There are two ways of being an academic. One is to burrow ever deeper into the little field one cultivates, to become a master of it, all the while propping up the fenceposts around that field to ensure that one’s terrain is left undisturbed by poachers, wild boars or raccoons, dissonant ideas, and so on. The other is to keep moving, following nomadic lines of connection from one thing to another, roping them in from time to time, but always getting diverted by the next thing that appears on the horizon. That may be the Next Big Thing (poststructuralism, postcolonialism, complexity theory, cognitive neuroscience, ecocriticism, or what have you), but it could also be a responsiveness to the world, which is always throwing up next (little) things if we pay attention to it rather than getting caught in our models of it.
I love the first approach, love digging into a place, a fieldwork site, a method, a philosopher. If I was really faithful to that approach, I could have and would have ended up one of a multitude of things (depending on which stage I came to rest at): e.g., a Naessian ecosophist or Bookchinian bioregionalist or Perlmanite/Goldmanite/LeGuinian anarchist, a Gurdjieffite or Jungo-Lacanian or pomo-taoist-tantric-christo-buddho-pagan, a Heideggerian or Merleau-Pontian, Derridean or Foucauldian, Harawayan or Latourian, Bakhtinian, Lefebvrian, Whiteheadian, Deleuzian, or (maybe now) Peircian, or a post- this and that-ian. Whether I qualify now as one or more of these I’m not sure… And then there are the places, the communities, the practices, the poesies, the disciplines, the landscapes, the off-road, non-scholarly wanderings (musical, spiritual), whole lists of each I could have gotten fixated on, each with its lush oases offering the comforts of identification.
But ultimately — and I can’t help myself with this — I always seem to have gotten diverted by another thing: something new to make sense of, something more to hook up to the insight-churning machine of the brain-body-laptop-library-field-world-network to see if it will withstand the power surge the new object brings in. It rarely does, but the parts of the network keep chugging, moving apart and reforming into something new, as long as one keeps breathing fuel into them to keep them moving.
This isn’t really unfaithfulness so much as it is a faithfulness to the world, a world that is always throwing us new things, new bones to chew on, always revealing to us what we don’t yet know, highlighting the ways in which what looks like a sure bet from one angle looks, from another, like a lost cause. So the trick is to keep plugging and unplugging, firing and misfiring, and to keep your eyes scanning the horizon, the sky and earth all at once, even as you don’t trust your eyes but follow your ears and nose instead.
The best minds do that, I tell myself, which is what probably makes me more of a Deleuzian than anything, though it gives me all the license I may ever need to be unfaithful. (I would put Michel Serres in that category alongside Deleuze, and some others, maybe Haraway and Latour and Stengers among them, and Lao Tzu and Dogen and Rumi and the Beats no doubt.) But then what to make of the post-constructivist synthesis, the gathering of minds that awaits us over the next horizon, the utopian yet-to-come that will usher in a world of democracy, ecology, justice, and liberation? There is, after all, an internal compass that orients us amidst the blazing winds and that keeps us moving in some direction (since nothing stands still). But the labels we throw up are always just temporary fixes, flags we throw ahead of ourselves to see how they land and to help us maneuver our way forward, like Stalker’s throwing of bolts into the wavelike ground of the Zone.
So I am fated to remain the second sort of thinker. But it’s more fun being that kind, even if we still have to finish writing the books we start (gasp, back to it!…).
But, first, how is all of that related to Prospero’s Books? If the world is the network-fabric of His books, there is a Caliban at the very heart of it (or Orlando, to render its gender unstable) that disrupts and deconstructs it at every moment-point of its connection. Between the two swings the universe.
‘Nature, nature, I am your bride. Take me!’*
(What more can one say or do?)
*[click here if video clip not visible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVCO_F0fUas]