Semester Funeral Orations

I don’t like blogging.  And this has to do with the fact that the process of writing anything is very arduous for me – emotionally strenuous.  I’m a hyper self-conscious person – so anything I write is a risk. I’m risking being seen for what I am, the “I” that even I cannot even see in myself. Some would say that being read is like being naked – perhaps I can learn to take pleasure  in the pornography of blogging.  Here’s the thing…I’m an english major…writing is kinda part of the job.  (Although I prefer reading – hands down).  Toward the end of this semester – and by that I mean 2 days before my last final exam – I came across this quote from (the inspiring blog of ) Lauren Berlant that seems to sum up my experience of the writing process >>

“Most of the writing we do is actually a performance of stuckness.  It is a record of where we got stuck on a question for long enough to do some research and write out the whole knot until the original passion and curiosity that made us want to try to say something about something got so detailed, buried, encrypted, and diluted that the energetic and risk-taking impulse became sealed and delivered in the form of a defense against thinking any more about it. Along the way, something might have happened to the scene the question stood for:  or not.”

There are so many things I love about this statement.  For one, it treats the notion of an “Answer” as a kind of immunity to the “Question.”   Berlant gently moves from philosophy (where my narrow capacity to articulate myself was born) into immuno-graphy.  Questions invade our thinking until we answer them, they “bug” us, they make us feel weird, confused – its not pleasant. And  if you don’t think questions can be violent let me remind you that they killed Socrates for asking too many of them. Questions threaten to dissolve our most deeply held beliefs, the ones that (we think and feel) embed us in the our world. The “answer” is means to avoid all these symptoms. (We’re not yet talking the issue of Truth here, just questions and answers).  For some of us, questions persist . We are the (un)lucky ones because the available answers – from friends, family, books, society, culture and google!  – fail to treat the questions that are bugging us. We are infected with “answer-resistant” questions. We have to pursue our questions till we reach a new answer, a new treatment for the “scene of the question.”

The other part of Lauren’s insightful fragment  that I love(!)  is her use of the word “stuckness.”  Much of my own thinking and questioning this semester has been occupied by “stuckness.”  Yes…I’ve been stuck on “stuckness.”  Both of my final papers this semester circulated around “stuckness.”  For my class “Queer Poetics: Autobiographics in the Age of Facebook,” I addressed the internet campaign against gay bullycide, “It Gets Better”  (I will post a summary of my critique here later), and ways that by only being able to offer LGBT teens exit strategies into various optimistic futures we have missed the bigger problem – the future is not here yet. How do we deal with the fact that queer youth are suffering now?  How do we learn to inhabit “stuckness”?  How do we learn to survive “stuckness”?  These are questions that haunt me.  I am stuck on them.  And so are depressed LGBT teens.   (I wonder if this is why there is a disproportionate number of GLBT english majors –  writing as an means of inhabiting stuckness?)  The other paper I wrote – but was unable to complete, a failure on multiple levels – was about Angelina Weld Grimké’s 1920 play, “Rachel, A Play in Three Acts.”  “Rachel” is about  the “stuckness” african americans felt during the early 20th century – during a period of migrations from the south to the north and during a time when race politics was occupied by “uplift” – pulling oneself up by the bootstraps – pulling one’s self out of “stuckness.”  As one might assume, this politics failed – but that is not to say that Rachel fails.  Rachel is amazing, although very tragic. The character, Rachel Loving, very invested in the idea of becoming a mother, and very committed to “protecting little black and brown babies” – decides the only way to protect them from the violence of racism is to not bring them into the world.  She refuses her suitor, John Strong (with a name like that, you can imagine he’s hard to turn down)  – and she refuses motherhood.  Angelina Grimké never married, nor had any children….she was a Lesbian.  Her lover couldn’t deal and she left Angelina.  It seems Grimké never recovered from this loss – she remained “stuck.”

My fall semester is over…sort of…I still have a thesis paper to write which is due by January 15, 2011. I hope to use this blog as a space to work out some ideas as I’m writing my magnum opus on “Queer Masculinites”  –  about “Bears.”  My two final exams were mirrors of each other.  We were asked to get up in front of the class and explain “the most important thing we learned” from the class this semester. Despite similar designs, they could not have been more different. In my Autobiographics class, our performances were enthusiastic, comic and creative.  After each performance we all clapped.  By the end, we felt like we had experienced something together – be it the books we read or lectures we had listened to – somehow intimacy had been achieved.  But in my African American lit course on the Harlem Renaissance –  the prompt forbid our final statements from being too  “autobiographical” in nature.  I found this confusing – the most important thing I had learned  – but which wasn’t autobiographical?  Strange.  Anyway…the professor forbid clapping until after all the presentations were over.  (My professor’s mood is another story, not sure if I’ll share it here…maybe later).  It felt like we were at a funeral for the Harlem Renaissance. Each performance ended…awkwardly.  “And so….that’s….what….I learned….thank you.”  And then we sat down.  In some ways, a series of “Funeral Orations” for the harlem renaissance seems appropriate….but not for our class, not when we’re sharing our personal experiences of learning, or lack there of.  I always think how subversive and creatively interesting it would be to present on how a class taught us nothing: how we remained “stuck” and how we would most likely would remain “stuck”…but that would defeat the task of pedagogy.  Socrates was killed for asking too many questions.


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