Saturday, May 4, 2013

...and then there was EBOV

Completely fallaciously, I have always liked to consider myself to have a "go with the flow" kind of personality. But beyond my penchant for Dave Matthews Band, artistry, and travel aside, I recognize that deep down, I am--as painful as it is for me to admit--a control freak. Knowing how things will turn out and how to behave in particular settings is thus my forte, and these personality traits have usually served me very well in classroom settings for about the past twenty years. Generally, it too as served me well in the world of academia, keeping track of timelines, reading the necessary material to become familiar with my area of study, and following the "right" track to become successful.

But that, of course, was before Environ Body Object Veer. I think my perceptions of a standard graduate seminar and myself as a scholar were first tested when we discussed Tim Ingold's Being Alive. We began class by wondering aloud whether walking while talking about the text would change our perceptions and interactions with the book and each other. Of course not liking the drastic change and distraction this would provide, I immediately thanked God that we were not actually doing that. Someone of course then suggested we walk around the room, and five minutes later, the majority of my fellow students were walking, standing, looking out the window, inhabiting different spaces of the room and leaving me, sitting in my chair feeling the most physically uncomfortable I had been in a graduate course. How can we learn, I thought, and how can we approach learning in such a way when we have always been told we can't?

I obviously bring up this moment not to poopoo different types of learning, my fellow classmates, or the EBOV course itself. Rather, I now am amazed looking back at how much I fought that lack of rigidity, lack of control, instead of embracing and learning from it as I have now. Reading texts that I never would have before, looking for agency, access and meaning in objects and animals that I never would have read for, I feel that sentiment of unavoidable cheesiness: that I "grew" so much from this experience. From my professor, peers, and the scholars and figures I interacted with this semester, I have learned to have some fluidity in scholarship is not only beneficial but necessary in order to look at new ways of approaching the world and find opportunities in things not before thought possible. Because for as easily accessible as scholarly terms such as "medieval," "race," "literature," are to use (and which undeniably are involved in my work), they can also be extremely limiting, forcing us to classify ourselves in neat, tidy boxes and to be unable to branch outside of them. I find this particularly important for graduate students, in an environment where there is seemingly so much merit and weight placed on "knowing": knowing what you want to study, knowing what you want to say about what you study, and knowing exactly how you are going to get there.

But I think if I have learned anything from this course, it is that there is an inherent fault in this pressure "to know," particularly in the life of a graduate scholar. Although it has become somewhat cliche to say that "life is messy," there is in most areas of living a kind of slipperiness, a refusal to remain fixed in the nice, tidy boxes we typically confine ourselves to as graduate students. Following this logic and the thematics of this course then, I (as might be expected) do not know the right way to move through a space without such limitations. And yet I think that is sort of the point. And though four months ago I would have been uncomfortable, anxious, afraid of not knowing, I am now trying to explore new theoretical approaches, allow myself to be inspired by new objects of study, and not be confined by such a rigidity.

In my end of term paper for EBOV, instead of my scholarship being driven by what I study, I instead allowed myself to write about a scene that I was unsure of and yet completely stuck on. Approaching the unfamiliar territory of ecocriticism, affect theory, and critical animal studies all in one foul swoop, I have never felt more uncomfortable writing a graduate paper...and never felt more proud of a graduate paper that I have written. While I am not necessarily sure that I will use any of these critical modes in the future, I now know it is possible for me to do so, to not feel limited or not allowed to do things that are not, well, "what I do." Though my upcoming field exam, prospectus, and eventual dissertation have become more fluid to me than ever, I know now I am on the veering path, finally able to say that in my scholarship, I am simply going with the flow.

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