originally posted on my tumblr. hence the awesome lack of capitalization.
i’m in my second year of a phd program now, which means my cohort and i aren’t the newbies anymore. at times, the first-years seem to think i know stuff that they don’t.
that is terrifying. and a little bizarre. because, wow. no.
(and yet, part of me says. and yet.)
when it comes down to it, i’m afraid of being read as “smart.”
which, for someone in graduate school, is nine kinds of crazy.
in one of my classes this week, we were reading about ethnography, which is a very particular (and yet loosey goosey) method of conducting qualitative research. one of the readings was centered on the notion that seeing is an act of interpretation; that is, when we engage in the act of seeing, we’re always already (unconscously) interpreting what we see, based on our own biases, experience, world view, ideology, etc. this isn’t to say that we can’t also engage in conscious interpretation of what we see—of course we can—but this theory suggests that there is no such thing as an objective gaze, one which is wholly detached from ideology, experience, etc.
as someone who wrestles with the notion of the female gaze in her scholarship—and who is an avowed postmodernist—this is like air to me, this belief. like fundamental and normal and everyday. it’s its own way of seeing, if you will (as john berger might say).
but for one of my colleagues, this notion was incredibly confusing.
the class went around and around an endless vortex of discussion. it got to the point where i took a break from outlining two papers i’m writing for other courses (i was bored) to try and explain the concept myself.
nope. no dice. colleague still confused.
then we slipped into crazymaking territory, with the prof trying to draw said concept on the board in a way that just confused the shit out of all of us. the prof kept saying, doesn’t anyone else want to draw this? i can’t draw, until i got freaking frustrated and volunteered, because it was either that or bang my head on the desk.
so i drew the concept as this sort of three-dimentional thing, labeled it with keywords, and there you go.
class as a whole and prof: OH. that’s it!
my one colleague: i understand what he’s saying now, but i don’t agree with it.
me: yay markers.
so I rely this story to my spouse, and he says: oh, that’s awesome. you were teh smart and you used it for good.
me: gah! no, i was not smart. i was annoyed.
spouse: yeah, but you understood the concept and you helped other people to understand it. thus, you were smart. you are smart.
and man, did that make me uncomfortable on the one hand and proud on the other.
i mean, i know i’m “smart,” at least in the book sense, sometimes [notice all the qualifiers there]. but i still do what i can to hide it, even in a setting where that kind of performative intelligence is kind of the entire point. let me tell you: the profs do evaluate us, do draw conclusions about us, based on our performances in their classes, on what we say and don’t say, on how we contribute to conversation, on how we engage with our colleagues. they do this. it’s part of their job. then they have conversations about us behind the scenes, offline in whatever the college equivalent of the teachers’ lounge is, and those perceptions, those narratives they construct about us, play a huge role in how they treat us, what they expect of us, how they formally evaluate us.
which is to say: it matters, what happens in class.
and my evals, both formal and informal, have been strong.
i’m smart, ok fine. but i’m still reluctant to show it.
i think part of the reason that i study fandom, that i spend so much time extolling the virtues of gay incest porn in academic settings, is that it lets me hide a little bit. i can hide behind the fangirl mask and squee and say the word “porn” a lot, in hopes, i think, of being underestimated. misread. seen as a non-threat.
maybe that’s the wall above my desk at school is papered in supernatural paraphernalia, with pictures of beautiful men and awesome fan art. because who could be intimidated by someone as ridiculous as that?
i mean, my academic persona is, for better or worse, completely and throughly tangled with supernatural fandom right now. and i freaking love it. but there’s part of me that wonders if i’m not using the preconception of some in the academy that pop culture can’t be the basis for “serious” scholarship as a shield, as a way of avoiding the kind of hardcore theoretical nonsense for which we rhetoricians are so well known.
i think that’s part of it.
but i also think that the tools of rhetorical scholarship, the way we look at texts, is an underutilized resource in fan studies, in examinations of fan writing and reading practices.
hell, i want to write a paper about misha collins and the debt he owes to ancient rhetoric. dude.
it’s easier for me to pretend that i’m an irresponsible git, that i’m just here for the pretty and the scholarship is something extra.
but that’s not true, as hard as it is for me to admit.
i’m smart. i’ve got something to say about stuff that matters—or should—to someone other than me. i’m a an interesting writer.
i’m a professional fangirl, goddamn it. emphasis on “professional.”