I bring to you, like a child anxious to offer an adequate object to the Oedipal figures that populate his fledgling superego, an impasse registering as an ambivalence from the self-enclosure of dissertation writing: I am stuck between alternating desires for and fantasies of sovereignty and surrender.
The fantasy of the sovereign theorist, of the knowing subject in secure possession of his objects and in command of his prose, is a tragic consequence of the Western logos and its Enlightenment-derived humanities. That the dissertator, or any scholar, should demonstrate an achievment of sovereignty in writing and in thought that imitates the power of the king vis-a-vis his subjects, is a relatively undigested fact of academic knowledge production, poststructuralism and feminist standpoint theory notwithstanding. It is a fantasy because the sovereignty of the scholar involves a litany of traumatizing separations in order to found knowledge based on human consciousness: the cleavage of the mind from the body, of reason from affect, of nature from culture, of science from magic, and so on, probably ad infinitum given that the Western tradition is one of endless bifurcation. The fantasy that the scholar achieves sovereignty over his objects and thoughts suppresses and neutralizes the vitality of things in which we find ourselves only ever in the midst, making cuts and founding territories from which we can begin to sense and see only the smallest corner within the overwhelming profundity of matter and life that constitutes our worlds and the worlds that are indifferent to us. Knowledge as an object is an abstraction from life, a flight into the concept’s positivism as the anxious avoidance of being overwhelmed by it all.
Yet, I find myself instead anxious that the sovereignty I am deploying in my first draft of the dissertation is too narrowing of what I can think, not to mention of what my objects and ideas can do themselves.
The desire for surrender is one that I have been developing lately in my other work, not to mention in my deeply enriching collaborations (visit the blogs of my colleagues Jean-Thomas Tremblay and Rebekah Sheldon, please!), which is indicative in and of itself of the value in letting go of the fantasy of the splendid isolation of the thinking mind, of the lonely, but (because?) erudite, humanities scholar. By surrender, I mean a surrender to the commerce of things, ideas and affects that takes place largely indifferently to our relatively small province of (human) being. To surrender is, for me, to allow for forms of impingement, contamination, and compromised states that threaten the entire enterprise of knowledge and subject-object relations.
The desire for surrender, as a gentler way of letting go of the fantasy of sovereignty, is itself, of course, also partially a fantasy. I fantasize a relation of care and intimacy with the vibrant materiality of the things and ideas that are circulating in the virtual field I call, for ease of clarity, “my dissertation.” In some way, I too harbor a deep desire or impulse to care for my objects, my ideas, and my writing. But to care in such a way that makes them “mine” feels too destructive, too sovereign, too agressive to be ethical. And it leaves me alone, unable to be affected by those very same objects, ideas, and the practice of writing, which although literally solitary, does not really happen in isolation from the world.
There is likely no way, at least not yet, to fully embrace the desiring production of surrender, nor to fully give up the fantasy of sovereignty. Nevertheless, there is a soothing sense located somewhere in the notion that, precisely by not trying so forcefully, the vulnerability of thinking and writing could become an ever enriching one.