Saturday, November 04, 2006

What price citation?

I've been reading Ann Cvetkovich's amazing book An Archive of Feelings (Duke 2003). Her use of the term "trauma culture" I find very challenging, sometimes really liking it, sometimes feeling uncomfortable about it. But it has made me wonder about the aspects of academic life configured by and around trauma, and allegations of trauma. Not least, of course, are such legal reconfigurations over the last twenty years around sexual harassment and around procedures surrounding tenure and other professional performances. In a bit of a different register, some of our Ph.D. students have used terms like trauma to describe their experiences around professional hurdles such as their general exams -- those mandated elements in their professional initiations -- and urged that if these are traumatic they are somehow not feminist. I wonder what differences reading Cvetkovich would make to them even while I consider how we might reconfigure our exams.

However, what I have been drawn to thinking about the last few days concerning the possibility of academic culture as trauma culture has to do with citation, understood both narrowly and broadly. Two events, one recent, one not recent come to mind when I consider this possibility.

The not so recent one has to do with losing a friend, who explained their (singular they) not wanting to remain friends as the result of my having cited their work "sentimentally rather than professionally." An examination of the scholarship of each of us during that period would have shown that I had cited them (singular) both professionally and sentimentally, and that they had not cited me at all in publication, although I am under the impression that in talks and other performative events they did refer to my work often. I assume that this reason is a metonym for all the much more complicated reasons one ends a friendship, but not unimportant if incomplete and maybe oversimplified. I actually assume, perhaps quite wrongly, that in addition to all the most personal reasons, which I only guess at, that one if not the only reason citation can stand metonymically and truthfully as a valid reason to sever personal connections has to do with movement among social worlds instantiated by citation practice and objects.

In other words, we no longer inhabit the same intellectual communities of practice. I have ceased to cite this person's work because I no longer read it, mostly because it is, frankly, too painful to me to do so, not because it isn't pertinent to my work and even more to the work of many of my students, all of whom do read it with the relish and appreciation it deserves. We don't run into each other at conferences or other kinds of professional venues, because these too are no longer overlapping, only very occasionally perhaps a bit artificially.

When graduate students in my classes critique various texts for "leaving out" and/or not citing this or that central text or scholar in their own intellectual circles and sometimes disciplined communities, I try to get them to examine what citation means to them and to academic practices. They are very aware that power relations are part of the meaning of citation, as well as the seemingly more "rigorous" claims to covering proper scholarly literatures, intensively, extensively, representatively or even comprehensively, both with and without feminist political intentions.

I tend to think less of forms of authority conferred by such claims myself, and more about the traces of travel among communities that one has, has had, membership within, or has traveled among as peripheral but often legitimate participant, as well as other un-disciplined but serious uses of scholarship engaged in such travels. I don't "believe in" such seeming comprehensibility or even range except in the very most relative and relational fashion; rather I understand these forms of authority as misidentifications that foster and are produced from some center of particular communities. Strongly inhabiting and materializing these misrecognitions is a powerful enactment of membership.

Allegiances and alliances often are what stand out to me when footnote tracing, and I try to teach students to note these elements of citation as well. What in feminism we might call the coalitional politics instantiated in citation; however not just the successes, but the failures and contests and misunderstandings and misuses and appropriations and translations and multiple other complexities of knowledge/power relations. Then again, these are all part of what "forms of authority" mean, and what "disciplined" is about. In the academy gatekeeping and coalition politics can at times look and be related.

Which brings me to the other, more recent event. Over the summer I worked with a group of faculty on curriculum transformation, getting to read a lot of material I needed to read and wanted to read but hadn't been able to prioritize given other duties and requirements. I found this a wonderful orgy of literatures, exciting and even overstimulating. There were many passionate moments in the week we talked together and I both know and assume they looked different to different folks.

Different readings were more and less familiar to each and all of us, and many times one or another person claimed or was given authority to speak to issues others of us knew little about, both the contents of arguments and their forms, and also the intellectual and feminist politics and implications of various readings. Lots of room for misrecognition and misunderstanding as well as for new knowledge, with transmission, production, and uses all mixed up. There were tense moments as well as exhilarations and a lot of rather careful verbalization and occasional self- and group censorship, using that term with as much generous intention as possible.

We read an essay by a young-ish scholar whose work is taking off in various scholarly communities of practice today, perhaps with an occasional edge of notoriety, but mostly with much appreciation for path-breaking innovation, although this appreciation is unevenly distributed and for different agencies among intellectual communities of practice.

Until this work group I had known of this scholar's work, indeed had read stuff about it, including student writing, but had yet to read it myself. In this group I read only this one, quite pivotal, essay, but have later read a major book and more about this scholar and their (singular they) work. Indeed after this work group I thought perhaps it had been this scholar, among others, who had been singled out in critique in a recent conference I had attended, not named, just as I am not doing, but grouped together with others somewhat derisively. At that time I had thought I had understood the reference, but realized later that perhaps I had not completely.

