I have been tempted back into the blogging world by the insight and brevity of my colleague, Micah Goodrich, who has provided an emancipatory model for my writing and thinking over the past few days. I had already been contemplating a post on an observation that was in excess of my current dissertation research, once again planning to use this blog to siphon off my thoughts. I recently read D.A. Miller’s seminal book from 1988 on The Novel and the Police, which is much better than I even anticipated, but what I thrilled to most was Miller’s foreword: “But Officer…”.
Even the blandest (or bluffest) “scholarly work” fears getting into trouble: less with the adversaries whose particular attacks it keeps busy anticipating than through what, but for the spectacle of this very activity, might be perceived as an overall lack of authorization. It is as though, unless the work at once assumed its most densely professional form, it would somehow get unplugged from whatever power station (the academy, the specialization) enables it to speak. Nothing expresses—or allays—this separation anxiety better than the protocol requiring an introduction to “situate” the work within its institutional and discursive matrix.
Forgive me for quoting at length Miller’s discussion of the “nervous ritual.” I hope I have the courage to recall it when I reach the point of writing my dissertation’s introduction, when I am wrestling with the “dread of being asocial—of failing to furnish the proper authorities with one’s papers.” I have been reflecting on his words recently, however, because I have been thinking so often of my own position in the academy, the exercise of my own voice in negotiation with the authorities to whom I relentlessly proffer papers (including this electronic one). The dilemma I have been contemplating turns on the problem of the academy as a power station. What does it mean if we begin to shortcircuit it? By this, I mean: what happens when we take a critical apparatus that the academy has bestowed upon us and begin to throw it back in academia’s face? To turn to yet another metaphor, what if we bite the hand that not only feeds us but that gave us those teeth to begin with?
The inspiration for all of us feminist killjoys out there, Sara Ahmed, resigned from her institutional position. I’m far from there yet. But I am also recognizing, especially when it comes to issues of labor, what is at stake when we stand up to the universities that employ us to do the very work of criticism that brings their own operations under scrutiny. Especially as a graduate student, what have I brought upon myself by questioning a hierarchy and confronting a mechanism that might police me?
Hermione Granger was an inspirational feminist killjoy for me as a child. There are more radical possibilities for such a character but J.K. Rowling still gifted me a much needed heroine. Hermione has read all the books. Hermione has all the answers. Hermione always raises her hand. Such actions do not make Hermione a teacher’s pet, a cog in the system. Hermione starts an advocacy campaign. Hermione calls out the men who rely upon her unseen labor. Hermione participates in a revolution. These are endeavors in which the willingness to raise one’s hand transforms a girl who refuses to speak less into a woman who is prepared to take the consequences.
I’m not Hermione. I might need to tread much more carefully. But she taught me that the school swot can go on strike.