On the rare occasions when I have been on flat land with no body of water near, I panic. It feels like a trap, all that uniform land. I’m from New Orleans. The coast, the swamp, the ambiguities of deep interface, lie deep in me. Unlike the water table. That’s very close to the surface.
Academic writing can too easily resemble an expanse of flat land: far from the margins and mixtures that make anything productive possible, it has been buffered, separated, marked out in plots, accessed by paved roads. Or at least, I try to make mine look that way. That’s as it should be, perhaps must be. Flat interiors have their place in the global ecology. But sometimes, for me, it induces panic. Where is the source?
For years, I thought of my literary writing – poetry and other sorts, not nearly enough or as good as I’d like – as a fundamentally different kind of work than academic writing. The processes seemed different in development, execution, and purpose. That much is true. But I overlooked an underlying similarity: the origins. Other than set pieces, every work I do starts with a collision of divers elements, a strong emotional reaction to the collision, and a need to work my response into words – and from there, into some insight that could be offered to others. Literary and academic work differ primarily in the last two phases, but not much in the first two. A collision of life-altering proportions led to my main scholarly project, not that I say so in the articles or book. Books. Working on the plural. Still – I wear not doctoral gowns in my brain. Writing, music, deafness, these all came before the academic role.
This process happens far more often than I do anything about it. That’s not to say that every such moment and its reflections must be put into words. Culling is an underrated art these days. Nevertheless, some of my culling occurs simply because the collision doesn’t fit anywhere. Someone’s story moves me and evokes a bit of Renaissance drama, and I write a poem. A post-modern literary theorist (tautology?) prompts insight into ancient religious texts, and I do a conference paper. As in metathesis reactions, things change places, but within a stable basic structure. Usually one thing precipitates out.
And then there are islands, with their windy sides and marshy sides, where everything is a border. Given the particulars of my life, the flora and fauna and fantasies include a library, strange bodies, cathode-ray visions, music, religions, speculative worlds, animals, and a college or something like one. That is, I’ll write about literature, disability, television and film, music, science fiction, cats and maybe some dogs, and education. Yes, I left out religion in the second list. I won’t always leave it out. I’m a scholar of religion on the mainland, but I write from the island, the place of un-disciplined fecundity that underlies more socialized projects.
This blog is my island – the coastline, the estuary, the overlapping phases of elements, states, life-forms – or, in temporal terms, my native carnival. I want to write from the hypnagogia of thought, the place of juxtapositions that have no other place.