Noise

I’m having trouble turning off noise today. It’s all kinds of noise: cell phone noise, social media noise, inside brain noise. There’s something poetic about being consumed in this “white noise” considering I am in the postmodern phase of my prelim reading. I think my seeming inability to block out all of these dopamine-inducing noises is partially because I started today with finishing a good (well, yes, for my prelim exams, but come on now, what else am I reading?) novel and when that happens, I sometimes don’t quite know what to do with myself. When a novel has an ending that is just so perfect and final, so inevitable, it seems as though there’s nothing else to say either within or outside the world of the novel. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing now: to work out of this funk of, “How do I possibly write about or think about something that already seems so complete?”
To react this way is obviously to react to “good” writing; it is to react to writing that has communicated something surprising, thought-provoking, and insightful. And it is exactly this kind of writing to which scholarship is devoted. But it is also exactly this kind of writing that reminds me why I am sometimes intimidated by putting my voice into scholarly conversation. Sometimes, when I have a very emotional reaction to a piece of writing, I don’t know how to be critical of it anymore. Putting on a scholarly cap is easy to do when it’s a work that evokes nothing in me at all. Obviously, it is pleasurable to write about pleasurable things, but I have yet to determine how to apply an analytic lens to portrayals of love and loss and memory and all of those things that hit me straight in the emotional bits of my being.
I am perhaps feeling a bit emotionally wrought and a bit concerned with “inevitable endings” after today’s appointment of Janet Napolitano for UC President. Now I typically reserve political discussion for places offline (you know, places where my words won’t be stored forever and ever), but I just want to muse upon a few lingering thoughts I’ve had with the news: what does it mean for the head of Homeland Security to become a president of a public university? What message does this send to the larger academic community? In what ways are militarization, intelligence, and national security relevant to the role of the academy in the larger national fabric? There have been university leaders who have not been academics in the past, but never before has there been a university leader implicated primarily in national security. I’ve read a lot of angry editorials (and a lot of optimistic ones too), but I can’t sift through enough of the noise to really make sense of the long-term impacts of this kind of appointment. Perhaps we can’t know what these long-term impacts will be, but I see big changes to public perception of public education that I feel I can’t change, that I’m powerless to affect.
It’s normal to feel small and afraid and voiceless both in the face of large decisions and in front of awe-inspiring works. I’ve expressed this here before and I’ll express it again: I’m paralyzed by the not knowing of where my voice could actually affect change. But (and also again), what can I do but keep beating the oars through the water, hoping that wherever I steer this boat of mine, I’ll make it to some pretty sweet island.

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