Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Impure Thought

Wildly Parenthetical has posted an evocative brief reflection, taking up initially from a comment about writing, from Phaedrus, but leading to a set of questions about memory – and the relational possibilities for forms of subjectivity:

Memory is thus presented as authentic, self-sufficient and almost a way of investing the thought within oneself rather than in an elsewhere place. The self-contained subject must not permit thought to pass to elsewhere, and certainly must not allow the thought to circulate to another, much less another inanimate object—pen, paper, ink upon page, pixels on screen—before returning for it will never be the same… and nor will you.

Never let there be another to show you who you are, to let you be who you are; heaven forbid. And if there is such another, destroy him, destroy her, burn the paper, smash the liquid crystal, until there is nothing but you left, you and a lonely, isolated knowledge. As if no other form of relation were ever possible…!

My associations on reading this – which may significantly overliteralise Wildly’s intent in writing it – went immediately to the ways in which my “own” work has been influenced in profound ways by my connections and contacts with others. I’ve so often been struck by the disjoint between the notion of academic production as an “original” and “individual” effort, and my experience of “my” work as always refracting interactions with others, perpetually deflected by the shock of interaction. So much of my current writing is shaped by the problems that condense and crystallise only from dialogue, the dislocated insights made possible by sliding into perspectives of whose existence I would never have learned, except through others. I view intellectual work – not as necessarily collective, in the sense of a consciously-shared joint project (although it might under certain circumstances be that, as well) – but as transcendent of individuals who generate, not a lonely, isolated knowledge, but a unique refraction of a shared experience that each can only partially and incompletely express.

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2 responses to “Impure Thought

  1. WildlyParenthetical November 29, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    You’re absolutely on the money here, NP :-) I still remember a ‘fairy tale’ told by Nikki Sullivan at a conference I was at years and years ago now (I was an undergrad at the time), where she talked about herself ‘the woman in black’ and her two friends—the ‘rather quiet woman with the capacity to shock’ and the ‘gray-haired woman with the well-developed sense of humour’. She discussed the way that the work that each of them did was indicative of our being singular plural: each could not be as they were without the other, and yet each was different to the other. They shared work and thoughts and ideas and laughter and too much coffee, and so their work was never lonely and isolated, but as you say ‘a unique refraction of a shared experience that each can only partially and incompletely express.’ The fact that her two friends were also presenting at the conference and that each paper was different and yet inextricably intertwined with the others only reinforced her point.

    I’ve been thinking about the incredible isolation of academic work lately. It’s regularly the institution that is blamed for the atomisation of people in a workplace, and doubtless this is the case. I’m often surprised, though, by the way that recognition of this fact, along with the acknowledgement that academic work is *never* the product of a self-sufficient subject, often doesn’t lead to folks feeling a little more developing strategies to resist that individualising. I know that this awareness is partially the result of being in the ‘writing up’ phase of the PhD, and needing to think about the future (the dreaded ‘do I actually want to be in academia’ thing). Maybe I’ll write some more later, over at mine. But the lack of community—in the critical sense, people, not the totalising one—in academia is playing on my mind a lot lately. Do I want to be part of a setting that’s so regularly unethical?

  2. N Pepperell November 29, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    Just a quick note that I’m out of battery power in the laptop, and will need to get back to you later!! Not neglecting you deliberately! Sorry…

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