Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Angstademic Discourse

[Hello all! As of today, the Jackrabbit will be spending most of her weekend furiously typing on her first round of PhD field exams in medieval literature. So while I'm collapsing into a nervous wreck over Boethius, Beowulf, The Pearl poet and/or Chaucer, please enjoy the melodious tones of this silent scream into the Bloggosphere...]

Human rights abuses
 So, the good news is this: I found out last week that I am going to be talking about The Laramie Project at an interdisciplinary academic conference focusing on "memory and trauma" as their theme.  I'll present the paper in March as part of a panel on issues of narrative trauma, representation and recursive storytelling (this would take a lot of time to explain.)  Anyhow, my personal experience with The Laramie Project and questions regarding trauma and memory are going to be placed alongside narratives of natural disasters and displacement, civil war, and victims of seemingly motiveless violence.  And among all this, I'm supposed to come up with something theoretical and pithy about The Laramie Project that will make the collective cogs in the audience members' heads hum pleasantly, a good performance of academic gymnastics.  And at the moment, the prospect of this makes me think just one thing: Ugh.      

So, at first I was thrilled to finally talk about all this in an academic forum.  Then a couple days later I started to experience a little bit of doubt, and that doubt has turned into some outright panic about having to discuss this in person to academics.  I'm worried: is anything I'm doing here actually worthy of being considered academic?  Or, on the flip side, is anything I'm doing here actually worthy of being considered authentic writing?  What's going to happen if I pull whatever-the-hell-this-is into the academic sphere where it can be theorized to death? 

A bigger question might be this:  what the hell IS this thing I'm writing?  Can I even remotely call this a foray into an academic discussion? And, should I?

Part of the problem is that I simply have an ambivalent relationship to academic discourse in general, and it bothers a little bit to let it intrude in on my personal life.  That's why many of us are academics in the first place, after all-- we want to control a dominant discourse in a way that doesn't have a personal impact on our lives.  We can talk about the way the world works without actually having to figure out how it applies to us personally.  (At least, that's been my experience from dating sociology and philosophy majors way back in the day...)  That's exactly why I started teaching The Laramie Project in the first place, too: I wanted to control a narrative that did nasty things to my psyche in a controlled environment. 

The really good academics, in my mind, are the ones that do open it up to their personal lives.  That's part of what made people like Freud and Foucault so freaking brilliant-- and a little scary.  It's also what makes some academics humanitarians, theologians, activists or intermediaries between one community and another.  So it's not that I'm against this kind of interference.  It's just that it scares me.  Academic discourse is extremely powerful, but it can also screw with your head.  Just ask Saint Augustine-- just trying to figure out whether or not evil is a substance made him an intellectual wreck for years
Old leather books, 3
And, part of the problem is that academic discourse has often had a hostile relationship to people like me.  Until recently, academic discourse didn't like women.  My own field, Anglo-Saxon studies, has been particularly stodgy in this regard, though it's currently opening up to a whole legion of brilliant female scholars who are taking the field by storm.  I'm also not from the right class or cultural background.  And, my politics and religious life often finds itself at odds with the academic community, too, although I think that's just as much a problem of politicians and closed-minded evangelicals as it is self-righteous intellectuals.  Blame easily goes both ways on that one.

Teaching the text is one thing; writing about it and presenting, apparently, is something completely different in my mind.   When I started to think about actually writing on The Laramie Project in the academic environment, I actually rejected the idea altogether at first.  That's where this blog came from-- it was an environment that specifically wasn't academic and I could write uninhibited about this story.  That, and it's less limited.  If I write an article in a journal, the only people who can read it are other academics, more or less.  I'm not interested in conversing just with them.  These issues belong to everybody.  They belong to every Laramie resident, or Wyoming native, or every GLBT person who's had to live with the controlling narrative vocabulary of "lifestyle" or "homosexuality" or "nature" (or even "buck fence") thrust upon them.  And it's for anyone else who's felt like there was a narrative beyond their own lives that somehow defined them and they were powerless to control. 

But there are problems on the other side of things, too.  Maybe I like the bloggosphere because it's easier and doesn't have a peer review board and a house citation format.  Maybe I just like to be sloppy and loose with my thinking and don't want to have to put it against a critical backdrop of other writers who will make it seem less original than I think I am.  Maybe I don't want to "lose my authenticity" or some other garbage like that by submitting my own thoughts to academic scrutiny. 

Also, maybe it's a little unfair.  I am, in fact, an academic, just like I am also a Rocky Mountain native, and like any good dysfunctional family I still have to love and claim them even if they drive me crazy.  I live in the academic community.  So maybe wanting to withhold this from them is unfair, and not giving them the academic service of participating in this debate is stupid. After all, I made a conscious choice to drag this into the academic sphere when I started teaching the play to freshman four years ago.  How is writing or presenting on it any different?   I don't really know...

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