Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Death, Discourse... err... dahlias?

At about 1.30 last Tuesday morning, I had one of those swirling vortexes of a moment in which time, experience and everything seemed to turn into the tunnel that runs during the credits of Dr. Who.

I was sitting here, at this desk, tippy-tapping away on the keyboard, editing my intro for the thousandth time, and chugging away, cutting, pasting and knitting together all the little bits of insight and exegesis with reasonably grammatically correct signposting sentences, and accurate footnotes.

then i came to the bit about feminist ethnography and cultural studies, where I'm meant to spend 200 words succinctly encapsulating why i shifted from Art History to Gender and Cultural Studies, and the value of cultural studies methodologies to my inquiry, analysis and findings. I felt a rather dreary sense of trudging back to 2005 and 2006, when i was reading/teaching/loving raymond williams, beverley skeggs, and lugging around Denzin and Lincoln, and the earnest optimistic afternoons in my supervisors office in the quad, as we sat on the carpet, and mapped out the great inquiry, which I presented in manifesto form in 3 papers at conferences and seminars... But this time it felt so cloaked in a haze of amnesia, and buried under so many other thrilling findings and meanderings, that I couldn't bring it up or face it.

I looked at the clock, and it said 1.48am, so I closed the document, and popped online to check on the blogosphere, to wind my brain down before heading to bed. Noting that Lauren had added another post, I popped over and had a look.

I hadn't really expected the image or the coffin, or the musings on death, or the netiquette of online notification and discussion. My eyeballs started swimming, and I felt blushings of shame, and a bit queasy in my belly. Ever the egomaniac, I feared that it might have been an insinuation directed towards my last post, and I wondered if I'd overstepped the mark, yet again. Kept reading, wondering, thinking, brain humming, belly churning.

then I heard Renaissance Girl wake up and head to the phone. Heard her voice on the telephone, asking if she should go back to the hospital. shit. I closed the document, mind reeling, heart racing. We packed bedside camping supplies into shopping bags and I sat with her as she drove to the hospital, sat with her, and her mum during the night, and the next day, and evening.

what happened during that time, is not my story to tell, much lest post here in this blog. If nothing else, Renaissance Girl is a writer herself, and could probably describe this most intimate, terrible and sacred of experiences with more courage, sensitivity and clarity than I could ever hope for.

If that is not my story to tell, then I wonder what is, and why I need to tell anything at all, and what point does it serve, and who do I write for? for me? for her? for the imaginary institutions of community enunciated, iterated and moderated by the discourses of blogging?

I've got a few passionate theoretical threads running through me, that somehow wind themselves between my work, my writing, my life, my feelings.

the first comes from ALphonso Lingis, who, in the introduction to my charcoal scrawled and tear stained copy of "Abuses" says:
"One only speaks for others when they are silent or silenced. and to speak for others is to silence oneself"

and then this takes me back to feminist ethnography - hell! to feminist theory 101 - which was based on the critical imperative of finding way to describe the indescribable, unmentionable, ignored and trivialised reality of women's emotional reality and daily existence. My own feminist journey occurred in the early '90's, where the ACTUP slogan "silence=death" coincided with a 3rd wave take on the "personal is political" and we believed, I believed, still believe, that the work of feminist consciousness involves facing the silent, visible, unmentionable horror of sexual abuse, pain, shame, death, and finding words to wrap around it, bringing it forth, making it a social issue, framed, visible, insistent; one that can be articulated as part of, but separate from us, so that we are no longer consumed by the wordless horror of private suffering.

And then I think of the tome, and the manifesto proclaimed in my Prologue, that I wanted to find a way of enunciating and articulating irritation as an epistemology, not pain as an instrument of torture or horror, but the grinding banality of minor pain, formed in a condition of work, that doesn't quite destroy language, but still remains outside of discourse, and still silences those that experience it.

And I'm thinking that ripped tendons, nerve damage and pulled muscles of artists models have no place of comparison to what I witnessed last week, and quoting Elaine Scarry just seems silly. Bad pastiche, bad opera, bad taste.

So my story, is one of witnessing pain, and not knowing how to bear that witness in an appropriate manner. I don't believe that silence is appropriate, but it is not my place to howl the pain of others. I bury myself in books, cloak myself in words, nestle in the gaps between elucidation, comprehension and understanding, allowing feeling to bubble up in between phrases, as my glasses fog, tears cloud my eyes and my thoughts meander between feelings, sensations and insights. Renaissance girl cries, we cuddle, make soup, casseroles, warm milk, and slowly breathe our way through this.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Is it just me? is it just the universe? is it just bad timing?

