Academic Pursuit

According to my favorite etymology website, the Latin prosequi or ‘follow up’ in the English word pursue/uit is also attached to such familiar terms as prosecute and persecute.  Not all followings are positive for the followed, eh?


I ‘ve gone and joined  In hopes of attaining what end specifically, I do n’t know.  I do know it reminds me how few marketable skills I can honestly put on my C.V. (Curriculum Vitae or academic résumé).  No positions held.  No peer-reviewed publications.  No lectures or talks given.  One conference attended purely as a spectator.  One Masters of Arts degree (which will have a few transferable skills).  Much reading yet to do.  Much writing yet to attempt.  Many secondary skills in need of considerable sharpening (if not something akin to generation).  Oh right, and there ‘s much networking yet to even begin.   


It is a considerable struggle not to desire such items (or their betters – in terms of location/timing most likely) for the sake of prestige, easy to forget the lesson of the undergraduate: that you know exceedingly little compared to the senior members of academia.  It is easier to forget the lesson of the graduate student: that senior members also know exceedingly little (at least outside their special lens within their field).  Of course, the latter does not truly abolish the former.  But on the path to becoming an initiate, or a recognized member of the academy, there is considerable temptation to grasp for knowledge-credentials rather than knowledge itself.


So if this blog comprises the majority of my minimal credentials (lending credence only for those who both find my work intriguing and proceed to apply it in ways that reach back into that dialectic I attempt to participate in), should I radically change my approach?  I ‘m not yet ready to give up judging my location by the searching for some unattained object which is yet my pursuit.

Perhaps it is too much to assume that one day soon I shall be past lacking these base credentials.  Maybe some day later I shall even enjoy modest success (currently defined as a place in which I can continue pursuing these objects and assist others in their intersecting pursuits), but that is a concern for another time.  For now I am only concerned to recall that the C.V. could be littered with items unrelated to the pursuits for which I consider academia to offer any value for me.  In other words, I can’t accept the title ‘Dr’ without having written out some slivers of the inner book.


What I see is that I also must acknowledge truly that I must start from some point.  In truth, I am at some point.  But I must find a means of locating my voice for the moment so that another one or two might meaningfully respond and so drag me a few steps forward.  Such a pursuit feels to me like an invitation to prosecution, to being rejected for the unknowing choices that lead to me being hereand not there.  But I cannot accept this.  Even to be rejected is to be affirmed as having a location worth requisitioning.  I should remember not to glibly mis-locate others permanently to one sphere of discourse.  Such is a real fear for me, but one I cannot accept bowing under.  Located I must be, though stepping lightly I shall yet attempt.


So, as to where I am, or at least what this location is: this is an attempt to gain an accent, to try out various intonations in communicating within a discourse.  True, that discourse allows me considerable freedom and may demand much of my reader.  Texts may be chosen at will and need only participate in some skepticism or some sphere of language by which I might attempt to reach out and appropriate a value.  This is a ground of play in which to learn skills that I hope to wield better, and more carefully, when a soberer maturity is attained.  For now it is best that I laugh.  Perhaps later that shall diminish to a chuckle and elicit looks of wondering disdain by those unfortunate enough to be termed colleagues.  But in truth, I feel all shall be well enough if I can yet help others to laugh; for maturity is not the negation of play.


I guess what I ‘m saying is: while I do n’t expect to be here always, I want to learn things while here that will help me be a better person when I ‘m no longer looking through the fence at the older kids who get to play baseball till the twilight.  I want to be as much that person who does things, not because someone else would like to do the same, but because as far as I know I ‘ve made an honest attempt to do them the right way.  Until then (but most hopefully then as well), I ‘m learning as much as I can.


Non-Working Title

The primary element which drew me to select the current title under which to pen these thoughts (if anything can truly bind them together other than the inexplicable unity I pretend to understand as pertaining to myself) was the expectations it was likely to generate. 

