Note to self: when most confident, be most wary of unrecognized assumptions.
I did think, going into the Communication Graduate Student Association meeting yesterday, that the handouts were practically self-explanatory. I had distributed the first handout the day before in order to jog people’s memories of the brainstorming session in December. I covered it very fast (time limit) and moved into the second handout, which I also covered quickly.
I was then pulled under by the discursive currents with the very first comment. I do not remember who spoke, or what was said, except that I was instantly fighting for my life. I felt desperate and appeared as such, speaking with increased volume, intense diction, and sweeping generalizations. My attempt to pull (to bind centripetal forces in a formal procedure) and others’ (centrifugal) countering pushes thickened the borderzone where “a group” is constituted. I was sucked deep into the maelstrom.
It took a while for me to re-establish the kind of balance necessary to float, to be relaxed enough to trust that my head was going to stay above water.
I appreciate the advocacy of our Australian buddy (especially when she very diplomatically told me to shut up! – something to the effect of a particular line of inquiry not being very productive). She stayed after the meeting with some others to try and hash out the confusion and did a great job of translating me. After several rounds of back-and-forth, with folks arguing that the procedure I’m advocating is already in place and me insisting that current procedures are not the same as what I’m proposing, Li articulated two assumptions and their temporal juxtaposition. The difference, he said, is at the starting point. I’m beginning from an assumption of cohesiveness (that we all do belong and are always already “members” of an extant group), and others are beginning from an assumption of essential individuality (the independence of the self, the freedom to choose whether or not to belong at any given moment or regarding any particular issue).
These differing assumptions may be (probably are) part of heteroglossic equations of discourse about student governance that require translation into mutually intelligible language.
[I could not have said this yesterday. This is ‘new knowledge’ cohering in my mind as I reflect on the critical feedback and supportive interpretations presented in conversations with various colleagues during and since the meeting. Some part of these thoughts are also influenced by reading some pages in Derrida‘s Otobiographies yesterday afternoon and this morning, to wit: “A prejudice: life. Or perhaps not so much life in general, but my life, this ‘that I live,’ the ‘I-live’ in the present” (1985:9).]
Phenomenologically, I swim against the current. Somehow, I need to remember that its countervailing force is not necessarily deliberately directed against “me” (or anyone else), but is rather an effect of momentum and historical flow. The confusion voiced by some members of the group was (and may still be) genuine: I was “too abstract”. Some resistance was, also, specific and particular: “It’s too dangerous to be political in academia right now.” “I don’t want [the potential of] a majority view imposed upon my minority view.”
How do I become more concrete for those who are struggling with the abstractions? I could give another “for instance” that is more tied to where we (graduate students) are right now in terms of negotiations with management about space. We’ve lost the graduate lounge and the present computer lab. We’ve been given a different space that has no natural light, no air-conditioning, and no wiring. We’ve been told the work and materials needed to remedy these deficiences is too expensive. Negotiations with management about these issues continue in “the spirit of cooperation and collaboration.”
Why did we give up the present computer lab? I suggest at least one reason we gave it up is because we don’t have the collective willpower to be confrontational enough to demand respect in the form of adequate resources. We haven’t sought alliances with each other that would protect individuals enough from the risks of “being political” in order to say (hypothetically – let me rush to qualify!!), this department literally could not function without us. Chances are good we wouldn’t be on our own (as graduate students only) if faculty knew how unhappy we are. They need us, and I imagine they’d rather have us satisfied than disgruntled!