Tuesday, August 14, 2007

self-deprecation as iteration

i appreciate that various colleagues want me to stop making statements, especially in public, that are self-deprecating. i hear them, and i am honored that they see me in ways that compel them to urge me to avoid doubt. it's always such good adivce, it seems, at the time.

so i'm thinking about why i do it, especially given that i am fairly confident in the work that i do. i love my writing. i seriously love my writing -- labrynthine and rambling and full of pauses and ellipses and questions and doubts and lack of clarity (although i like some of the more polished stuff too). i LOVE my presentations (and agonize over them, seeing the live performance as Serious Intellectual Work for a rhetor). I am in love with mylittlefilms (and the whole process of imagining, discovering, making and delivering them). I am more than pleased with my teaching style, my mentoring work, and lots of other aspects of my (professional) self. BUT i don't believe that i could/can say any of that with any sincerity or confidence without also articulating (not just recognizing, but articulating) the various forces -- even, or especially the negative or uncertain ones -- that drive me and coalesce in ways that sometimes, often maybe, end up as confirmation or validation.

that is, to aritculate one's doubts about one's work is an important part of it; don't we sort of teach this when we ask students to publicly and in social networks share their doubts, assumptions, biases, preconceived and emerging ideas about their own work? isn't this what our own peer review process is at least in part about? isn't this at least part of what it means to engage intellectually?

yes, it's performance. yes. and so we must finally articulate with confidence. but. really? always? speaking only for myself, i'd much rather read a piece of writing or see a film or hear an artist admit to its own pomposity or weakness than to experience one that consistently asserts with absolute and unwavering authority (like the white paper recently released at my institution . . . seriously - our administration is now using "white papers" to share with us their sense of our intellectual work. help!).

and still. i'm the one who sits watching film awards shows just begging the winners to say something pithy and neat and inspiring (Helen Mirren is very good at this) and not, ala Halle Berry, to thank one's lawyers (omg) when accepting for a moving performance on a complex cultural plane of experience (participation, performance, spectation . . . moves made as a film actor representing a complicated human drama).

i continue to think about/worry this matter. at the same time, i'm negotiating my stance with regard to self-deprecation, still seeing it as part of (the) iterative processes of emergence and becoming. and i think it's p-r-i-t-t-y groovy.


Kafkaz said...

It's a fine line, isn't it? Too much doubt, and folks begin to suspect you're a milquetoast; too little, and they figure you must be a class A jerk. But, I agree with you: we should value the explorer, and be willing--often--to be explorers as opposed to experts. That's a nice and even necessary quality in teachers. In writers and composers of all sorts, too. The thing about exploring is that it often leads to dead ends, and even to terrific messes, big ol' belly flops, pratfalls of various sorts, and genereal wrongness. But wrongness is generative. It leads to new insights, it does wonders for building up your sense of compassion, it's absolutely essential for humor, and it often has a little door toward alternate worlds hidden in it. Poetry, music, and all kinds of composition involve dissonance, and are often improved immeasurably by it. There's something, after all, not only paralyzing about perfection, but also downright sterile about it. Who wants to dwell long with a voice that seems to know nothing at all of wrinkles, tears, spills, blushes, missteps, or anything just a little broken, a little ragged, a little off? No fun in that. There's something appealing about those who stretch--who reach. Here's a poem that says it better:

Life for My Child Is Simple, and Is Good

Life for my child is simple, and is good.
He knows his wish. Yes, but that is not all.
Because I know mine too.
And we both want joy of undeep and unabiding things,
Like Kicking over a chair or throwing blocks out of a window
Or tipping over an icebox pan
Or snatching down curtains or fingering an electric outlet
Or a journey or a friend or an illegal kiss.
No. There is more to it than that.
It is that he has never been afraid.
Rather, he reaches out and lo the chiar falls with a beautiful crash
And the blocks fall, down on the people's heads,
And the water comes slooshing sloopily out across the floor.
And so forth.
Not that success, for him, is sure, infallible.
But never has he been afraid to reach.
His lesions are legion.
But reaching is his rule.

--Gwendolyn Brooks

Probably, the lines are all messed up there, but that's somehow fitting, isn't it?

bonnie lenore kyburz said...


it *is* a fine line. and i guess i feel that it's not only *okay* or *sometimes good* but also just *a part of it* that we spend time there, even publicly (especially publicly . . . aren't blogs mostly about this space of potential?)

maybe i'm rationalizing (you think?!). maybe it's time to buck up and be fearless, but that doesn't exactly feel honest. not for me. not now. not yet (?).

anyhow, thanks for sharing the GB poem. and for thinking about this with me.

Kafkaz said...

To live without certainty, but not to be paralyzed by uncertainty--that's the dance.

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

and/or to *enjoy* uncertainty . . . is that a dance or a freakshow? :)

stand up straight & let me get a look at you

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