Monday, May 23, 2005

The intellectual gulf. I know this is a perennial complaint of mine, but it really struck me just then, when I was reading Shane's blog, that other people really enjoy thinking on an abstract level on which I am simply unable to engage with them. I realise that extensive theoretical reading and writing is the luxury of being (or training to be) an academic, but I am so jealous that they plunge into abstract topics while I spend my life skating across the surfaces of things.

I can draw an analogy with maths. In grade six, I used to put my head down on my desk and cry, next to the carved-in graffito of an arse with a knife up it (carved in because I used to retrace its lines with a heavily wielded pen when I got angry. I was a very angry 12-year-old), because I couldn't do long division. My teacher actually patted me on the shoulder at one point and said, "Don't worry - in high school you get calculators."

I like to call this the "calculation consolation" - the reassurance that you will never need to encounter this intellectual roadblock again in the future, so you should just suffer mindlessly through it the best you can for now. The trouble is that later on, you actually end up wanting and needing desperately to know those things, and you wish you hadn't allowed yourself the calculation consolation.

Last week, I was thinking that I wish I could read this Deleuze fucker. But the calculation consolation kicked in back when I was in the academy and had the luxury of time to read. I was proud and imperious and refused to cave to trendy theory. Oh, I've resisted them all - Deleuze, Hardt & Negri, Zizek, Agamben, Badiou. I clung to deeply daggy things: Foucault, Bourdieu. I remember last December listening to Felicity Colman speak at the CSAA conference. It was like listening to someone singing in a foreign language.

And yet, I am sure that he would offer me some insights into the things I'm interested in. But it's so hard to fit Deleuze into my life the way it is now. Because I have no university library card, I can't even borrow Deleuze's dense, ridiculous tracts to plough uncomprehendingly through. I feel ill-equipped even to make metaphors for how ill-equipped I am. I feel doomed to a bowerbird life: compelled to stare at and collect and glory in shiny things without describing or understanding their real use.

The worst part is that I am unable to engage with people I admire on their own level. I feel so frustrated that I have to drink alcohol and talk about pop culture to be a part of their world. For them, it's downtime - for me, it's uptime. How sad is that?

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