Actually, I didn't think I'd be marking these assignments at all. This is what has gotten me into the sense of trouble I'm feeling. I agreed to do the marking at the end of last semester, but then I didn't hear from the convener for ages, so I assumed he'd found someone else and I accepted other work. I didn't think that the convener would wait until the assignments were due to organise the paperwork for the appointment. Then I didn't feel as though I could say I've got too much on, because, technically, I had agreed to do the work. Well.
So between trying to marking these 80 or so assignments, I'm taking a series of short breaks by doing some blogging. I should warn you that I'm feeling a bit melancholy, which is my way of trying not to take responsibility for what you'll read in this rambling post, but, I suppose, the truth is, I've been thinking about various things along these lines for some time, things that have confused and upset me, whether it's needless emotion, I don't know--here, I think of Kate's byline from Moment to Moment: 'over thinking everything since 2005'--but I think I have to somehow get these thoughts out of my head, and I wouldn't mind some feedback from the more regular readers and commenters of this blog, because I value your insight.
To some extent, I've been prompted to write this by a couple of Oanh's posts, specifically those where she has discussed relationships between women, that is, her relationships with colleagues and school friends and her sense that she hasn't quite fitted in with them. On both occasions, on Oanh's blog, I made some obscure comments that I had felt the same way and that I would eventually work up the courage to write about it on my own blog.
Around the time I was responding to Oanh's posts, I had not long discovered that someone whom I had tried very hard to be friends with 'in real life' removed me from her blog roll. Being as honest as I can be, I have to say I took this personally; I was upset at what I interpreted as quite a public rejection. It isn't that I think anyone else necessarily noticed the deletion but more that I began to wonder what I had done to prompt the excision. Attempting to think rationally, I know that I likely didn't do anything, but I still can't convince myself that it wasn't a comment on something about me that was lacking. Or refining the nuances of my thought process even more (you see how my mind works?), I concluded that the person in question's action was a quite deliberate exclusion of my person from her network, and I became angry.
Let me explain. There's a bit of a history.
I had read this person's blog for a while. I had a link to it on my blog roll from the moment I became brave enough to link to people I knew irl, who didn't know I had a blog. Sometimes I found her blog tough going, in the sense that I suppose I do still make a distinction between academic sites and social sites, and the blog in question isn't necessarily the kind you read for social banter or laughs. It is an extension of the blogger's professional life.
Perhaps this is where much of my confusion lies. See, when I read on this person's blog that they were feeling lonely and isolated, I responded, not really as a colleague, but more as a potential friend (not that the two relationships are necessarily incompatible), saying we should do something social together irl. Well, that never really eventuated, and any common attendance at social occasions only came about through group decisions to go for drinks after work related events.
It was after several of these thwarted attempts to initiate friendship that I eventually came to the conclusion that anything I had read on this person's blog--from the feelings of loneliness and alienation through to the dissatisfaction with Brisbane's cultural life--was in fact a case of purely professional theoretical musings. I still don't know what else to conclude in light of my experience with this blogger: the words were an Affective articulation of the working conditions of a young, newly located, researcher. She is a very good writer. But it seems that there was nothing more. Nothing that could be responded to outside of the blog, an academic reading group, a conference or seminar presentation. Nothing that couldn't be turned into a research project.
What makes this situation worse, to my mind, is that even after discovering that I'd been re-evaluated as not-blog-roll-worthy, I still attempted to engage with the blogger on line. (Although it's not my efforts that make it worse, but rather the topic on which I attempted to engage with the blogger). I commented on her criticisms about a conference she had attended, where she suggested that the majority of the conference attendees had been self-indulgent, talking far too long in question times, and just generally apolitical and nostalgic. I responded to what I interpreted as a fairly sweeping dismissal of a large number of colleagues with a question. I hadn't attended the conference under discussion, but my question wasn't about the conference exactly, so much as my confusion about an apparent lack of generosity in the comments.
I asked the question, as well, because I knew a couple of the initial commenters who had concurred with the blogger's perspective (although I did not know the commenter who took me task for asking my question with a lecture about the alienating nature of academic discourse!), and when I read their assessment of the conference too, something just got stuck in my craw and a whole well of bile just wanted to spew forth.
It didn't. I tried to be calm and direct my question towards the pessimism expressed about the older generation of scholars who attended the conference (there's almost something Oedipal there), but it's true to say that there was something else in my question. And it wasn't just the freshly minted feeling of rejection I was experiencing about the blog-roll snub; no, I admit my question was informed by something a bit more putrid and festering than that.
I have been in reading groups and master classes with these young researchers, and quite frankly, I have never felt more alienated or more dismissed in my entire life, while collectively they have monopolised the attention of the visiting expert scholar, engaging them in conversations inaudible to the rest of the class's participants, while remaining entirely oblivious to their slight, and completely unreceptive to any attempt to get them to reflect upon their actions. I have had conversations where I've felt like I've been assaulted by Judith Lucy wielding a base ball bat as sarcasm after ironism has been smacked to the outfield, leaving no room for response. I have had the repeated experience of having to practically reintroduce myself every time I encounter them since there is absolutely no flicker of recognition on their faces to suggest that they've ever seen me before. To say nothing of outright moments of snobbery.
Let's talk about lack of affect, shall we?
Are you still reading?
I needed a moment.
I'm not sure where to go now.
I want to say something about hypocrisy, but I don't think the situation is as simple as that: academics of all generations are quivering masses of doubts wrapped up in poor social skills that present as snubs and slights.
Another thing that prompted this post was an invitation I received to a birthday party this weekend. It was offered with the codicil that it would be good if I could make it because unlike many of the birthday person's friends (who are perfectly lovely people) I was able to talk about something other than shop, and right now, for this occasion, that would be very welcome. At the time I laughed and said that I could be invited anywhere and relied upon to talk crap, however, I was also pleased by the observation, because I don't want to spend every waking moment consumed by work.
That said, I have little problem talking about things other than work. I wonder if that isn't some of the source of my reaction to the anxieties that I've been discussing in this post. I find it really difficult to sustain for long periods of time the level of thinking required to do academic work, so I am nonplussed when I encounter people who seem to be able to operate on that level much of the time. I'd be less worried if it wasn't true that every aspiring academic compares themselves and is compared to these people who are pathological, in the most benign sense, ie 'not normal'.
I guess I have two things to say here. The first is that by removing the link to my blog from her blog-roll the blogger in question has demonstrated that she does not consider me to be one of her colleagues. I thought I was, so that's been quite a hurtful thing to realise.
Following on from that, and more vaguely, I am drawn to wonder about a forthcoming work event where the topic for discussion is about social networking sites and blogs as forms of collegial networking for contemporary researchers, who often work in isolation. I'm curious about the ways these networks are being extended, or not, to those who research fields other than the internet, but who experience similar working conditions.
If some deliberately exclude others from these collegial networks online, refusing reciprocal exchanges and deleting links, what are the consequences for collegial relationships between individuals within and across institutions in the same physical location? What happens when you encounter flesh and blood
Can you always dip your head and take the stairs?