One of my colleagues made a joke last year, saying 'hell! I'm scared to be your friend! Look what happens to them!"

Now i'm wondering if it's really funny. A close friend has come out of remission, and is about to go into the scary phase described by Predator 5 years ago, and quoted by me 2 years ago:

Cancer treatment is a stop/go journey.
Find something wrong, chop it out. Wait.
Find something else wrong.
Try and find someone who'll chop it out.
Chop it out.
Wait until, inevitably, something else goes wrong.
Can't chop it out this time.
Cry a lot. Get dead. Zzzzz.
My story has been played out in a million other abdomens and I've never heard about them.
Maybe it's like mine.chop it out, what do I do

but wait, that's not all! Over the past 6 weeks, or 8 now - during some kind of weird late feb, march, now april time slowing, spinning weirdness - the missus and I have been facing another Mack truck, creeping slowly, slowly, slowly forward, growing inexorably immense and scary (and I don't mean the linfox supplychain behemoths outside the front windows). My Missus's mum went into the Palliative care unit this week. the missus cries, cries again, and copes.

I never imagined the end of the tome would be dwarfed by so much... err.... ok cloaked in a miasma of anxiety, helplessness and grief. I started the tome as predator quickly succumbed to cancer, and now, as I finish, I'm watching people close to me wrangle with the implications of scary mutant organ eating cells.

The horror of this mutes my capacity to describe it, or to even try. I send kind messages, hug the missus, cook meals, chase up foontotes, consult my style guide and plug away at the tome, watching, waiting, working towards things that come to an end, even if I don't want them to.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wrapping words

A couple of my blogopshere compatriots have been going a bit of handwringing (if such a thing is possible while typing - maybe my crappy spelling proves that it is ).... and I've had my knickers in a know this afternoon - trying to devise a pithy exegesis of Foucault's anit-humanism - for a footnote.

while taking my eyeballs for a walk I came across the following and fell in love -literally:

[...] I would have preferred to be enveloped in words, borne way beyong all possible beginnings. at the moment of speaking, I would like to have perceived a nameless voice, long preceding me, leaving me merely to enmesh myself in it, taking up its cadence, and to lodge myself, when no one was looking, in its interstices as if it had paused an isntant, in suspense, to beckon to me. There would have been no beginnings: instead, speech would proceed from me, while I stood in its path - a slender gap - the point of its possible disappearance.

Behind me, I should like to have heard (having been at it long enough already, repeating in advance what I am about to tell you) the voice of Molloy , [WTF - no idea who Molloy is - but I know how he feels] beginning to speak thus:
'I must go on; I can't go on; I must go on; I must say words as long as there are words, I must say them until they find me, until they say me - heavy burden, heavy sin; I must go on; maybe it's been done already; maybe they've already said me; maybe they've already borne me to the threshold of my story, right to the door opening onto my story; I'd be surprised if it opened.'

A good many people, I imagine, harbour a similar desire to be freed from the obligation to begin, a similar desire to find themselves, right from the outside, on the other side of discourse, without having to stand outside it, pondering its particular, fearsome, and even devilish features. To this all too common feeling, institutions have an ironic reply, for they solemnise beginnings, surorunding them with a circle of silent attention; in order that they can be distinguished from far off, they impose ritual forms upon them.

Inclinations speaks out: 'I don't want to have to enter this risky word of discourse; I want nothing to do with it insofar as it is decisive and final; I would like to feel it all around me, calm and transparent, profound, infinitely open, with others responding to my expectations, and truth emerging, one by one. all I want is to allow myself to be borne along, within it, and by it, a happy wreck,' institutions reply: 'but you have nothing to fear from launching out; we're here to show you discourse is within the established order of things, that we've waited a long time for its arrival, that a place has been set aside for it - a place which both honours and disarms it; and if it should happen to have a certain power, then it is we, and we alone, who give it that power.'

Foucault, M, 'The discourse on language', Swyer, R (trans) Social Science Information, Sage Publications, April 1971, pp. 7-30, reprinted in Kearney, R & Rainwater, M (eds) The continental philosophy reader, Routledge, London & New York, 1996, p. 339.

the typos are mine....

Saturday, April 04, 2009

It's been a tough week

Mega thanks to Melissa Laing for sending this across the tasman.....
Miss Piggy doing peaches