the past is always visible), as well as the shining beauty of the world. In short, even when sick and afraid, I’m an optimist [or is it" hopeless aesthete?]. Read more
Everything We Think Can in Principle Be Thought By Someone Else: A Plea for Open, Collective Scholarship
At the end of my working day, I am almost always depressed. Mine is not a straight path like an engineer’s, it’s not A to B. I make a very curly road just by the restrictions of goals and materials. . . . Everything we think can in principle be thought by someone else. The real ideas, as evolution shows, come about by chance. Reality is very creative.–
Theo Jansen, creator of the Strandbeests
Although it often feels otherwise, we do not think alone. We never have. Every second of every day, there is a virtual crowd inside of our head, multiple voices, all vying for attention, and even as babies we come into this world carrying the histories of previous generations and their experiences inside intricate chains of nucleic acids that inhabit every cell of our bodies. I’ve long ago given up on the idea of a unified, autonomous “self” [thank you, Derrida, Foucault, Francesco Varela, Andy Clark, and also Katherine Hayles], but every day, our particular and unique minds touch reality and become real, to paraphrase the political philosopher George Kateb ["The Idea of Individual Infinitude," The Hedgehog Review 7.2 (2005): 42–54, at 49], while at the same time that “reality” represents, to cadge from Timothy Morton, an inescapable “mesh”: “a complex situation or series of events in which a person is entangled; a concatenation of constraining or restricting forces or circumstances; a snare” [Oxford English Dictionary]. I agree with Morton that “everything is interconnected” and therefore “there is no definite background and . . . no definite foreground” [The Ecological Thought, p. 28]. But as Morton also asks,
If there is no background and therefore no foreground, then where are we? We orient ourselves according to backgrounds against which we stand out. There is a word for a state without a foreground-background distinction: madness. [The Ecological Thought, p. 30]
The fact of the matter is, in order to guard against this “madness,” we imagine all sorts of background-foreground distinctions all of the time: we need them, and they are necessary, even consoling, fictions. A life has to be livable, after all. I feel the same way about love: I know I’m making this up as I go along with a lot of props from others in history who have also been making things up as they go along. The trick is not to stop believing in individual lives, or in love, or even persons, but rather, to generously expand our conceptions of what counts as a life, what counts as loveable, what counts as a person. The ultimate aim is to work toward increasing, as much as is in our power, the general well-being of as many inhabitants [animate, inanimate, whathaveyou] of this world as possible. Or as Pablo Neruda once put it, much more eloquently than I ever could, “I don’t know who you are. I love you. I don’t give away thorns, and I don’t sell them” [Love Sonnet LXXVIII]. Read more
Figure 1. Eco Pods, Boston
[Architects: Howeler + Yoon]
As some of you may know already,postmedieval is about halfway through a 2-month open “crowd review” of its forthcoming special issue on Becoming-Media, co-edited by Jen Boyle and Martin Foys, and you can see what has been happening with that, and also participate yourself, here:
Crowd Review: Becoming-Media Issue
In all honesty [and yes, I know I am an impartial judge], I have been thrilled with how this crowd review has been progressing thus far–if you follow the link above, you can see for yourself that, in just under four weeks, we have had a fairly robust response, with really thoughtful and expansive comments from a wide variety of commentators [the issue's editors, junior faculty, more senior faculty, graduate students, and one imagines, some independent scholars]. Of course, we have to reflect that the essays were solicited in advance by the issue’s two editors and received some expert review by them before emerging into the crowd review context, and some of the essays may have received comments in other contexts prior to being received by Jen and Martin [I know, for example, that Whitney Trettien blogged and tweeted portions of her essay in the past and also maintains a public wiki where she keeps all of her notes, annotations, and bibliography relative to her various writing projects]. I belabor this point because it is not the mission of this crowd review to ask potential reviewers to assess whether or not these essays are worth publishing or not. To a certain extent, that has already been decided by the issue’s editors, although, just as with an edited volume of essays, all of the authors involved understand that the crowd review process does serve as a form of “external” review of their work for this special issue of the journal, and I assume they will revise accordingly with Jen and Martin’s expert guidance [but also with their own sense of which comments best serve the purposes of their separate essay projects: in other words, the authors still maintain sole control of the overall direction and content of their individual essays]. But something also really different and importantly valuable is going on here, and it is worth reflecting upon further. Read more
You Are Here: A Manifesto
