16 May 2006

narrative, the. see: incoherent babbling

many thanks for all your good wishes on my new post here at Swansea and, perhaps more importantly, what this means for Sam and me: the limbo, or at least this current version thereof, is coming to an end. we are searching for something to worry and complain about to replace the huge void left in our lives by this good news. suggestions welcome. we are also welcoming thoughts on how one even deals with good news at all. we are well beyond our comfort zone on this one.

if everything is narrative, then one might be able to relate this story. but it involves job searches and names and dates and it's somewhat unfair and awkward to delineate the narrative without the permission of all involved. plus, narrative is often about events already past (for the argument contra this, see: Derrida's ghost stuff, Macbeth, Sam's Derrida-Macbeth chapter in his book, eternal return discussion, temporality not being linear etc. but whatever.) and we would like to at least move into the next Hegelian cycle of thesis-antithesis-blah blah. (not a big Hegel fan, can you tell?)

in terms of transformations, in addition to the moving-toward-settled one mentioned above, I'm excited about the moving-toward-politics one, which entails constituting what I'd like to be as an intellectual. so that's very exciting. I no longer have to convince folks I'm an art historian by talking about style and paint strokes and artists (thank god) and I can now talk about the covers of magazines, politicians' clothing, socialism in Bollywood films, and how images of Kali also resonate as images of militant nationalism prior to India's independence. so much fun! in fact, I don't have to convince anyone anything about myself. very freeing.

expect the continuation of incoherent babbling on second americano, since we all know that some things never change, regardless of how you consider narrative, the.


dan said...

Many congrats to you both!

I hope you took advantage of "limbo" and will continue to draw on that time of unknowingness for many years. But, let's face it, two brilliant scholars deserve far better, so I'm glad to hear the good news.

The former post was called "Rebecca, Lecturer in Politics." Does this mean that you're an Art Historian in the Politics department? Or are you taking on a new title and allowing your work to evolve as it will? I suppose this is what your 3rd paragraph addressed, but I still wasn't totally sure. I need a very fixed category for your identity as an academic before I can fully interpret this information!

Anyway, back to clapping!

Rebecca said...

Yes, well. one of the things I let go in the last two years was my need for a fixed academic identity. the transformation to 'independent scholar' as temporary as it has been was, potentially, a permanent one, and so in making that shift you have to get over the norm within academia of having an institutional connection to anchor your identity. so you're not so-and-so from Univ. X. you're just so-and-so, scholar.

independent scholar is a pretty cool title on the one hand, but of course academics look down on these types (including myself, prior to my status as an indep scholar) as part-timers, those not as committed, doing dirty things like 'earning money' and such.

but one of the struggles of 'letting go' is to realize how utterly important that academic institutional thing had, in fact, been to your identity, propping it up: I'm Assistant Professor of blah at University Youveneverheardof! That makes me legitimate. when deep down, we all know it really just makes you lucky. lucky to have chosen a diss topic that folks like. lucky to get the interview. lucky to have gotten that first thing published. lucky to have met the right person at the random cocktail hour at the conference you weren't planning to go to. lucky that your field happens to have a good program at Ivy U. lucky that you met the right advisor at the right time. lucky that your app for Prestigious Fellowship got to the top of the pile somehow. tons of other people are smart and motivated and work hard. you're lucky.

and so giving up the legitimacy of an institution made me rethink and reevaluate why I'm a scholar. and whether I should be. and what interests me about it.

so to answer your question about self-definition: I'm an intellectual first, and the field matters less. sure, my degree is in art history, but my field is more like: South Asian visual political culture, colonialism, nationalism, diaspora studies, film, and a bit of comparative stuff with the wider Islamic world. oh, and I know the entire canon of Asian and Islamic art history. but that's just a side note.

and as you know, my research will evolve in dialogue with colleagues in Politics and students in my colonialism & nationalism in India course or my lectures in Bollywood film & politics. always with a visual sensibility, and always with an historical sensibility, i imagine. but that's the fun of it. I don't know. I no longer have to fit into that stuff. very very exciting.

sageblue said...


Congratulations to you kids. It's been a hard slog, but I'm glad things have finally worked out.

What with its season finale upon us, The Amazing Race seems like an apt metaphor for you: journeying this way and that, and ultimately learning more about yourself and your relationships.

Re: institutional power--I played an integral role at the Ursinus commencement on Saturday (handing the President each graduate's diploma), and was therefore on hand to hear him say this pompy, circumstantial thing about the degree and the rights and privileges associated with it throughout the world. Credentials matter, places matter; independence is suspect.

Anyway, at some point, the narrative will need to be told, preferably over a nice bottle of wine.