One of the unexplored concepts for a themed blog or tumblr or twitter account or…—anyway, a concept which lays fallow for reasons that will quickly be made clear—would have a title something like “read together.”
To explain: the upsides of being in my location in a global division of labour that nominally assigns me the task of reading books and articles, and writing down my thoughts about what I have said cannot be overstated. Among the downsides is living in a professional community that is continually, constantly training me in the habit of using the passive voice; another is that the same voracious curiosity which undergirds the satisfaction I draw from my work is also a constant source of frustration insofar as I am forced, in trying to make my way from the reading to the writing, to leave interesting thoughts by the way side. And nothing is more frustrating than having to abandon an apparent parallel, a subtle link, between two sources. Part of the recipe of being a successful academic, apparently, lies in cultivating a boundless curiosity while curating a strict discipline over the paths we allow it to take us down. A capacity for caprice, certainly, but also the prudence to almost never exercise it.
The tone of “read together” would thus be imperative: it would offer two excerpts from my reading online, in a tone of invitation, and with an implied plea for the reader to do something with materials that I am sure could produce insight if only their relation to one another were fully explored. So, for example, from a masterful review of the issues raised by the trial of Oscar Pistorius, South Africa’s famed “blade runner,” for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp:
The full citation from Corinthians tattooed on Pistorius’s upper back reads:
I do not run like a man running aimlessly;
I do not fight like a man beating the air;
I execute each stride with intent;
I beat my body and make it my slave
I bring it under my complete subjection
To keep myself from being disqualified
After having called others to the contest.
The line about making my body my slave is not in most translations from Corinthians, nor is subjection described as ‘complete’. Pistorius was raising the stakes. He was also punishing, or even indicting, himself.
And, from a shorter piece on the causes of the recent rise in injuries in the NFL:
Advertisements are now composed entirely of jump cuts between rippling bodies yelling, barking, testifying to some endless purgatory of reps, sets, and routines. Menacing homilies about commitment linger on screen to be joined by this model of shoe or that style of gear. “Every single day,” we hear Tom Brady chant stoically, “every single day,” as his image, multiplied a thousandfold by technology, drills relentlessly with itself, perfectly in sync, in a macabre echo of authoritarian spectacle.”You are the sum of all your training,” Under Armour threatens us, before urging, finally, at the end, “Rule Yourself.” In its unalloyed praise for the eternal necessity of discipline, the sports commercial is a worthy heir to Puritan austerity. Excess physique is grace rewarded. Lean muscle is proof that God loves us and wants us to be strong.
See? There is something there. There is also, at a stretch, a cute echo back to the molding of the self in the academic life, in that “Rule Thyself.” But I tell myself I have other places that I must direct my energies, so let me just quote from Horkheimer and Adorno:
It is not merely that domination is paid for by the alienation of men from the objects’ dominated: with the objectification of spirit, the very relations of men—even those of the individual to himself—were bewitched.
No doubt somebone, somewhere, is already putting these pieces together. After all, somebody is always one step ahead, better prepared, more disciplined. That’s why we have to keep training, right?