PROVINCIALIZING OXFORD: NOTES FROM THE BEAST’S BELLY
‘Where do you begin telling someone their world is not the only one?’
— Lee Maracle, Ravensong.
‘The teacher can try to rearrange desires noncoercively… through an attempt to develop in the student a habit of literary reading, even just ‘reading,’ suspending oneself into the text of the other – for which the first condition and effect is a suspension of the conviction that I am necessarily better, I am necessarily the end product for which history happened.’
— Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Righting Wrongs.’
- You will continue to insist that ‘education’ needs to be recalibrated as the project of building flourishing worlds for minoritarian life, a public culture of collaboration that isn’t tethered to the university as such, but instead to encounters where worlds are gambled in order to architect new ones, however small or makeshift. Tanya Lukin Linklater’s In Memoriam (2012) gestures to rifts in the present that don’t allow us to pretend that we are okay. Sometimes we have to fall apart. Let’s call this the ‘pedagogy of falling apart,’ where submitting to affect’s ability to make us non-sovereign is momentum for political transformation. There’s no turning back.
- The university, however, traffics in what we could call ‘everywhere epistemologies,’ where education is the practice of producing maps to everywhere and nowhere, a God-like and curatorial drive to amass ideas at the expense of the cultural contingencies that make all the difference. Oxford is constituted by this sort of philosophy of knowledge, obsessed with producing a narrowed version of the world that extends outward recklessly, swallowing everything in its path. The only objection you can muster is: there is an elsewhere, but you can’t go searching for it.
- You notice the regularity with which others avoid confrontation vis-à-vis racial oppression, making recourse to a fantasy that they are not entangled in the cruelties and forms of social violence that hold up the world. You wonder what it is like to be in a body without it feeling like a death trap. At your desk you watch a clip of a truck running over native protestors in Reno, Nevada. No one dies this time. ‘The West’ is nothing if not a string of murders incriminated by its attempted murders.
- How does it feel to be an object? You wear your favourite pair of ripped jeans, exposing your brown skin to the world. This exposure is interpreted as an invitation, compelling a stranger in a centuries-old building to walk up to you, rub your skin, laugh, and walk away. You laugh too, but only because your body needs to escape itself, to identify something of an ontological rupture. This is what it feels like to fall into the gap between subject and object. Epistemic injustice is a clever way of saying: when you speak only the ceiling will listen. This is what it feels like to almost not exist. You keep surviving anyways.
- Humility is an unevenly racialized resource. You attend a mandatory session on intellectual disagreement, where you are encouraged to open yourself up to speech. Immediately, Claudia Rankine interjects: ‘Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present.’ You decide that the history of the colonial world is a history of natives being too present. Leanne Simpson chimes in too: ‘being vulnerable has never ended well for any of us, not even one single time.’ With each word, you thicken and thicken until you burst. These are moments when other worlds seem impossible.
- You are almost midway through an article on ideology critique when the author makes a reference to ‘primitives’ who pray for rain. This, he argues, is an example of an ideological defect whereby patterns of behavior serve ends that are cheaply related to those forces (here, social solidarity). You are troubled by the invocation of ‘primitives’ as if it were prior to ideology, as if it were an anthropological given. More immediately, you pause because this is the first native you encounter in the U.K. You are both empty signifiers. You are the boundary between reality and fiction. It is a ghost town. It hurts to be a story.