Monday, December 14, 2009

And yet

It’s been almost two years since the entry of dread into Work Without Dread, dread which for me felt like the impress of the society outside WWD upon WWD, in the form of thoughts about things that ought or ought not to be said in response to events in that society. Thinking such thoughts has been a lose-lose game for me, in which I worry about feeling coerced whether I do or do not write. Even writing this now is easier to the extent that I assume that, after a long hiatus, fewer people are reading—my version of the Dickinsonian secret that writing loses its limits as it loses its purpose as communication. Local readers have been more inhibiting than faraway readers; concretely, I was more upset by the experience in 2008 of going to a really horrid talk by a colleague in another department, having a lot to say about the issues involved therein, and not feeling it ethical to write them, as they would be read and their object recognized by her students, than by any other single thing related to writing or not writing here. The failure I’m talking about is a failure of the idea of the university, of course, in which it should be possible to debate anything rationally. (Man, was that a terrible talk; nor did I feel rational; more than offended, I felt traumatized by that talk.) Everyone knows that’s not true: the space of the university has never been the neutral space of the analytic session or the disinterested space of aesthetics—if these are ever neutral or disinterested in the first place. Whether you’re worried about losing social purchase, retaliation, or just about hurting others’ feelings, the result is the closing of a space. I feel like writing now because finally, at the University of California, there are explicit conversations about the question of open space in the university and along its margins. They take place in another vocabulary, the vocabulary of infrastructural access, but these very public discussions, never figured in psychological terms, brush against questions that could be posed in those terms—questions about which interests can be private, shared, addressed conspiratorially, broadcast publicly, or addressed without direction, as things now stand. The secret, the open secret, and the communication disseminated to the point of dissolution are possible modes, but not in every instance possible in the university or in writing done in the university as we know it, nor “here” either, nor necessarily anywhere at all. And yet . . . I didn’t say at the talk what I’ve said here.

Photo: U.S.-Mexico border, New York Times

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