To me, What are you reading? is an incredibly intimate question. There is vulnerability to sharing my bookshelf, to allowing others to trace my epistemological lineage so closely.
I hear What are you reading? as What is shaping your thoughts? and that cuts a little close. What are you reading? additionally implies How are you reading? because I read and reread books in parallel, in nonlinear strands of connectedness, in relations and bits, rarely in one-time sittings. My thinking is chunked, as is my reading.
Writing this text then is also asynchronous. I cannot ask back, "What are you reading?" because… well, right now, you are reading this.
When I studied English as a foreign language, I was taught that -ing is a postfix indicating an activity that is happening in the present, that is actively done in a splinter of now. And then what is that now? Right now? Right in this instance, I'm reading… well, this. Reading what I'm writing and the two merge, as they often do in a melange of academic knowledge production. Making a choice becomes difficult, because I have to expand the now, not take it so literally, think of it as What is the zeitgeist of my reading?
And how come, when asked, What are you reading? I eye the shelf? Not the folders full of papers I recently read for a literature review, not the digital library that I have full of references that are yet incomplete, not the bibtex file supporting my current writing. It seems the question implies intent, and intentional reading is not (always) (immediately) purposeful. And I connote that with the physical book. The joy of holding it, marking it, working with it. So, for this text, I stick with them.
Whatever choice I make about what I'm reading is not really telling you what I'm reading; it more perfunctorily tells you what I think you should be reading. But I don't want to tell you that. I don't have this authority. I mean, I do tell people I know, "Hey, you might be interested in reading this!" but it's personal; it's an affective gesture. It says: "Hey, I like the way you think and this reminded me of your thinking in interesting ways." I might know you, dear reader, but most likely I do not. Who am I to tell you what to read?
I read and receive "an education I wasn't expecting" (Allucquère Rosanne Stone; Connect it with Persson Perry Baumgartinger's analysis on the "Wiederverfestigung der Trans_Pathologisierung durch neue Erlässe." Think on how security measures at airports—according to Toby Beauchamp—"tend to focus on the forced exposure of bodies along lines of gender and sexuality and, to a lesser extent, age and disability." And find affirmation on complexity in understanding, with Eli Clare, that care can be "laced with violence"). So what am I reading? I'm reading from an active bookshelf, where books move in and out of my current focus. Maybe you'll find something for yourself?
Katta Spiel is a postdoctoral researcher in the HCI Group at TU Wien. They currently research exceptional norms by focusing on marginalized bodies in interaction design. Their research combines critical theories with transformative designs focusing largely on aspects of gender and disability. email@example.com
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