I read about ten books at a time. But sometimes a book can take over a year to read in that configuration. The state of not wanting to finish things — even books — is one that I am intimately accustomed to. Right now I’m reading both Sarah Schulman’s newest book, Conflict Is Not Abuse Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair, and Judith Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure.
Ever since I fell out of a PhD programme at The New School, I’ve had an inferiority complex about not finishing things. Even if in other professional contexts my work outputs seemed fine. It lead me to consider ‘why’ certain organizational and interpersonal configurations do not work. Sarah’s book is very useful in helping make sense of power differentials, and when power is abused. It’s common sense that I needed to be reminded of. In the midst of, often emotional, situations — major life changes, illness, and other hardships — if we could recognize the micro power differentials in relation to macro societal patterns, we’d most likely conserve energy and strategize differently. Leading with emotion often gets us to the same ends, but much more jaggedly or abruptly. In the opening section she talks about being ‘undisciplined’, not deeply schooled in any one tradition and embracing the newness (wildness) of things when they are first mixed, my paraphrase on what I think it takes to benefit from interdisciplinarity in- and outside the academy. In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam talks up ‘low theory’ and basically shows-by-doing how she uses her formal prestige to transgress academic literary style with the book itself. Once in the midst of my problems at The New School I asked Sarah on email if she had ever written about her experiences with academia and she directed me to her 1992 book, Empathy. I found an autographed copy at The Strand. At the time I could barely make out why that was her suggestion. Over time it became clearer. She, I believe, was proposing me an ‘undisciplined’ text. At the time I didn’t have the register for it, but I didn’t forget it either.
This past year, George has been fired twice from sales positions in fashion stores back in São Paulo. He is still new to São Paulo and comes to this work with a decade of experience in Cuiabá where he’s from. He may have a boss or manager who is younger and less experienced than him and perhaps hired nepotistically. He may be offended by the faulty hierarchy. He may speak up. It may get him fired.
George is ready to make some clothes … he has a very fine touch and outlook, and I can see that creative wheel dialing forward (says the closet fashion fan). Sales jobs in São Paulo do not pay for the city’s living expense and certainly do not reflect his experience. So, perhaps the ‘hard knocks’ of the luxury shopping mall scene will encourage or precipitate his own creative practice.
It doesn’t feel good at the time, but might be best in the end. Right now, I feel the plates are shifting. I even hear it from friends experiencing or observing changes in their lives and contexts … I’d like it to be about something bigger, but maybe I just rationalize the ‘personal’ this way. I feel particularly that certain forms of personal growth are so painful precisely because they interfere with the ‘professional’.