When plotting my month-long blogging schedule, I had strongly considered giving myself today off. Because 16 years ago on this date, my father passed away. I usually take today off from all possible forms of work, to mourn and to eat Pizza Hut (his favourite) and generally practice self-care by letting myself be miserable.
Don’t worry, I’m still plenty miserable, and I’m still caring for myself. And yes, that caring has involved copious amounts of pizza. But I also wanted to write, because I wondered about grief and what it does. Heather Love’s book talks about affects like grief and pain as modes of political engagement (and disengagement), and of course writing is itself political, but what does grief do to and for the writing process?
I came to wonder this partially in response to Elspeth Probyn’s wonderful discussion of shame. While many of us academics like to erase the role shame plays in our writing processes, feeling shamed by our shame, Probyn argues that we “might envision writing shame as part of an ethical practice”, one which forces a writer to “reflect continually on the implications of [their] writing” (73) through the painful collision of “ideas and experiences”(89) within the body.
So what does grief do? We might of course first ask whether grief should do anything, and I’m certainly not calling here for an attempt to make grief more useful. But for those us privileged enough to be able write with and through grief without being forced to do so, what might we find?
Probyn’s discussion integrates her personal reflections with Deleuze, and I don’t have any theory backing me up at the moment. Yes, I feel weird about that as someone who works with theory a lot. Nonetheless, for now all I’m working with here is my own experience of writing this blog and a bit of my LTP today. Here are some things I’ve found, some practical and some theoretical:
· I’m more conscious of my work as work. Many of us are used to ignoring and muting signals from our bodies that we’re tired, or hungry, or in desperate need of exercise (or watching Buffy on the couch…). But today, with my eyes sore from crying, my head aching as a result of all the crying, and the general sensation of heaviness which usually (for me) accompanies grief, I’m very conscious of what an effort it is to produce anything. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, at least to the extent that my body’s reminder that it’s a body matters, and because I can’t help but admire its assertiveness and unwillingness to be muted or repressed today.
· I’m aware of audience in a different way. This might seem like a ridiculous thing to say, especially because I write publically all the time. Literally every thought I’ve had about my project over the past couple of weeks has been posted here. But in thinking so much about my Dad, about what he might say or how he would react to certain things, I’m also struck by what we might call the absent-audience of my work, or the audience that I don’t have, and which nonetheless shapes what I say and how I say it. This group is not populated only by my Dad, of course, but the acute way in which I’m feeling his loss today has turned my thoughts to the many other absent folks I write to and for.
· I’m thinking about writing itself as an enactment or materialization of grief. By this I don’t mean that the content of my writing is dominated by loss (though sometimes it is). Rather, I’m struck by writing itself as a process of grieving. Much as Probyn argues writing materializes shame, specifically the “shame of being…interested in something and unable to convey it to others”, the fear that the one’s writing will never “equal the subject being written about” (72), I wonder about writing as the materialization of several losses. First, writing as the loss of what has at some point in the process probably felt like a private and intimate relationship between you and the ideas you’re working through. Regardless of where or how a piece of writing is circulated (or not), its externalization of an affective and psychological mode of engagement with something still alters that relationship forever. And while those ideas and one’s ties to them are often vastly enriched by sharing and circulating writing, I think one of the things we might lose when being constantly driven to produce more and faster is the ability to recognize and inhabit the moment of grief that precedes those effects.
· Second, in a more directly related sense to Probyn’s argument, writing as the loss of what we could have said, what we wish we had been able to say. Writing as a process of continual grieving for the words we couldn’t find, and for the writer we wish we were, imagined we might be. Really horrible things like the imposter syndrome and the constant drive for increased productivity in academia play on this, and I don’t mean to downplay the very material problems this can produce. But even as devastated as my mind and body are today, a part of me feeling unwilling to entirely surrender grief to capital, because I think it, too, is part of the ethics Probyn begins her work by invoking.
I’m not sure if any of this will be turned into anything that will be recognizably useful in the context of my dissertation. That is, I don’t think the outcome of this day and this post will be a chapter on grief or writing as grief. But it’s been interesting to sit with, and to write with, my grief today.
Probyn, Elspeth. "Writing Shame." The Affect Theory Reader. Eds. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. 71-90. Print.