At the end of my three years serving as a member of the Watershed Collective, I’m poised to shed the graduate chrysalis and move into the next phase of my academic career. So it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to theoretical and cultural representations of transition, upheaval, and change--fascinated by processes of becoming. With this orientation in mind, I appreciate the opportunity to reflect, not only on the phenomenal collection of posts shared by our contributors this semester, but also on the richness, complexity, and the many provocations that Watershed has brought to my intellectual life and to its community of readers, writers, and thinkers.
I want to focus, then, on the important work the Collective has done this semester to mine the spaces between--uncovering conditions and moments of liminality that ethnographer Viktor Turner describes as “necessarily ambiguous” (95). Turner notes that “liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between,” with an uncanny ability to “elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space” (95). As I write from my own liminal position, exploring the ambiguity of occupying a kind of threshold space, I am drawn to the theoretical richness of my colleagues doing the same. Here are some highlights from their boundary-pushing work this semester, with original language in bold:
Stevie Seibert Desjarlais and contributors reimagine the genre of the blog post while also exploring the pop-culture tension between audience and action, posing an incisive question: What can we learn (or unlearn) from celebrity feminism and awards show activism, especially during an era of greater "accountability" for sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in the workplace?”
In her fascinating meditation on exercise culture as an emblematic space for troubling notions of gender, bodies, and performativity, Gina Keplinger asks what it means to cross the gendered gym divide. As she puts it, trying to happily marry feminism and fitness is frustrating at best, and Keplinger explores this frustration in compelling and generative ways.
Next, Jessica Masterson considers the affordances of a Bakhtinian lens for framing protests such as the 2018 Women’s March, reflecting on the unique space occupied by a communicative act: our utterances and actions, and the meanings we intend them to take on, are not only ours to interpret. They become part of a heteroglossic tapestry. They will be uttered again and again and again, in different contexts and for different purposes.
In her comprehensive preview of Humanities on the Edge speaker João Moreira Salles, Rachel Cochran articulates the undergirding overlap of the filmmaker’s work: [Salles’] film connects the personal with the public with the political, ultimately acting as a testament to the subjectivity of historiography and the ways in which moments of great turbulence and intensity are narrativized and mythologized.
Dillon Rockrohr takes up this baton in his recap of Salles’ lecture, operationalizing Walter Benjamin’s concept of “now-time” and Deleuzian theory to encapsulate the director’s oeuvre. As Rockrohr puts it, in learning to see the intensity of that past now, perhaps we can learn to see another intensity were it to erupt anew, to not miss it, and—the part most easy to forget—to enjoy it.
In another insightful post, Gabi Kirilloff and Jonathen Cheng reflect on what The Chronicle of Higher Education has termed the “Digital-Humanities Bust,” troubling the boundary between information and knowledge in the process. Kirilloff contends that it is difficult to disentangle ourselves from the neoliberal trajectory we criticize, while Cheng asks, if the goal is to critique the neoliberal logic of university power-structures, then shouldn’t we address how preserving arbitrary standards of significant knowledge plays into those structures?
Anne Johnson brings us her second post on the intensely vulnerable space of the blood draw, this time mining its unexpected yet fascinating connections to composition pedagogy. As Johnson puts it, perhaps writing teachers could choose to see their students as beginning a necessary re-assembly, attempting to make new sense of a world intellectually and emotionally--an exciting pedagogical provocation.
Next, Anne Nagel peers through a genealogical lens to explore the concept of imagination. This type of careful mapping work, as Nagel describes it, leads readers to dwell within a productive theoretical tension: attempts to imagine beyond the dialectic on one side and on the other side, a sense that the subjective, representational imagination is in jeopardy.
A special thanks goes out to founding Watershed member Robert Lipscomb, who continues to support the blog through insightful posts such as this preview of Tim Dean’s scholarship. Lipscomb describes his intellectual and visceral reaction to Dean’s provocative work as a threshold of revelation, going on to weave connections between that threshold and concepts ranging from epidemiology to psychoanalytic theory to film.
Colten White follows up with a detailed recap of “Hatred of Sex,” Dean’s Humanities on the Edge Lecture. He extends this dialogue by posing a question about the theorist’s framework for sex and democracy: Are they identical structures that exist independently, or are they mutually reinforcing structures? Are they forces that run parallel to one other, but never touch?
In her exploration of the tension between scientific advancement and ethical consequences in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jessica Tebo asks readers to consider the implications of modernity and monstrosity. She concludes her post with a compelling invocation: Ironically it is the monster that provides a way forward—the hybridity feared by modernity simultaneously provides its antidote to anthropocentrism and Western exceptionalism. It could very well be worth our time to paddle after the monster, before his ice floe floats beyond reach.
Christy Hyman also applies a literary lens to the boundary between past and present, analyzing the character of Lily Bart from Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth within the larger context of Victorian social order in the nineteenth century. As Hyman explains it, today’s contemporary understanding of the spectrum of gender and sexual orientation is a development of evolved thinking that did not exist in the conservative nineteenth century--a reminder that exploding binaries can take time.
Finally, Gabi Kiriloff paves the way for Bridget R. Cooks’ Humanities on the Edge lecture, exploring the scholar’s analysis of the controversial 1969 exhibit Harlem on My Mind. Kiriloff’s post reminds us that in addition to printed texts, spaces can also tell (and silence) narratives. It is perhaps because spaces seem “neutral” that they have such a dramatic ability to propagate beliefs and assumptions.
As a follow-up, be sure not to miss Ángel Garcia’s take on this lecture once it goes live on the blog.
It has been a pleasure looking back over a semester of compelling posts, and dwelling in this space has brought Watershed’s betwixt-ness into new relief for me. To our fresh crop of Collective members next year, I can’t wait to read all of your limning from afar.
Once again, I’d like to thank the many colleagues who make all of this unresolvable, boundary-pushing, middle-of-the-Venn-diagram theorizing possible: Dr. Marco Abel and the UNL English department; the Watershed administrative team, especially Rachel Cochran, whose behind-the-scenes leadership has made the wheels turn incredibly smoothly this year; and our founders, writers, and dear readers, who continually remind us why we do this work.
Turner, Viktor. The Ritual Process; Structure and Anti-Structure. Routledge, 1969.