I understood this scholar's work to be doing something generally that I deeply appreciate generally: that is, creating a framework for thinking about certain issues, especially sensitive to two issues I care about today: I use the terms "academic capitalism" and "interdisciplinarity" to describe them. This person uses somewhat different terminology and different referents, so for me to even claim that they are doing the work I am interested in is a stretch perhaps, maybe an appropriation, or maybe a helpful reading. Hard to say.

Anyway, this framework is animated by several sorts of histories, literatures and disciplinary assumptions, all of which I locate as contingent; that is, helpful to understanding the framework, but not at all the only such animation possible, indeed, the framework I consider useful to a range of possible animations, some disciplinarily pertinent, others more traveling among themes and objectives.

I value this framework making kind of work myself, indeed, it is one of the meanings I would give to a term like "interdisciplinary," but some scholarly and intellectual political locations are sometimes critical of it, perhaps mistaking it (or so I would say) for "totalizing theory," (I too am critical of "totalizing theory" but this isn't what I mean by that term), sometimes thus dismissive of it, sometimes just plain not interested in this, admittedly more abstract (but then I'm not against abstraction even if I am for materialism) sort of argument and scholarship.

In other words, I am not looking for "local knowledge" from this person's work. Not because it isn't there, but because I am not a member of the communities to which this contributes as local knowledge, nor do I use these locals at this moment in time, contingently. They are of interest to me however, I wish to know more about these local knowledges, but I am not in a position to evaluate their claims or objects.

For others, it was this local knowledge that mattered most in this person's work. Several different communities of practice, indeed disciplinary locations, hailed this work as part of their local knowledges, and they all, but differently, felt very much in a position to evaluate it, its arguments to some extent, but especially its objects in quite fine grained forms of analysis and critique. Some of this was literally inexplicable to me, this grain of analysis being utterly beyond my referents.

Nor was I aware of the political allegiances this work suggested to those who hailed it as local knowledge. I had already from students' work and from some commentary about this scholarship, thought I understood some of these sorts of political implications, most of which, as far as I understood them, I either shared (I thought) or was sympathetic to if in some disagreement. Again, even more fine grained analysis of these allegiances were implied (this sort of thing is rarely discussed directly) in this discussion and I was a bit lost among them.

One thing was clear though, this scholarship was part of a critique of a particular formation instantiated by a range of scholars I usually find pivotal in very different ways in my own work and my own local communities, but about which I had started to become unexpectedly dissatisfied, at times, for both personal-intellectual and other kinds of larger political-intellectual reasons. Yet to say so, in my communities of practice was, at this moment in time, a bit taboo. Not entirely so, but something one would be careful about, both because you might hurt the feelings of folks' you like and don't want to do that to, and because there exist, again contingently, new and old forms of power newly associated with this formation that one doesn't know exactly how to engage, dispute, ally with, or what. Things are up for grabs in several ways that are in re-formation, and this scholar's critique is part of shifting alliances, of generational and institutional formations, of other forms of power, some charismatic, some structural perhaps in new ways, although possibly locally, but it's hard to say in the midst of one's own communities.

Talking about anything like this – this way of discussing stuff that I am now engaging in – was irritating to most of the folks in the work group. This sort of "politics" I believe (I have some direct indications of this, but mostly I'm guessing) was considered at best tangential, perhaps even trivial, or deeply uninteresting, or even quite pernicious. To me, this kind of analysis is, frankly fascinating, absolutely not trivial but evidentiary for some kinds of analysis of knowledge making, and very much part of feminist theory (as I have argued in my own scholarly work), a form of denaturalizing the assumptions held by members in communities of practice. I think this denaturalization at best actually honors their work, but, I have to admit, it can also be quite uncomfortable, or sometimes critical or even disabling of their work.

But then such meta-analysis I locate myself as the very heart of women's studies, in its critique of official knowledge, using the word "official" in many layers of possibility. But for others "the heart" of women's studies is something quite different, or at least something other than my own practice here, even if they might use similar words.

Anyway, back to citation.

To me this all came to a head with discussion of this scholar's citation practice. This scholar had, I thought rather gingerly, referred to without naming, this intellectual formation I just alluded to myself. About half the folks appeared to me to be surprised by a critique of this generally named but not specifically cited (with individual names and actual works) formation. Those folks (or so I think about it now, they may disagree quite heartily) also seem to me now to have been the ones who most vigorously asserted that if one was to make such critiques, it is absolutely necessary to be forthright and name names (! -- my own, perhaps unfortunate, paraphrase). The implication was that this was a proper prescription for demonstrating one's integrity -- with some maybe moral implications -- as well as demonstrating one's authoritative rigor.

