Hello world!Posted: December 14, 2010
And here I begin the infamous first blog post.
I wasn’t going to write a blog; I’m sure many of the people who come to blogs feel similarly to me. There’s something troubling about the ostentation (as my partner would term it) of writing in a form that is traditionally meant to be private, the journal, but doing so for a public audience. As though my interiority somehow deserves a readership by virtue of its being written and published. As though my confessional mode is in any way original, profound, or insightful. But I will try to be at least the last of these three. And I will try to think of the blog not as a misdirected journal, but as a new mode of thinking and writing in ‘this technological age,’ or what you will, to recognise it as a beast unto itself that I, for some reason, will try to tame, if only on a very tiny scale.
So, that was all very meta. But I still haven’t told anybody what I’m writing a blog about. The best way to answer this might be another digression. I just finished my masters in English Literature at the University of Alberta, Canada this September. I loved my masters. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I’m itching to do a PhD. But first I need something else out of my life: I need to learn differently; I need to be able to different things; I need to pursue the other things that compel me; I need the time to pursue them in. So my partner and I have decided to take two years off, and we’ve picked up and moved to Dublin, Ireland (I was born here, more on that later, possibly in another post).
So how am I going to spend this time off, and what are these things that compel me? One of the reasons we decided on Dublin was so that I could use the archives at Trinity College (My academic specialty is Beckett and the modernist avant-garde. There’s some really valuable material here for that.), and I’ll be doing a good bit of research. But that’s not the learning that I necessarily want to write about, although I’m sure it will make an appearance every so often.
I want to learn to make almost everything I’ll ever need. So last night I started to teach myself to knit (It was after spending 30 minutes fixing a dropped stitch that I decided it was time to write and not make for a little while.), and in January I’ll be taking a dress-making course to improve on the sewing skills I developed when I was in secondary school. I’ve also been cooking avidly since I arrived here, with savoury pastry featuring prominently.
So, what draws me to textiles and cooking? I feel like I’m doing this for political reasons, along socialist and feminist lines. If I’m able to make the things that I need, then I am, to a certain extent, less at the beck and call of capital. As academics, I and others talk constantly about the wish to imagine a world where capital, growth, and industry are not the primary driving factors of the world economy. But we rarely take an opportunity to make alternative lives for ourselves. Granted, academics, especially in the humanities, can often exist in a space outside of our contemporary capitalist society, but I don’t necessarily believe that we do it enough. My desire to touch, to be engaged in the tactility of the things that I amass, hearkens back to the socialist theories of such historical figures as William Morris, of Marx and Engels. To a certain extent, I want to close the gap between labour and product that I supposedly feel as a consumer, and (here’s the flip side of the coin) I want to see if I really do feel any different about the things in my life.
For all my socialist commitments, I’m a hopeless consumer. I love clothes, I love fabrics, I love food and wine and coffee and chocolate. So how do I reconcile my political commitments with my very visceral attraction to beautiful things? I think that I will find my answer in the relationship between politics and aesthetics. Perhaps I will find that aesthetics are integrally linked to labour, at least I hope I will.
And what about my feminism? Yesterday I picked up Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook by Debbie Stoller. I didn’t realise it when I bought the book, but Stoller co-founded the landmark feminist magazine, Bust, before she wrote the Stitch ‘n Bitch series. Her introduction really spoke to me, and expressed how ‘making’ fits into a feminist politik more clearly than I could hope to:
But it was exactly the gendered nature of the craft that drew me to it….Betty Friedan and other like-minded feminists had overlooked an important aspect of knitting when they viewed it simply as part of women’s societal obligation to serve everyone around them—they had forgotten that knitting served the knitter as well….Knitting is the same do-it-yourself ethos that spawned zines and mix tapes. By loudly reclaiming old-fashioned skills, women are rebelling agains a culture that seems to reward only the sleek, the mass-produced, the male. (Stoller 9-10)
There is an urgent political impetus to this reclamation of “old-fashioned skills” because they are just that: skills. They are the ways that people kept themselves alive and warm, and we are not necessarily better off now that we no longer need to know them.
Of course, my rather ambitious political project has its limitations. For one, how far am I willing to go with it? Will I pull my own wool? Will I go live on a small farm so that I grow all my own food? Will I give up my academic aspirations in favour of following my politics to their extreme? Probably not.
The limitations that I will place on my project have everything to do with my ‘lifestyle,’ that nagging neo-liberal child of privilege. Indeed, this entire project is contingent on my privilege, on my class position that allows me to gain an education where Marxist and feminist politics are accessible to me, an appropriate amount of leisure where I can undertake learning new skills, and an ironic non-urgency to my project as I do not need these skills to survive. Indeed, I don’t necessarily see what I’m doing as particularly radical (although I’d love to convince myself it is): I’m not attempting to effect wide-scale political change; I’m not forging a community of alternate-thinking individuals. In fact, my project is firmly individualist, and can even be read as partaking in the new, trendy bourgeois predilection for the ‘hand-made’ (see Etsy.com), or for the organic or locally grown as an ethical consumer choice (see Slavoj Zizek’s argument on RSA Animate here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpAMbpQ8J7g&feature=player_embedded ).
But how I will differentiate myself from these movements remains to be seen. They’re not problems that I’ve reconciled yet. But this blog will be the forum on which I will work through some of these issues; it will, in a way, be the event of my political thinking to complement my political doing.