The human skin is an artificial boundary: the world wanders into it, and the self wanders out of it, traffic is two-way and constant. – Bernard Wolfe, Limbo
(Quote found at the beginning of Andy Clark’s wonderful book ‘Natural Born Cyborgs’, available to read for free here)
Perhaps as many would agree, writing, academic or otherwise, that begins on a personal note, a vignette or some observation, is more accessible or personable than otherwise. It’s also an inspiration to me because it shows how there are ways of thinking about the world through really intimate and daily experiences. Clark’s book does it well and so does Josh Berson’s ‘Computable Bodies’, a book I recently finished. I’d met Berson briefly when he visited and lectured at the anthropocene conference at UCI but I only got hold of his book now. He begins by reflecting on a foot injury and how it made him reflect on his body as a long-time Yogi and broadly on instrumentation.
He offers ways of thinking about quantification of self that also reminded me of the quote I began with. Somewhere in the beginning Berson offers a definition/demarcation of ‘experience’ as an act of “folding the world inward” (I am paraphrasing, please forgive me) which for me, was a really liberating way of thinking about myself, my work, the “machine takeover” and how to grip it without losing oneself. While I try to keep this blog’s entries about research, researching against a backdrop of hyper-awareness of exploitative academic structures, a general sense of deficit and constraints marking every walk of life, a pervasive feeling among my peers (and me) to justify our relevance – it’s really exhausting. It’s not new at all. And, some cope with it better than others do. But even when we cope, when we barely manage to get an internship to cover summer’s worth of livelihood or when we fail to get that grant, resulting in fifteen thousand words that produced no money (mind you, it’s worse than not having written any because then it’s the beginning of a path to fine-tuning till you land the money) – there’s a spectral presence of devaluation, the constant fear of having not produced value that in fact drives much academic writing in my own life.
Against that dominant feeling, to encounter works (such as Berson who begins a book on quantification with his own journey coping with depression) that offer relaxation, that in some ways confront and normalize a little bit of what is our time and a little bit of writing that isn’t responding to a trend is incredibly healing. That kind of writing can heal.
So I am just going to list a bunch of reading that I hope to get through in summer that I’ve sniffed as the healing kind, the kind of writing that might make us embrace the ongoing flitting worlding of the self and the selfing of the world, not all of which we can admit to:
As a side note, so much of writing/thinking that is meant to guide us through the world is in itself produced in so much anxiety and precarity, it is making me think about more sustainable ways to continue doing what I’ve sort of embraced as a near-future career. Sigh.