As I understood the group interaction, it appeared to me that those who had various local investments in this critique, although I don't THINK that anyone there thought of themselves as its target, were somewhat less prescriptively energetic. They appeared to me to be very aware of the sensitive nature of naming names, both for the sake of the scholar's perhaps vulnerability, and for the sake of the target formation's – the word I am using here is inadequate to what I mean, something not quite so individual or private – "feelings."

Cvetkovich comes again to mind here. She is so wonderful about demonstrating why affect matters, what "feelings" can and might mean, and I feel inadequate to match at this moment so off the cuff her extraordinary abilities to describe and analyze why this is important to feminists, to intellectual community, and to public culture.

I empathized, perhaps inappropriately, with this scholar's not naming names. To me it was already rather brave to make even these allusions, nor did it seem to me that naming names was necessary, either a reader knew who these folks were, in which case this act was brave and its implicit meanings were obvious for some kinds of local knowledge; or the reader did not, in which case perhaps they should actually seek out the work being perhaps critiqued, not first to critique it, but first to know it before critique. You would have to read it to figure out, as with a roman a clef, what was being critiqued. This might not be a secret indictment, but rather a way to not mobilize a kind of critique that meant "oh, I don't have to read THOSE folks now I know the critique"; but rather, perhaps an attempt to create a circumstance in which one could only perform the critique once one had a certain degree of knowledge.

Then again, maybe that's a generous reading.

Still, I think such possibilities matter. At the very least, one needs to acknowledge both the actual and, somewhat fantasmatic, vulnerabilities of this scholar in making the critique. While those identified with the intellectual formation might also be vulnerable in their own ways, relatively and relationally they must be understood to have more "power" institutionally than that of this scholar, who might have some power in some locations with, maybe, some structural implications, although one could dispute that too. Shifting micro-powers in changing institutions are not easy to trace or chart.

I tell these stories, at far more length than most people will probably want to read, and at such a level of abstraction as to make myself vulnerable to both not naming names, and to displaying a meta-ing analysis some may consider "just politics," trivial or not proper to discuss. Or to discuss in this form.

Be that as may be, for other reasons too, I have lately been wondering about the costs of citation. Especially for those doing work I once used the term "interdisciplinary" to describe, but am now leaning toward using the term "post-disciplinary" or perhaps sometimes "anti-disciplinary" instead.

I am aware that prescriptions for citation, either those of particular works or folks, or for whole literatures, presume memberships of various kinds, and presume the authority of such memberships, some authorities which the work using its own kinds of citation, may be disputing, or attempting to displace.

Then too, when I don't cite something it might mean I just don't know about it. If one is moving among many many literatures, I don't think not knowing something somewhere is actually a problem, a crime, even necessarily a "lack." Not knowing things explicitly and unproblematically may even be a celebration of all there is to know, of the positive plentitude of scholarship, and of the joyfulness of being properly not able to control knowledge sites, knowledge making, knowledge workers.

To not contribute to the illusions of mastery, of comprehensiveness or even representation, may be a much needed range of actions at times. It may signal new emergent formations, or shifting micro-powers reinstitutionalized.

It may chart vulnerabilities and forms of affect that matter, but cannot properly be verbalized entirely. It may work with and through that "trauma culture" that perhaps one can in one sort of cognitive map locate academic culture as or within.

Some bits and notes that would take too long and too much space to flesh out more now:

reasons to not engage certain literatures, self-consciously, unselfconsciously, unknowingly; reasons not to hold others to account within one's own literatures, or even literatures that seem like fruitful possible engagements

=it's okay to not know everything and all literatures
=it's good to chart unfamiliar and unexpected paths, deliberately or inadvertently
=remaining peripheral to communities of practice rather than entering into membership, inabilities are denaturalizing, and denaturalizing enlivens communities even in critique, in refusing to honor gatekeeping
=gatekeeping is worth problematizing
=absences are holes for you to fill in, not always only outrages to be denounced
=acknowledgements if indirectly made, of fields of power, deference, and danger, which one is attempting to avoid, if imperfectly
=conspicuous avoidance may be an implicit critique, made in the only way possible; articulation may not only be dangerous, but actually so difficult as to approach a horizon of possibility for that thinking in that moment, those moments
=note and index such non-engagements, rather than or in addition to denouncing them. What materialities are missing which are necessary for such engagements?

scientisms, rigor, logic, arguments
speculation, engagement, innovation, experimentation – what are its proper rhetorical forms?

traumatic absences: scholarship is a field of power: not published because of deliberately unfootnoted or unacknowledged citations. Always the unintended overlooking, but also the careful refusals of vulnerability, made vulnerable.

Refusal to make another discourse the center of your project even if only that makes it "legible."