On Being Interdisciplinary, On Being Vulnerable

This was written in my head, in the shower, crying. I hope it lives up to the pretentiousness of that introduction, I hope I have something worth saying.

Pretentious is the word that seems the most terrifying, presenting fragments of a paper at a conference that is, on paper, in words, interdisciplinary, but which began yesterday with three international relations heavy papers, and the word “ontology” repeated again and again.

I struggle to remember exactly what ontology means, with my MFA in “Electronic Visualization,” which may as well be an MFA in Vacuum Tube Audio at this point. Our paper begins with a positionally statement because who the fuck are  we to even speak? Our paper begins defensively? Almost a third of it is a disjointed short story for reasons I struggle to understand. Saying that sounds pretentious, but it is true. I tell myself after the fact that we are pushing boundaries, but I counter that maybe I just couldn’t handle writing what should have been written. The truth is somewhere in-between, or somewhere altogether different, or only exists when a decision is made, right now, or tomorrow, when we read it.

We left the conference after the first session. We blew it off, or I needed to go, feeling the onset of a panic attack, feeling ill. We went to see the Fighting Goats of Poznan clock, because it was ringing at noon. The mechanical goats came out and butted heads while children cheered. Ontology (looked it up) is about the nature of being. I know what ontology means, but I think, instead, being-in-the-world. I think of that phrase often. After years of being agitated by phenomenology, I use the word more and more. I think it’s associated with someone Deleuze called “a bit of a Nazi.” Having walked around Berlin the last week and sitting now in Poland, I do not know what to make of that phrase. I want to revisit Blanchot’s The Writing of Disaster before thinking further on it. I don’t really care for phenomenon, preferring “situation”. However, if Heidegger (looked it up) is a “bit of a Nazi” what is Debord? Was he also sometimes a steaming chunk of fascist, ruling over what was purported to be opening flows in contemporary life like the second coming of Andre Breton?

Situations are what we find ourselves in, events at which we find out how many bits of fascism we excrete per second, how much fascism passes through us.

Interdisciplinarity is muddled disciplinarity, but calling oneself non-linear? Pretentious. Our non-linearity moves in parallel to multiple fragments of discipline. When we find ourselves at conferences at which we have no right to speak, we speak anyway. We amuse ourselves with our brash approach, when we are done being terrified. Or do we squeak by on being the odd ones, the proud ugly ducklings, presenting a cybersecurity paper at a neuroethics conference? The thing is, I do not know. The thing is, until I am called to answer for myself, I do not care, because there is nothing else I could do but be a bit of a fascist to myself. In the paper we will read, in the pretentious fragments of a fragmented short story, says:

It’s impossible to explain what was queer about the brainmeat inside E’s head, because what’s queer about our brains can only be talked around. Something in that head failed to take the paint. E’s brain could not… please just be normal for once?

E, who also goes by Evan, after her conversion therapy, is an author surrogate for me, for my experience of coming to terms with being transgender, but in reverse. Or, post-death-of-the-author, she is not. She is merely a way of approaching writing about being queer. As we quote Sarah Ahmed in our paper:

…queer as a sexual orientation ‘queers’ more than just sex, just as other kinds of queer effects can , in turn, end up ‘queering’ sex. It is important to make the oblique angle of queer do this work, even if it risks placing different kinds of queer effects alongside each other.

I could not tell you what this means, but I am aware of what Ahmed is saying (in Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others.) When I am crying in the shower, when I am having a panic attack before crying in the shower, when I am feeling vulnerable, and when yesterday I am feeling like an imposter at a conference for far more educated people, I feel Ahmed’s statement, “It is by understanding how we become oriented in moments of disorientation that we might learn what it means to be oriented in the first place.”

Interdisciplinarity, or non-linearity, pushes me to find what the fuck I am on about, at any given time. I will not know why we wrote this paper, why we decided to present it in a supercomputing center in Poland, until after the fact. This being, perhaps “attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed”, can only be pretentious if we have an impression we would prefer. It becomes vulnerable when there is no preferred impression.

It is a fine line that art aspires to, that painter Francis Bacon described as attempting to transmit something directly from one nervous system to another, leaving behind what he called the “boredom” of narrative. Our approach, Jes Westbrook and I, is highly disciplinary as it is what we have learned from spending the majority of our lives and academic careers in what is still called “fine art” but which, more and more, I think of as a particular being-in-the-world, a divergent phenomenology.

Paige Treebridge

Paige Treebridge co-directs Divergent Design Lab, focused on vulnerability and exploitation using cybersecurity, new media art, user experience design, and social psychology paradigms. Twitter @PTreebridge

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