marcia lee

“What would it mean if we resisted the disciplinary imperative to ‘move on’?”

almost two years ago i was in tucson at the dinner for w*ndy br*wn’s lecture on neoliberalism. it was me, MJ, m*rk kear (a scholar who works on financial subjectification), lee medevoi, marcia klotz, and a couple other professors at an italian restaurant on speedway. lee and marcia had organized her visit to go along with the secular studies seminars they’d conducted that year, i think, which also included brown’s boo (judith butler). and i was surprised to find WB electric, attentive, and generous because of her somewhat abrasive tone in writing. at the dinner with these people i so admired, i felt very loved and supported, so much so that when WB was clearly disinterested in the (male) faculty’s discussions and zeroed in on me, responding to her felt natural. i was intrigued by her masculinity and no-bullshit attitude, which is where i think the most fertile ground lies between women; the agonistic was potent and suggested capability. she could read a few things about me from my responses, and i could feel her gravitation toward me as a way out of the niceties in the professional dynamic. she turned to me unprompted in her mischievous, commandeering way and said something like, “so, what about you.” i explained what i work on and she lit up, diving into it in a way that made a good portion of the dinner a group discussion about the project. the next day, she left on a flight back to berkeley and i emailed her:

Hi Wendy,

I just wanted to write and tell you how nice it was to meet you. Before we ordered drinks, Marcia and I were reflecting on the Affect Theory conference back in October, where she met Kathleen Stewart for the first time. I told her about how when I’d had an admissions meeting at UT Austin, Stewart sat across from me with the flattest affect possible, slurping Thai noodles. I thought it was great because women are expected to do so much emotional reproductive work to put others at ease. Marcia then said that that’s the also case with you, Judith Butler, Joan Scott—that it’s like a remnant of a feminism that’s getting more and more rare (and which I love). Both observations I find to be more or less true. Anyway: it’s inspiring to meet people who respond the way they really respond, without excessive affectation, especially because of the trust and consistency it fosters.

Hope to run into you again sometime. Take care.

she responded in a great way, that i both understand and take as comic proof of the point that marcia and i had discussed:

Hmm.  I’m not sure Scott, Butler or I have flat affect OR eschew emotional reproductive work in intellectual settings.  If we don’t do that work in a hyper-feminine fashion, it doesn’t mean we’re not doing it, and often exhausting ourselves from it.  

That said, it was a genuine pleasure to learn about your research and thinking. I look forward to reading it soon. I chuckled to myself as I listened to 2 very earnest 50-something women discussing their practices of mindfulness while waiting to board our plane in Tucson.

sans signature. the assumption was never that they don’t do it, but that there is a generational difference and perhaps even an economic difference, given the incredible fear of precarious scholars compared to the more established. 

i’m not sure what made me think of this; maybe because i’m reading object lessons and remembering when i walked wiegman to the building on campus where i’d be introducing her for a seminar on “queer theory without antinormativity.” she called me out for wanting to have control and it was a conversation filled with wit, challenge, electricity and fun. “you’re blushing!” she accused me. and the grad student beside us said, “you’re calling her out! liz does this to other people all the time.” i saw RW at the feminist theory workshop a few weeks back and we giggled and flirted the same way. when i told her that nick and i had contemplated asking her to join our ASA panel because of its topic, but didn’t because she doesn’t really go to ASA, she asked what it was. “the charge of complicity.” she laughed hysterically while maintaining this knowing eye contact. an hour later i had a nice conversation with janet jakobsen, who is on the panel, where she said the first place she started thinking about complicity was with my advisor at u of a. tucson wasn’t the place for her. she was urban, and figuring out how to work with that was very difficult. it was for me too, i told her; i moved to the bay. someone interrupted to ask her about chair setup, assuming she was an expert from all her years putting on events at barnard, and we split off. a couple days later she responded to our group’s ASA acceptance by saying she’d just had the pleasure of meeting me at a conference and that she was very excited for the conversation. 

back to object lessons now, which is about how the disavowal of women in favor of gender is a fantasy of transcending something that cannot be left behind.