Thursday, April 19, 2007

why a blog?

so, last time i met with one of my supervisors, we agreed that i would give her a lit review on my readings on race. i haven't got a lit review on race to give her today. i've done a lot of reading and thinking, but haven't spent enough time writing up my reading.

my instinct was to castigate myself for being "behind" or "disorganised" or "lacking discipline" or whatever. i wondered what i could do - maybe apologise and reschedule our appointment, maybe whip together my notes or stay up late for a few nights and pull together what i could, putting life on hold for a while (e.g. last night i nearly cancelled on a comedy festival gig that i was seeing with friends, thankfully i didn't cos it was really good). in the past, this has pretty much been my solution, when an essay has been due and i've spent too much time reading and not enough time writing. i think it's meant that the quality of my writing has suffered, that it hasn't reflected the depth and breadth of my understanding and ideas.

and i realised that this is my PhD, and more than that, this is my life. i keep hearing the bit about it being my PhD, and an old lecturer once told me that the way you live during your honours year can set a template for the rest of your academic career. i bunked down for my honours year - largely because my partner had just died suddenly and i was grieving privately and my thesis was a convenient screen to hide behind. i regret some things that i didn't do that year, and i am not going to live that way again, especially since a PhD is a marathon not a sprint.

but this makes it sound like i'm justifying myself, defending my degree of commitment, when this isn't at all what i'm thinking. i am so immersed in my thesis, i am progressing in leaps and bounds, but the way that i am expressing myself is in my blog. i'm learning that the way that i approach my study is not to systematically organise my thoughts into neat categories, like "race" and "sexuality". i just flicked open one of my favourite books - a book that has been one of the most influential in my thinking in the past few years - Eli Clare's Exile and Pride. It's a personal, political interweaving of Clare's insights into disability (she has cerebral palsy), sexuality (she's queer), gender (she's gender-queer), race (she's white, her whole rural town was white), environmentalism (she articulates a wonderful environmental ethic), class (she's rural, mixed/working class, but moved to the city so that she could have queer activist community and employment opportunities), etc. a reviewer described her work as "a vision of broadbased and intersectional politics that can move us beyond the current divisions of single-issue movements." I emulate her breadth and connections.

The term "broadbased" is key - it isn't "breadth" in the sense of glossing over the specificities of each "issue" she discusses, it's very grounded in specific experience. But it acknowledges the inherent intersectionality of many "issues" that are too often discussed separately. The clearest example from her work is her discussion of the "freak show", which historically displayed people from colonised countries, people with disabilities, people with atypical sexual characteristics (e.g. intersex), developmentally disabled people, cojoined twins, people of short stature, etc, together as variations on the "freak." She explores how this show reinforced the "normality" and superiority of the viewers. She explores the contemporary manifestations of this historical grouping.

it reminds me of an idea someone expressed (i think it was either said or hage, i can't remember, but i'll find it when i put my notes from them onto computer) - about the idea of an array, a cataloguing, an assortment of people, e.g. the multicultural fair, where all the "different" foods and costumes are displayed, or (I would add) the DSM, where all the "different" pathologies and failings are laid out. He explored the way in which this process reduces diversity to managable proportions, produces the normality of those who are not part of the display, and I would argue even describes the conditions of normality by a process of contrast. For example, definitions in the DSM rely on an otherwise unarticulated sense of what is "normal behaviour". The "normality" of not stealing, for example, is articulated by contrast with kleptomania [even though stealing is routine in imperial cultures, but somehow the land and cultures of indigenous peoples can be stolen without that being defined as stealing].

something that i find really powerful is the identification of the pathological tendencies of "normal" society, the "insanity of normality" as Jensen constantly describes it. Perhaps pathological is not quite what i mean, i mean naming, describing normals, not leaving them unnamed, unexamined and thus natural. it reminds me of a car trip once i made with the other editors of Lesbian Network magazine (back in my lesbian feminist days). I was the only middle-class person in the car, the others were all working class, and they were discussing middle-class characteristics in a way that i had never previously experienced. i felt profoundly self-conscious and suddenly aware of my taking-for-granted the goodness of middle class habits. Specifically, they were talking about how "nice" middle class people can be, how fake this can be and how annoying such fakeness is.

anyhow, i think i'm digressing. i'm wanting to talk about why i'm blogging. i don't intend to write my thesis in the way i write my blog. of course not. that would be unacademic. but i do intend to explore my ideas in a grounded way on my blog. explore the ideas that don't fit neatly onto a microsoft word document with subheadings and clear references, or into an Endnote file. the writers i most admire (Eli Clare, Arundhati Roy, Derrick Jensen, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Alison Bechdel, Edward Said, Ghassan Hage, and I just started flicking through Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/ La Frontera and I suspect she may join this list), Kate Millett ... OK this list is getting long) - they all blend their experiences of the world into their theorising. they understand and value their life experiences as knowledge.

i'm truly not sure how my thesis-writing will develop (the use of the future tense here is not entirely accurate, but what i have written so far is minimal) but i know that this process of blogging is allowing my ideas to develop, i am continually drawing on my reading and reflecting on it, and i desire to write every day.

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