Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Note to Self

Academic life changes you. The first year and a half have been social. I had classes, I met and spoke with people. But the last few months have been time spent mostly by myself. 'Work' is time spent writing, thinking and working out problems in your head. Apart from teaching, an important part of work is producing knowledge - doing research and publishing. It will be a lifetime of this, of spending the whole day by myself, having 'conversations' with people who are not actually with me either because I have never met them in person or because they are long dead.

As such, it is probably perfectly normal to be self-involved. Nearly every academic I have met is like this - with a few exceptions. One literally loses one's social skills. One forgets 'pakikipagkapwa.' One becomes overly embroiled with one's own thoughts. And because most social interactions involve students, then this is the default mode of conversation. Monologue takes the place of dialogue. Listening skills get really rusty. If evolutionary mutations could happen faster, I imagine academics will lose their ears altogether!

So, here is a mental note to myself. Keep engaging the world. And by 'world' I mean other people. I am constituted by them as much as I constitute them  through my writing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

An Allegory of Good/Evil

What is good? What is evil? In Chris Nolan's Batman, what separates one from the other are convictions which fluctuate as characters plod on with life. Villains and heroes are either side of the same coin. In the last installment of the trilogy, Nolan's message is clear. There is evil in all of us, even when we are good.

If we must continually battle with these warring tendencies, then what separates Batman from Bane? Both fight for a cause. Batman's heroism and Bane's anarchism both warrant a belief in humanity's capacity for redemption. Both have sacrificed their lives for their ideologies. Both teeter on that precarious divide between rule and order. Both act in the name of justice. So how is Batman different from Bane?

The answer, I think, is that he isn't. What separates the two are contingencies - differences in matter of degrees. Perhaps Bane has experienced just that bit more of pain and despair in his life. By accident he has met such and such people who have influenced him in this or that way. The film's surprise at the end highlights the similarities even more. Bane is Batman, in substance and in form.

If we acknowledge that there is in us both good and evil, that we are capable of both care and harm, then I think we would be more far more forgiving of others and of ourselves. An intolerance of this duality leads to impossible expectations. Idealism is cynicism's twin.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


I miss when writing isn't such a chore. Its all I've been doing the past eight months. Write. And as my discipline dictates, I have had to write like a schmuck. Clarity and logic has killed the aesthetic. I am told it will come back. I am told that if I retain my 'voice' amidst all the disciplinary browbeating, then it means I am ready. Whatever.

Tens of thousands of words chucked. If I had known it would be this brutal, I'd have spent more time writing just for shits and giggles. When have my words become so precious? I would spend a whole day, 9-10 hours, sitting in front of the damn computer. A day's work will yield 500 words. 800 to 1,000 on really good days. I am told it is normal.

There is no room for poetry. Form must give way to substance. The bones of an argument must be laid out in its naked glory.

My supervisor says I am cryptic. That I speak the way I write, hiding things. Keeping things. She said for me to keep a journal and practice writing to lay out my thoughts. Right.