Previously I penned thoughts under my own name, but came to think there was too much cheek or pride or some such attached to it; too much permanence for someone who is convinced that one can’t step in the same river twice (or truly deliver the same lecture twice to channel that thought anew).  And worse: specifically using my own name suggests that you are becoming more familiar somehow with me, as if that were a significant part of why I read or research or ponder or do anything in the first place.  It ‘s mildly interesting for me, but it ‘s always secondary – I prefer learning from what I have been/done.  In the end I shall have little say over how I am to be viewed anyway, so far better to try learning to be someone than to defend a name I did n’t choose (though I ‘m no less than proud of the associations that come with my name for family’s sake).

So, when this title hit, I liked first that it interested me as a reader (though I do n’t think my writing to date is up to the level of the title’s originality or the interest-level I have with the image it evokes), but contemporaneously could see that dismissing the expectations of being understood relieved a great deal of tension.  Instead of dismissing my arguments and myself wholly in one go, this core concept allows for others to be conceived and dismissed in service of discourse.  I think of it much as though I am learning a language (for I am somewhat acquainted with this): one must make innumerable mistakes before one learns to speak meaningfully by means of such (and one cannot communicate without some linguistic medium). 


There seem to be two sorts of geniuses* generated by my mind in contradistinction: one who generates a new system which all others must take account therefrom or the one who readily understands how to summarize and apply each system of interest.  I suppose I cannot say with any conviction that either truly exists, but some certainly have an easier time of it than I do.  I should like then to think that what understanding (linguistic or otherwise) I attain to is then the result of much hard work and discipline, but in all cases I am trying to write a narrative in which I am special due to the perceived quality of my thoughts.  Here we are back at the name-formation issue.  I.e., I only know differentiate myself by seeing what is different in myself, and therefore my actions, from what I understand to be you and your actions. 

But honestly, I do n’t think thoughts, or systems of thought, truly attach themselves to people in such manner.  Instead that which we speak (for who can recount all that one thinks but does not say) reflects who we are…meaning it establishes a point of discourse which another can respond to.  But it does not tell us truly wherefrom we shall speak at the next moment, nor what points of discourse precede this one.  For that we require relational understanding to one another.  Friends speak another language to each other.  Although one might end up anywhere along the spectrum of possibilities allowed in language, such freedom is enacted in a way a good friend might learn to predict.  While we may never give precisely the same lecture again, we are likely to speak of the same subjects and to attach to them similar language patterns; all is not thoroughly randomized.


Returning then to how a reader may encounter a discourse in which misunderstanding is not only acknowledged as likely, but serves as the core expectation: what may be expected of the author is that for every thought marked in his discourse, others are being necessarily concealed.  So it is not unlikely that misunderstanding may arise due to stylistic choices, such as voice or mood.  Even the intonation and stresses with which a reader approaches this text shall lead to a different manner of misunderstanding (which is necessarily an understanding as well).  But a wholesale dismissal of such thoughts is much harder to express (aside from choosing to ignore completely what is posited).  Further, it admits that as the author I am not claiming to understand precisely what I mean to say (though I can dismiss many misunderstandings of purpose or minor foibles).


In fact, I am trying to learn what it is that I am saying.  This is the very reason I write: so that I may not only encounter thoughts but respond to them and learn their advantages.  By being informed of disadvantages for which I did not account, I may yet learn how to better locate such thoughts in the future.  Therefore writing as I would have it is an invitation to feedback; a chance not only to express thoughts so as to test my abilities to communicate them (and I am quite certain I miscommunicate with myself as well as with you, the reader) but to learn what faces such ideas have for those outside myself.  For that, I am truly interested.  And so, ironically hopefully, I yet am learning how to express that which is beyond me, perhaps to the benefit of those who may move well beyond me. 

Let us be less serious then in defending ourselves and our thoughts simultaneously as we pursue learning how to speak and act in better accord by the negation that is genial discursive opposition.