Eileen A. Joy
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in the Early Modern and Medieval Periods
Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, George Washington University
11-12 March 2011
[audiofile available HERE]
The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. It is the same with an act of love. . . . The authentic and pure values—truth, beauty and goodness—in the activity of a human being are the result of one and the same act, a certain application of the full attention to the object.—Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
I. Ideation Without Bodies/The Drowned World
The strangest thing is that I am not at all inclined to call myself insane, I clearly see that I am not: all these changes concern objects. At least, that is what I’d like to be sure of.—from the notebooks of Antoine Roquentin
In J.G. Ballard’s short story, “The Overloaded Man,” the main character, Faulkner, is “slowly going insane.” In a nutshell, he’s become dissatisfied with life in general, and having quit his job, he waits impatiently for his wife to leave every morning so that he can engage in his daily secret ritual. Living in a development called “the Bin”—a “sprawl of interlocking frosted glass, white rectangles and curves, at first glance abstract and exciting . . . but to the people within formless and visually exhausting”—Faulkner is eager to de-materialize his surroundings. Read more
There is No End Without Beginning: Reflections on BABEL’s Inaugural Conference and a Live-able Humanities
There is no end without beginning. How could the end be known as end if it weren’t recounted by someone?–Jean-Francois Lyotard, Soundproof Room
I argue that we can find a certain dignity in what we are doing if we maintain absolute fidelity to the incalculable and unreckonable event of the university to-come, the university without condition.–Michael O’Rourke, “After”
It has taken me almost two weeks to recover from the BABEL Working Group‘s inaugural biennial conference at the University of Texas at Austin [4-6 November 2010], “After the End: Medieval Studies, the Humanities, and the Post-Catastrophe” [and I can only say now that whatever went on at the closing Saturday night party at Mike Johnson's house after midnight, I do not recall, and please contact my lawyers if I offended you or damaged your personal property, and yes, Heather Love and Ann Cvetkovich wore costume wigs and danced and I made a pact with Neville Hoad to drive to Mexico the following day but daylight brought more sober thoughts, and brakes]… [Read the rest at In the Middle]
It’s Never Enough, or, On Being Fucked Up
Eileen A. Joy
45th International Congress on Medieval Studies (13-16 May 2010)
Session 57 Post-Absymal I: Exegesis, Ethics, Saturation
for Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1950-2009)
Eagles of coral
adorn the ebony bed
where Nero lies fast asleep—
callous, peaceful, happy,
in the prime of his body’s strength,
in the fine vigor of youth.
But in the alabaster hall that holds
the ancient shrine of the Aenobarbi,
how restless the household gods!
They tremble, the little Lares,
and try to hide their insignificant bodies.
They’ve heard a terrible sound,
a deadly sound coming up the staircase,
iron footsteps that shake the staircase;
and now, faint with fear, the miserable Lares
scramble to the back of the shrine,
shoving each other and stumbling,
one little god falling over another,
because they know what kind of sound that is,
know by now the footsteps of the Furies.
—C.P. Cavafy, “Footsteps”
I. Alcibiades’s Bitten Heart
As Jonathan Lear has written, Plato’s Symposium “is the only attempt ever made to plumb the philosophical significance of party-crashing.” With Lear, I do not view Alcibiades’s interruption of the party and its speeches as either “incidental farce” or merely a comic affirmation of the wisdom of Socrates’ supposedly disembodied and more “rational” enlightenment. Read more
by EILEEN JOY
I want to emphasize that historicism has served the medievalist well for so long because it is both rigorous and flexible. It does not denote a monolithic practice–and there is no “other” to it: meaning that historicism has to be part of any critical encounter with the past. It is the sine qua non that enables other, potentially unhistorical modes.
–Jeffrey J. Cohen, “Time Out of Memory,” The Post-Historical Middle Ages
Menard (perhaps without wanting to) has enriched, by means of a new technique, the halting and rudimentary art of reading: this new technique is that of deliberate anachronism and the erroneous attribution. This technique, whose applications are infinite, prompts us to go through the Odyssey as if it were posterior to the Aeneid and the book Le jardin du Centaure of Madame Henri Bachelier as if it were by Madame Henri Bachelier. This technique fills the most placid works with adventure. To attribute the Imitatio Christi to Louis Ferdinand Céline or to James Joyce, is this not a sufficient renovation of its tenuous spiritual indications?
–Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”
As promised to everyone at NYU and here at In The Middle, I have now the full, somewhat expanded text of my remarks to share from the Anglo-Saxon Studies Colloquium forum on “Historicism, Post-Historicism, and Medieval Studies,” held just this past Thursday [April 1st] at New York University… [Read the rest at In the Middle]