Monday, September 24, 2012

Week 1 Post - Anchoring Oneself in...History?

We are in a constant state of crisis, and the idea that this condition could by definition be so brutally jarring and yet so eternally certain is a paradoxical one that pulls us in many different directions to nowhere. Especially as these “emergency situations in which we live” stream through us—or attack us—from a previously unimaginable network of channels both virtual and real, the question of what to anchor oneself in becomes a daunting one. Theology, Benjamin writes, is powerful but “small and ugly and must be kept out of sight.” Our conception of history that supports this idea of a constant state of crisis rests on an “untenable” foundation, Benjamin writes. (It is interesting, if not a bit indulgent, to note that he does not maintain or defend this claim further in that chapter.)

And so we are to be skeptical in our approach to tradition and faith. The question of what to anchor oneself in thus continues to be a daunting one.

I often get caught up in emotional “feelings,” the kinds that so hinder women and various natives and other non-stoic-Euro-swanksters. And so I often turn to constructing some academic distance between myself and such challenging questions. Here, Anderson’s <i> Imagined Communities </i> was perfect. Of course it is if not impossible at least undesirable to completely sever oneself from the topic at hand. In defining the origins of nationalism I felt a familiar twinge in recognizing that I had internalized European scholars’ “conceit that everything important in the modern world originated in Europe”…or at least in discussion with Europe. Nevertheless, his use of examples in Southeast Asia—an area with which I’m barely familiar with at the personal level and completely unfamiliar with at the academic or geopolitical level—were beautifully accessible in that they came to me relatively unencumbered by the haphazardly developed perceptions I’ve formed on areas I’ve studied more directly.

And so the question of what to anchor oneself in continues, and while I’ve escaped Schumpeterian notions of “creative destruction” as the foundation for any entity’s modus operandi, Benjamin’s Angel figure (violently blown forward out of Paradise, stuck facing backwards with wreckage piling up before his eyes) is equally unsatisfactory. The only (also unsatisfactory) anchor point to take confidence in, then, is unwavering humility, and a commitment to learning as much as one can from as many different sources as possible. How to develop from there remains an enormous project, but for now committing to embracing this storm (in theory) and swirling around through the semester’s coming texts and experiences is clearly the way to go.

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