*or genii, if you will

(Every time I see Working Title Films’ logo, I admire their name choice)

Chasing Location and Author-ship in Foucault’s Example

In explaining the work undertaken in The Archaeology of Knowledge (L’Archeologie du Savoir) Foucault relates what he is herein attempting to say with that which was said in his prior works (namely Madness and Civilization, Naissance de la clinique, and The Order of Things).  These are his landmarks for the discourse (largely about discourse/discursive practices) he would seek to free ‘from all anthropologism’ (Archaeology trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith p. 17). 

When I first read this (and the statement which follows), it thoroughly struck me that Foucault was learning the language with which to approach his research project.  But what he published was still, though released/published, a series of thoughts incomplete of themselves.  They were, as our words truly are, as likely to point the reader to the wrong stars as to provide a coherent means of navigating the waters with Foucault’s instruments.  To be honest, I don’t understand what was wrong with these works (I have n’t read them as yet and might not even then be in the proper position to see the weaknesses in his own publishings Foucault saw or was made aware of) and so won’t illustrate the specific items.  It is enough to hear Foucault admit:

It is mortifying that I was unable to avoid these dangers: I console myself with the thought that they were intrinsic to the enterprise itself…


The enterprise itself does not concern us here, but we must again note that it was not something Foucault was immediately able to recognize in his own writings – how to retool his language so that it better served his purposes and was free from the language used by ‘anthropologistic’ historical methods.  The succeeding lines shout loudest where I can but underline:

“[W]ithout the questions that I was asked, without the difficulties that arose, without the objections that were made, I may never have gained so clear a view of the enterprise to which I am now inextricably linked.  Hence the cautious, stumbling manner of this text: at every turn it stands back, measures up what is before it, gropes towards its limits, stumbles against what it does not mean, and digs pits to mark out its own path.”

~ibidem, p. 17 – emphasis mine

I could n’t identify more with such sentiments.  We expect, too often, in reading some work that the author’s ideas are fixed and stable (why else should they put their author-ity at stake) and probably assume that all decisions are consciously made.  Foucault exemplifies how this is not the case for he cautions the reader that he may in fact not be going about this in the best way.  He only knows that this is what can be said at this moment in pursuit of this goal.  At every moment he is questioning (and invites the reader to question) how the current assertion can be supported and what precisely that knowledge is serving.  Hence he says:

I have tried to define this blank space from which I speak, and which is slowly taking shape in a discourse that I still feel to be so precarious and so unsure.


Not only does he know that his research may be misunderstood (and used to serve ends of which he does not approve), he suspects that the approach he takes may counteract his purpose.  He may not only be misunderstood, he very well may misunderstand his own project!  For all energies sacrificed to achieve a location from which to speak, an author such as Foucault may find that such a location is entirely unsuitable.  It is unsurprising then that he is cautious, even halting, in his approach.

But if Foucault is unsure of his location, how is one to counteract his assertions?  He gives voice to his detractors in saying:

‘Aren’t you sure of what you’re saying?  Are you going to change yet again, shift your position according to the questions that are put to you, and say that the objections are not really directed at the place from which you are speaking?  Are you going to declare yet again that you have never been what you have been reproached with being?  Are you already preparing the way out that will enable you in your next book to spring up somewhere else and declare as you’re now doing: no, no, I’m not where you are lying in wait for me, but over here, laughing at you?’


Surely this is not a fair case if the author can perpetually evade her detractors by maintaining ‘I am not really there, but here – although, I can see why you thought so’.  But such maddening displays are true to life.  While we do speak from a location, we may not be the best author-ities to tell another where that location is.  It is, rather, injudicious of us to expect that a writer to accomplish his ends by way of the simplest definitions.  Instead, we find that we are grasping for landmarks by which to locate from whence the author is speaking – even as the author is attempting to do so! 

Misunderstandings then, as I am attempting to use the term for this moment from wherever here may be, might also describe such landmarks.  They are impressions by which we might just succeed in locating ourselves for long enough to utter some meaningful misunderstanding.  If such is the case, we would do best to tread lightly and think from as many locations as possible as we attempt to engage in that discourse we (and the author) are pressing for.


For those who would attempt to follow such guidelines I offer Foucault’s words:

I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face.  Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order.  At least spare us their morality when we write.