I included On Being Included in my spring reading list thinking that it was going to do something much different than it did. I didn’t anticipate the degree to which Ahmed’s empirical (if qualitative) research would be foregrounded. More significantly, although I knew she was focusing on the process of institutional change and institutional use of diversity language, I assumed at some point she would address the individual felt experience of “being included” or not. There is discussion of diversity practitioners as individuals, some of whom certainly would seem to be part of the “diverse” bodies the institution thinks of itself as including, but there never seems to be any discussion of how they themselves experience fitting into these diversity mandates that it is their job to create and apply. If there is to be any object of Ahmed’s study that she depicts being shifted in and out of the institution’s sphere of inclusion, it is the document.
This isn’t a criticism, per se. I want to read about how it feels to be missed by the interpellation of institutional diversity, but Ahmed gives us a still very useful of how texts succeed or fail to act as a force that intervenes with the momentum of institutional habit. It is not clear what it means for diversity workers to successfully subvert the academy, but I think this is to avoid getting mired down by the impossibility of consensus on any particular acts. Ahmed seems to recognize a vacillation between the organization as constituted by documents, and the organization as having a will and a history of its own that makes it capable of blocking, ignoring, or undercutting documents it generates.
Explaining that gender identity is not evidence of any particular sexual orientation is a big part of Trans 101 style popular education, but trans theorists (Kate Bornstein and Jacob Hale come to mind) have also done a lot of work to explore how common assumptions about their connection affects the way individuals experience their own gender and the gender of others. I’ve recently read Gayle Salamon’s Assuming A Body, and (among other things) she shows how the work of phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty can illuminate the connection between sexuality and gender identity. Her argument is interesting in that it takes us beyond heteronormativity and the impact of sexual relations on how one’s gender is read:
One of my motivations for reading Archive Fever was the influence this text has had on fan studies through Abigail Derocho’s great essay, “Archontic Literature.” Derocho argues that conceptualizing of popular and canonical texts as an archive allows us to read subsequent fan productions in a less hierarchical manner, and recognize how their addition to the “archive” changes the entire archive. Meaning that, other problematics aside, Kirk/Spock fanfiction has an effect on Star Trek episodes (a reciprocal form of the more obvious Star Trek → K/S relationship). Both are simply entries in the archive titled “Star Trek.”
I think this argument offers a lot of possibilities, but this only touches on one small aspect of what Derrida has to say about the archive and the relationship between the archive and those working in/on/around it.
Imagined Communities is a classic work of theory, but not necessarily one that is especially widely read among literary studies students (in my experience, at least. This is a bit weird to me, especially considering how focused Benedict Anderson is on language and the role of material texts in providing a mooring point for citizenship as identity.
There is a special kind of contemporaneous community which language alone suggests – above all in the form of poetry and songs. Take national anthems, for example, sung on national holidays. No matter how banal the words and mediocre the tunes, there is in this singing an experience of simultaneity. At precisely such moments, people wholly unknown to each other utter the same verses to the same melody. The image: unisonance. (167)
There is a pleasure in singing national anthems. An affective connection that allows us to imagine ourselves as mutually Canadian – something that feels more meaningful than being part of a community that has shared knowledge of a single song. I’ve been thinking about how I might teach Imagined Communities and my (maybe unreasonable) impulse is that most students are going to be more likely to find pop culture examples more accessible/relatable than historical examples. Cultural texts that unite fan communities or generational groups might be based on a connection that has a bit more substance than the national one, and it seems more reasonable to make further assumptions about a person’s identity or experiences based on the former than the later. I don’t want to argue that nationalism and fannishness are completely equivalent, but I think pop culture might also be an illuminating example of how texts can create imagined communities. Read More “Synchronicity and Community Formation in Fandom and Otherwise”→