Our first reading group session has left me thinking about cycles—of academic years, of musical rhythms, of migratory paths, of life and death and life again. Thinking with Tsing, I keep returning in my own cyclical way to to the difficulty of letting go of linear progress, maybe especially in the context of higher education. I am trying hard to create spaces that push against that tendency—in this newsletter, in the reading group, in other places still to be seen. As we settle more deeply into fall, I think about the ways that these often-quiet spaces can allow time for introspection, synthesis, and preparation for what is to come.
A more concrete sense of place is where we will go next in our next discussion together. The next session, which will be led by Britt Munro, will be on Thursday, Nov 18 at 5pm EST. If you'd like to join, please register here.
We'll be looking at the following texts, both of which are new to me:
Excerpt from Trace by geographer Lauret Savoy (Front Matter; Prologue: Thoughts on a Frozen Pond; and The View from the Sublime, p. 11-27)
"A Journey in Writing Place" by Waanyi fiction writer/essayist Alexis Wright (Meanjin Quarterly, Winter 2019); read & annotate with hypothesis
Here's what Britt has to say about these pieces:
Both of these texts speak to place, and the ways in which history sediments in place—sediments in us or as us, perhaps. The Wright essay has stuck with me as something I should return to for some time now, as I have learnt a lot from her understanding of how stories—forms of collective memory—both create the self and anchor that self in place. The Savoy is something I am currently reading—I love the way she thinks about the relation between self and place and history 'to live in this country is to be marked by its still unfolding history...From my circumscribed position, I must try and trace what has marked me.'
I don't want to say 'look for this!' (I love how different things 'stick' for each person) but some thoughts that came up for me personally reading these pieces were:
In what ways do we inherit place, not just the stories of a place and the collective life of that place, but our own 'place' within those stories?
How might place shape perception?
In what ways might the organization of the academy (e.g., the alienated nature of academic labor, ivy tower phenomenon, need to continually relocate for jobs, general lack of time for community investment, tendency towards universalizing that even now predominates in certain disciplines, etc.) discourage us from thinking and acting in place?
What about the university, how does it relate to place, and to the (often violent) histories and ties that keep it in place? As Alexis Wright seeks to grow closer to her own Indigenous storytelling tradition in order to speak more directly from the 'place' that she finds herself in/of ( 'A legacy passed down to us through countless generations so that we can know who we are in this place') I can't help but think about what place I speak to and from as a white settler—thinking a lot about ruptures in place, ruptures we might carry as a kind of alienation. Final Savoy quote—'We may find that home lies in re-membering—in piecing together the fragments left—and in reconciling what it means to inhabit terrains of memory, and to be one.'
I'd love to talk about the relation between place and the university, place and the work that we do, place and the self/selves etc, anything/everything else anyone is caught by! Thank you all so much for letting me choose these, I can't wait for November to discuss them with you all.
Many thanks to Britt for leading this discussion. Speaking personally, having grown up in a place that looks very different from where I am now, it can sometimes feel difficult to maintain a sense of connection and groundedness while immersed the transience and fluidity of NYC. There are days when I rarely see soil besides the compact squares around sidewalk trees. And yet, this place is land. It is Lenape land; it bears witness to displacement and continues that displacement today through gentrification; it is the microcultures of specific neighborhoods; it is dynamic movement from one place to another, made easier or more difficult by the circulatory system of public transit.
My own thinking on this topic is deeply influenced by Futures Initiative Graduate Fellow and Geography PhD student Coline Chevrin; for instance, take a look at the session she hosted last year on University and Territory (click "details" to see full description). As Coline says there,
Many of us interrogate our practices in the academy through social transformation approaches such as abolition, decolonialism, or social and environmental justice. While we try to build communities around those practices, we also frequently face great challenges due to the structure of the university. The functioning of the very institution where we produce transformative spaces gets in the way of our struggles.
For this reason, it is important to take a step back and ask how the university can be a tool for realizing social justice in its territory? What relationships do universities craft with the places they occupy and participate to produce and what are the limits and possibilities to the social and environmental justice these relationships engender? How can we imagine and fight for a situated university?
If you missed the first session, you might be interested in the you're welcome to take a look the collaborative notes and open Zotero library that we created. We'll keep adding to these over time, and suggestions are always welcome.
Consider joining me at this book talk on No Study Without Struggle by Leigh Patel. Tuesday, Nov 1, 7pm ET.
Want to lead December's discussion? Wonderful! Let me know what you're thinking about.
Hope to see you on November 18; don't forget to register in order to get the zoom link.