ESR 9 Blog April/May 2022: Sophie Mak-Schram

ESR 9 blog April 2022

How different are our ways of being in the world and our ways of knowing it? I walk around Reykjavik in set patterns, like a little figure in a cuckoo clock, rotating around fixtures. Thinking back to Sara Ahmed and her reflections on orientations, I wonder about what might happen if we’d never started with a table at all. Without the fixture, what form might the rotation take? This question sits in sibling-like relation to the question of the distance between being and knowing in the academic context. Tim Ingold poses the question of being and knowing in the context of how studies of people differ from studies with people, suggesting that “whereas of-ness is intentional, with-ness is attentional.”

Being and knowing the world, are of course inseparable, and much decolonial thinking suggests (cogently and correctly) that perceived distinctions between these two verbs stems from a modern-colonial division of mind and body, nature and human, rational and irrational, to name a few of the binaries that continue to grate and pierce and shape certain bodies more than others. The fixture of my small rotation in this moment of writing to you, however, pins me in position: I write to you through the frame of my academic position (however precarious and temporary), via a medium that precludes a direct, temporally-congruent conversation. More vitally, and perhaps more simply, I write to you as part of my job. In the continued reality of our unevenly experienced neoliberal experience, this means that I’m hesitant to all too glibly give away snippets of the ways I am in the world whilst I spend my time trying to know elements of it (ethically and slowly). Whilst my writerly ethos does not want to foster an illusion that this presupposed ‘I’ can exist abstractly or outside of the embodied reality from which I come into being, and my ethical imperative is to write and research with as much decolonial re-lensing as I can afford to operate with from my structural position, I also don’t like the idea that my entire life becomes an opportunity for research, ‘learning’, or, maybe even meaning?

The personable, a quality I value in my writing, comes to stand in tension with levels of opacity I’ve been feeling-sensing out as desirable when writing about the practices of others. Thinking nearby, a repeated and useful thought-line/guide-rope of Trinh T. Minh Ha’s, involves a partial reveal and an acknowledgement of positionality, a situating of where one’s framing comes from. So too, undoing the binary of being and knowing might also need a form of existing nearby. This text, these blogs, as companion species to my living through the research (indeed, quite literally, given that I am now seven months into a nine month rotation of placements in different countries, my life shaped around the research obligation). A companion that isn’t a 1:1 reflection, that captures and occasionally catches up and sometimes gets distracted.

More generously towards you – as ever, with thanks for reading – here are a few things that caught my eyes and hands and thoughts in the recent period of time:

  • This interview with Cornell West, that hasn’t yet percolated into my formal thinking, and particularly this quote from it, which happens to be in rebuttal to Kanye West: “Every performance is the authorising of a future, in the midst of the present, trying to recover the best of the past”
  • The term kyriarchy, which I’m surprised I’ve not come across earlier (here’s the Wiki definition) and which I’m amused but not surprised to have learned through my delving into contemporary Icelandic music.
  • I’m sure many of the other blogs this month will mention our first in-person meeting as the full FEINART cohort in mid-March. You can watch the second day in its entirety here.
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