Some Thoughts on Lisa Duggan’s “The Full Catastrophe”

These responses are far more articulate than what follows. Read them instead:

Natalia Cecire, “New at This”:
Keguro Macharia, “kburd: Caliban Responds”:

Still, some things I pondered this morning after reading Lisa Duggan’s Bully Blogger post (from 18 Aug) on the Ronell / Reitmar case:

(1) We shouldn’t forget the rhetorical situation of the academic letter penned in support of Avital Ronell. It uses forms of persuasion fitted for administrators and their concerns. This doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of the letter, its writers, or its language (especially its premature judgment of Nimrod Reitmar), but it is not an insignificant point.

(2) There is a longer history that is easy to dismiss or forget when rehearsing our general rules and axioms for teacher / student relationships (e.g., keep it professional, etc.). Histories, for instance, of queer / trans / nonwhite survival and kinship—histories in which the classroom became and becomes a place where some human beings found / find resources for living and flourishing, sometimes through language and community and behavior and forms of life that can appear to normative / normalizing eyes as strange, odd, twisted, bent, eccentric. Queer. Non-normative. These histories should not be an alibi for abuse or for the foreclosure of the futures of the young, of course. But they are contexts we should keep in mind and learn to honor nevertheless. We in the humanities are supposed to be sensitive to contexts in general (and to these contexts of survival and kinship in particular).

(3) All analyses miss things. #MeToo might be “one part feminist social justice movement” and “one part neoliberal publicity stunt” (as Duggan puts it). But this socio-phenomenal force is also more than the sum of these two components. For young students (especially queer and trans students) outraged by Duggan’s post, Halberstam’s RT’ing of it, and Butler’s recent editorial (which did not offer an apology to the complainant but did apologize to the MLA) something more seems to be going on. This something might be generational (the young asking those of us with institutionally-validated authority to reconsider what we are reproducing and how we might teach / advise / supervise differently). Learning to hear this rage and these gestures of revolt clearly seems like it should be part of the structural analysis Duggan calls for. Yet her post seems to dismiss or to neglect the rage of the young—as if one must push their concerns aside in order to do the serious work of cultural analysis. (Should we read their rage as symptoms of a wider “sex panic”?)

(4) While I have been calling for an evaluation of structures of harm that graduate education reproduces, I think it is also wise to interrogate our judgments of Ronell herself—and of Reitmar. After all, for some people it is quite easy to pin the case on the failings of Critical Theory. Or the Academic Left. It is also quite easy for some people to pin the case on the failures of Feminism. Or Queer Politics. How sure are we (no matter our stated political and ethical positions) that we aren’t reproducing misogyny and homophobia in our (purportedly progressive) judgments? How would we even know?

(5) I don’t yet know what to say about Duggan’s intervention here re: confidentiality. I’m suspicious of institutions and the impulse to encode and regulate permissive behavior in our legal system. I’ve learned this from great teachers and theorists and scholars. But my gut also tells me that she overstates Ronell’s position of powerlessness and downplays the powerlessness of the advisee. But then again—am I right? Who needs protecting from whom here? Do both need protection? Where is the best place to locate and develop procedures for “a restorative justice process”? Have we too quickly internalized a sense of carceral and punitive right(eous)ness?

(6) I’m still really mad at Jonathan Culler and Slavoj Zizek. Perhaps it’s safe to focus my anger here.

(7) I think we have a lot to learn from our students about pedagogical resistance and need and revision and care and caution.

(8) I feel like I don’t know anything.

(9) Someday I’ll teach Butler’s apology to the MLA beside The Psychic Life of Power (1997).