Re-invention of Site and Self

Last spring the time to complete my PhD at York University ran out, and I de-registered. It’s still unclear if I can complete the work, re-register and defend, but at these points this is not my main concern. York was not an environment in which I was able to complete, or even really get going, with the work required to earn a PhD. I do think I’m capable of such work, but for various reasons, this was not the right time.

During the past year I’ve continued to live in Toronto, working several part time jobs, and I’ve applied and been accepted into a different Academic program which I will start in September. I’ve been a bit cagey about all of this, certainly my online presence has declined. This is partially a function of self-care – the constant exposure of oneself to the public sphere/agora/gladiatorial arena is not necessarily engendering of the forms of self-love and self-care which are required to maintain reasonably coherent identity across a tumultuous life-bridge. That said, at a point, self-narration becomes a form of confident self-assertion. My friend Tom tells me self-narration can actually be problematic, so this point might even be up for reconsideration. More on that later. Anyway, the point is – I’m still here, and I want this blog to have a future.

The blog’s future will not look exactly like it’s past. In the past, especially since 2011, I’ve written a lot about Palestine. Now, Palestine is a very interesting and important subject, but on the whole I’ve found that, as a while person living in Toronto, there is not much I can say about Palestine that folks will find useful. Generally, white solidarity activists only gain status in the Palestine solidarity community here by following implicit rules, rather than by creative thought and research on taboo subjects (i.e. the history of the PLO). What interests me about Palestine isn’t exactly what I’m “supposed” to be interested in, and this has brought me some very deep friendships, but on the whole it has brought alienation and distancing from that community. This can’t be disconnected from the fact that since 2012 I have not been able to visit Palestine. This is largely my own doing – if my PhD had been going better, I’m sure I could have found the money to go. But as it has gone, although I was able to continue travelling to Ireland yearly, Palestine was out of the question. I miss the friends I made there dearly, and I hope that someday soon I can go back. To be radically honest, I think a major gap in my experience of these issues is the un-talked about class barriers, such that when I spoke about Palestine with Palestinians and other Arabs in Toronto, it made many of them uncomfortable not only because, as a white person, I was in some way “appropriating” “their experience”, but because due to the extreme financial and social class difference between relatively (on the global scale, at least) wealthy Palestinians living in Toronto, and poor Palestinians living in refugee campus in Palestine. As a while person, I was able to cross social and class divisions in Palestine in the way that would be far more difficult for an indigenous person. This whole issue of the relationship between the indigenous vs foreign subject position in relation to the ability to cross local boundaries is actually really interesting, and it reminds me of something an undergraduate history professor of mine said about the best book written on 19th century New York was written by a recent immigrant who described what he saw in a way that wasn’t possible for folks who grew up in that context. But, in the current identity politics world of “you can’t write about my culture”, the possibilities of insight from the foreign position are dismissed in advance as Orientalist. So, and I apologize for my rambling here, it felt basically impossible to continue with the project of political phenomenology using Palestine as a case study.

My decision to apply for the Masters degree program at OISE came of two origins. The first is the fact that two of my housemates have been through the program, and though I never thought much of it from its title (Adult Education? I was more interested in the “prestige” disciplines like Philosophy, History, etc), I was always really impressed and interested in what they were studying in any given week. The other origin was a series of discussions with a senior figure in the student co-operative movement at the NASCO institute in Ann Arbour last November. From those talks, I learned the mind-bending fact that what I took for granted as the natural form of student co-operative governance was in fact highly specific to Ontario – and across the United States what we took as a given was in fact a rarity. I will speak more about these issues in upcoming posts, but for the meantime what I want to communicate is this sense of intellectual excitement in uncovering the specificity of something that I saw discursively inscribed as normal.

One really wonderful thing that happened this year is I was still able to attend and be part of the Economy and Society Summer School in Castletownroche, Ireland. This program, if we read it in continuity with the previous iteration (“Theory and Philosophy” summer school) is something I have now attended 6 times. Due to my academic catastrophe, I was not able to act as faculty this year (I had given a talk last year, and reading groups the two years before that), but it was actually amazing to be able to cross over between the student and staff sides of things. Also, I worked the bar for most of the evenings, which made me feel part of the staff in a meaningful way, and allowed me to interact with pretty much everyone. What was truly special to me this year were my discussions with Arpad Szakolczai, a professor of Sociology at University College Cork who has truly heterodox views on the Enlightenment, the history of Capitalism, Plato, and the correct form of Republican governance. Last year at the summer school he gave a talk entitled “Fairground Capitalism” which argued that Habermas got the notion of public and private backwards (and that the public sphere is a “gladiatorial arena”), and that capitalism emerged historically in Europe not from the market but from the Fairground. The talk was quite influential on me, and inspired me to read several of his books and articles – which formed the basis of deeper discussions at this year’s school. I hope to get more involved with his group (International Political Anthropology) over the next few years and possibly attend his summer school in Italy in 2016.

Currently I’m quite busy, working 6 days a week at various part time jobs as well as auditing 2 courses. I’ve also been developing a reading list for this summer to get a head start on my new program – especially the thesis research. I’m still a director at CCRI, and the CCRI representative to the Ontario Student Co-operative Association (OSCA) – as well as the newly elected president of OSCA which gives me responsibilities in relation to the organizing of the OSCA conference/retreat this fall. I ran for NASCO board this spring and was not elected, but I will run again this fall, as well as hopefully attend the NASCO institute, possibly as a presenter.

I will be in Toronto for the rest of June, and then I’m headed to Montreal to spend some time with my brother before I fly West to spend the bulk of July and August with my parents in British Columbia. It will be the first time in several years that I have spent more than a week or two in British Columbia, and I’m very much looking forward to thesis research at our summer cottage.

Moving forward, I hope to make this blog a public site of my ongoing research on co-operatives, as well as a place to discuss the relationship between the theoretical anthropology I’m beginning to read with the existential phenomenology with which I’m already quite familiar.