What are you reading?

What are you reading? Prerna Srigyan

Issue: XXVIII.5 September - October 2021
Page: 10
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Prerna Srigyan

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Does scrolling through Twitter threads and Instagram stories count as reading? Suited to the bodily rhythms of staying in bed just a little while longer or sitting on the toilet for just the right amount of time, Twitter and Instagram are where I get updates about the latest creative ventures and lives of brilliant, fascinating people; live narrations of what will become tomorrow's news; and the whisperings of academic and nonacademic life essential to making decisions about whom to trust, whom to work with, and whom to avoid. Short fictions and nonfictions of less than a paragraph tell me how the minuscule part of the world that appears on my screen for a fragmented few seconds is doing.

And what a world it is. An undergraduate student from MIT [1] analyzed thousands of New York Time articles proving a history of biased reporting against Palestinians. Sandy Grande, author of Red Pedagogy, asked the Twitterverse what they would include in a syllabus on the ethics and politics of the university [2] and received more than 100 recommendations, including one from yours truly. The journal Cultural Anthropology compiled a thread of tweets [3] listing one response after another to the #LetAnthropologyBurn webinar, which revisited the persistent question of whether anthropology will ever be accountable to those whose lives it has extracted to build its foundation. The answer was a resounding no. And then, death. Every other tweet is about death. Covid sucking the breath out of families, leaving people to gaze into the Internet void, asking for something: Consolation? Empathy? Acceptance? Acknowledgment of life ceasing to exist?

Out of the struggles, nightmares, and festivities of the Twitterverse, the books on my bedside offer no consolation, empathy, acceptance, or even acknowledgment. What am I reading for? A sign. A lesson. I am reading for guidance. I am reading for inspiration. I am reading page, after page, for pedagogy. According to philosopher of psychoanalysis Shoshana Felman [4], pedagogy happens when you feel profoundly unsettled and uncomfortable, beyond the actuality or illusion of mastery. She shouts—and I would retweet it if I saw it on Twitter—Where does it resist!

If ignorance, the resistance to knowledge, is a passion amenable to pedagogical fantasies, as Felman suggests, then it is my body that is finely attuned to the recognition of ignorance. Dante, a truffle-hunting Lagotto Romagnolo in Merlin Sheldrake's Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures [5], digs into the soil for the fungal whiffs his nose is entranced by. Dante finds his white truffle and pleases his master. The master cannot sniff truffles sitting deep in the earth. The bodily inability of the master is the reason for Dante's continued hunts. Sheldrake is trying to tell me: Dante and his master are entangled by fungus. I, too, am captivated by the sensorial spinning wheel that is my body. Captivated, as in, held in suspension. Who is holding me up? Who is on my back? Who is captivating me?

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Dreamwork is where some answers are figured out without our conscious knowledge. "Nap Bishop" and philosopher Tricia Hersey, founder of the nap-advocacy collective the Nap Ministry (https://thenapministry.wordpress.com/), argues that dreaming is the space for healing, where we are not accountable to systems that exhaust us. To return to our body and forge new social relations, we must rest not to be more productive but because rest is divine [6].

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If I am who I am, and if that knowledge is held from me in ignorance/suspension, can I trust my body to tell me if something is wrong? Or if something is right? Does dreaming necessarily imply healing? Sloane Leong, author of the mind-bending reading experience that is Prism Stalker, takes the reader/dreamer to a sentient planet that is being colonized [7]. The planet resists with illusions of the highest craft that make its citizens distrust their bodies, their allies, their own dreams. The protagonist is a new recruit for the military academy that is colonizing the sentient planet, herself a displaced refugee from an erstwhile colonized planet, haunted by a forgotten language that comes back to her as music from another time. As she is being trained to ignore and resist with a passion, what will emerge from what is silenced and what is remembered?

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1. https://twitter.com/h_jackson_/status/1395406943192297481

2. https://twitter.com/RedPedGrl/status/1369745640813600768

3. https://twitter.com/culanth/status/1310259296958115841

4. Felman, S. Psychoanalysis and education: Teaching terminable and interminable. Yale French Studies (1982), 21–44.

5. Sheldrake, M. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures. Random House, 2020.

6. Heresy, T. Naps as a VISION space for healing. The Nap Ministry. Jan. 5, 2018; https://thenapministry.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/naps-as-a-vision-space-for-healing/

7. Leong, S. Prism Stalker: Vol. 1. Image Comics, 2018; https://imagecomics.com/comics/releases/prism-stalker-vol-1-tp

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Prerna Srigyan is a doctoral researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. She studies pedagogies of scientific and social movements to explore questions about epistemic justice and the practices of accountability and repair in collaborative and community-building endeavors. psrigyan@uci.edu

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